Blu-ray review: Island of Death

Starring: Robert Behling, Jane Ryall
Director: Nico Mastorakis

island-of-death 2A film that gives new meaning to going to Mykonos for the watersports, Island of Death (1975) sets out to shock and does a pretty good job of it. A young couple arrive on the beautiful Greek island, but it soon becomes apparent that their idea of a relaxing break is rather unusual. She can’t keep her clothes on, and he is a raving fruitcake who likes nothing better than to shag a goat before breakfast and then go around violently punishing the island’s collection of hippies, gays and arty types for their perceived immorality.

There’s not a lot to the first hour or so of Island of Death really, but it has plenty of crude energy and it certainly delivers in terms of lurid nudity and gore, most notably in several did-they-really-go-there moments which, forty years on, will still have jaws sagging in disbelief, as when the psychopathic Christopher pees on a naked old lady and then kicks the snot out of her. It’s also beautifully shot by director Nico Mastorakis, who acted as his own DoP and camera operator (as well as taking on a small role in the film and writing lyrics for the theme songs). He makes the most of the island’s stunning scenery, while also packing the film, Jodorowsky-style, with blasphemous religious imagery (a crucifixion, an Edenic garden, references to lambs and shepherds).

Made for $30,000, the movie suffers from some flat, awkward acting, and it also has a island-of-death 1rather unsavoury socio-political subtext. “This island belongs to the innocent people,” says Christopher, and the way he goes around sweeping Mykonos clean of decadent foreigners and non-locals no doubt reflected contemporary concerns about what the burgeoning tourist trade was doing to traditional Greek values. But never mind, because the film is pushed firmly into cult status by its last reel, which takes a segue into Godardian territory with a surreal, blackly satirical ending – a particularly unhappy ending for one of the characters – that you certainly won’t see coming. Cinema buffs who have only ever encountered this movie before in dodgy, low-grade versions will be thrilled by the quality of the HD transfer and the quantity of the extras on this top-notch Arrow Blu-ray. 7/10

TRANSFER
This is a lovely transfer in 4:3 aspect ratio. No grain or dirt, and all those sunlit exteriors look extremely fresh and bright, while the picture is so sharp that it has a hyper-real quality at times. For instance, the candles in the restaurant where the couple meet the unfortunate church-painter have an unusually lifelike brilliance. A backlit shot of the two evil-doers in a monastery towards the end has a lovely, ethereal quality, and the final close-up of the girl, Celia, naked on a bed of straw is extremely present and luminous. 10/10

EXTRAS
Arrow have thrown the kitchen sink at this one! 38-min piece in which critic Stephen island-of-death 3Thrower talks about the film’s various titles and Mastorakis’ motley directing and production credits, while circling warily around Island of Death’s hostility to women, homosexuals and, basically, everyone except hairy-chinned shepherds and fishermen. ~ 17-min featurette in which Mastorakis returns to the original locations 40 years after making the film. The director is quite a character, and he keeps up a steady stream of amusing observations. ~ 23-min interview with the director. He explains that he was inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to try and make a film that was even more shocking, and reveals that Janet Ryall, who plays Celia, was the daughter of the Greek manager of Black & Decker. ~ Mastorakis made up for the outrageous Island of Death by directing bland schlock for the rest of his career. For those who want to hear it, the full story is told in a four-part documentary totalling 3 ½ hours (!). Essentially, it’s a selection of lengthy movie-clips, out-takes, behind the scenes footage and other bits and pieces spliced together with some tartly witty voiceovers by Mastorakis. By the end of it, you’ll feel as if you’ve sat through an exhaustive Mastorakis retrospective. Part 3 includes a nice interview with George Kennedy talking on the set of Nightmare at Noon about his career and the state of the movie industry, and Part 4 covers, among other things, working with Oliver Reed and reveals that the actor had an eagle tattoo on his todger. 10/10

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