Transmissions to Earth Presents:
ISLAND OF DEATH (1976)
By L.L. Soares
It’s time for a trip to the Greek Isles!
Welcome to Mykonos. Where a couple of psychotic tourists go on a killing spree! At least that’s what happens in the 1976 Nico Mastorakis movie ISLAND OF DEATH. According to the “Director Interview” on the DVD version of the movie, Nico and a friend went to see a showing of Tobe Hooper’s classic, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, in Athens, and were shocked by the violence. But then Nico got to thinking. He was young and was directing episodes of the Greek TV version of “Candid Camera,” trying to make a name for himself in feature films, and figured if he could make a movie like TEXAS CHAINSAW, he could make a lot of money. And thus ISLAND OF DEATH was made. Mastorakis makes no bones about his motivation for making the movie. He wasn’t trying to make a statement. He just thought up the most perverse and vicious stuff he could, put it on film, and hoped for the best. Well, it sounds like it paid off, since this movie led to him becoming a more bankable international director, going on to make such cinema classics as THE ZERO BOYS (1986), DEATH STREET USA (1988), and NINJA ACADEMY (1989). What is that you say, those aren’t classics? Well, you could be right, but in a weird way ISLAND OF DEATH is.
ISLAND OF DEATH (I know, it’s such a generic title, which is probably why I missed this one for so long), is the story of Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall)—both of them were also in LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, which Michael Arruda and I reviewed recently!—who come to the Greek Island of Mykonos looking for fun in the sun. Christopher is an American with curly brown hair and boyish good looks and Celia is a blue-eyed, blonde British girl (who likes to get naked, a lot), and when they arrive, they seem like any other young tourists. But that changes soon enough.
The scene where we first realize something is wrong with these two is when Christopher wakes up one morning and tries to wake Celia to have sex (but she refuses to wake up). So he goes outside, where a goat is bleating. He picks the goat up and proceeds to have sex with it (behind a bush, and don’t worry, no animals were actually hurt in the making of this movie), and then stabs it to death!
Couldn’t he have just had a glass of orange juice instead?
Then the two lovebirds go on an insane killing spree. Christopher seems like the really deranged one, one minute he’ll be taking pictures of his wife having sex with another man, and the next moment he’ll be ranting about God and how those who commit sin and perversion should not be allowed to live and starts stabbing away with a big knife.
Just some of the (somewhat) creative murders include having Celia have sex with a French guy who is painting a church, and then crucifying him by nailing his hands to the ground and pouring a bucket of paint down his throat until he dies; putting a noose around the neck of a cop who followed them to the island from London (where it sounds like they got into similar mischief) and hanging him from a flying plane; killing a gay character with an antique sword; and giving a lesbian character a heroin overdose (after she has sex with Celia – everyone seems to be having sex with Celia!). Other weird scenes include a couple of sleazy hippies following Celia home and trying to rape her (Christopher comes back to the apartment from fishing with a speargun, and …I think you can imagine what comes next), Christopher urinating on a middle-aged cougar during sex and then slapping her and slamming her head into the floor until she dies. And that doesn’t even include the insane, mute shepherd who tries to kill Christopher and force himself on Celia! There’s something here to offend just about everyone!
Even director Mastorakis shows up as a mystery writer/amateur sleuth who suspects something is up with the two young tourists and seeks to get to the bottom of the recent string of murders on the island.
The movie is like a grocery list of what would shock audiences in 1976, from bestiality and incest, to homosexuality, drug addiction and rape. And, of course, murders. There’s gore, but it’s kept to a minimum, as the most graphic scenes are off-screen (and left to the viewer’s imagination). Despite this, it didn’t stop ISLAND OF DEATH from being banned in a few places (including being part of the infamous “Video Nasties” campaign in England). The acting isn’t terrific, but it works for the most part, and there’s enough nudity and depraved violence to keep audiences watching.
Even though he did not set out to make a cult movie, Nico Mastorakis acknowledges that, out of all his films, this one seems to have the biggest cult following, which he finds frustrating, since it was a “formulaic horror movie” he made just to cash in on the slasher movie craze. But I think that’s why the movie works, it’s because Mastorakis tried to create something as depraved as he could, and it succeeds. And instead of being just another slasher film, it really is one of a kind.
Does it stand the test of time? Yes and no. The low budget and sometimes clumsy filming add a touch of camp to the proceedings, but the completely serious (and sometimes sadistic) tone holds up well. It’s not like a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie that will having you laughing. But it’s nowhere near as powerful or scary as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, either.
Despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them, ISLAND OF DEATH is worth seeking out if you’re a fan of depraved cinema. Not the most horrifying thing you’ll ever see, but just vicious and strange enough to make it watchable.
© Copyright 2014 by L.L. Soares