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Arriving on an idyllic Greek island, Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) appear to be every inch the perfect, handsome young couple. Little do the welcoming locals realize that they are in fact a pair of murderous degenerates, determined to spread their own particular brand of perversion across the island. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

 Island of Death
To say that Nico Mastorakis’ Island of Death (aka: Island of Perversion, A Craving for Lust, Cruel Destination, Devils in Mykonos, and more) is a nihilistic movie is an understatement. In the years since its 1976 release, Nihilist cinema has leaked from the foreign arthouse, to the dark corners of independently-produced horror, and out into the relative mainstream via filmmakers, like Todd Solondz ( Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) and Gaspar Noé ( I Stand Alone, Irreversible), but, even in the relatively dark ‘70s, Mastorakis’ film emerges as bleak. Even if Mastorakis intended us to take it as a serious social statement, it’s so relentlessly perverse and cruel that it can only really be appreciated as satire.

The villainous protagonists (who, spoiler alert, are revealed to be brother and sister) have sex in a phone booth while poor mum listens in. The next morning, a frustrated and horny Christopher makes love to a goat, then, possibly ashamed of his behavior, stabs the poor creature to death. Celia seduces a Frenchman, who Christopher beats and nails to ground like a crucifix. They drown poor sap with white paint and toss his body into the ocean. Christopher hacks a gay man to death with a sword while Celia forces the man’s lover to fellate a revolver, eventually blowing his brains out. They masturbate to photos of their crimes. Christopher urinates on a sex-starved older woman, knocks her unconscious, and beheads her with a backhoe. Left alone, Celia is sexually assaulted by two comically overstated hippies. Christopher shoots one with a fishing harpoon and drowns the other in a toilet. Celia reluctantly seduces a lesbian, who Christopher drowns in wine, pumps full of heroin, and burns with flaming aerosol. Just desserts are received when they take up residence with a ‘primitive’ sheep herder (Christopher assumes that the man represents the ‘innocent people’ that the island ‘belongs to’), who rapes both of them and dumps Christopher in a conveniently located pit of quicklime.

 Island of Death
Sure enough, Mostorakis has stated in interviews that he concocted Island of Death after seeing how much money Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre had made. Presumably, he didn’t actually see Hooper’s film and assumed it was as excessive as its title implied (according to Stephen Thrower’s interview on this disc, he did actually see it). Assuming shock equaled money, he cranked the knob to eleven and broke it off. In their book, See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, David Kerekes & David Slater theorize that Mastorakis meant the film as a metaphor for The Crusades, but the analogy could be applied to any historical instance of a religious group invading a foreign country and violently forcing intolerant morals upon a population – all without recognizing their own obscenity (all the more relevant as certain Christian TV celebrities with anti-homosexual agendas are outed as child molesters). Island of Death shoves this irony down the audience’s throat so inexorably that it can hardly even be considered ‘subtext.’

It should be noted that, despite the frequency of vulgarity on display, there is no single event that couldn’t be included in a modern R-rated movie. The violence is more brutal in theory than in explicit representation and the sex scenes don’t include any hardcore inserts or even shots of erect penises. This isn’t necessarily due to Mostorakis exercising restraint, though. I assume that prosthetic gore effects were too expensive and would guess that there were regulations on pornography in Greece during the ‘70s. It is the sheer quantity of atrocities, rather than their frequency, that makes Island of Death sting so hard. And, even without the added impact of bloody make-up, Mostorakis’ cruel concepts are creatively disturbing. Lots of movies feature crucifications, but how many feature victims that are drown with paint or burned to death with quicklime?

 Island of Death
Mostorakis’ career extends far beyond his filmmaking endeavors. He was a journalist, a radio personality, a concert promoter, a songwriter, and was reportedly an ‘instrumental’ personality on Greek television in the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Imdb.com and Wikipedia lists Island of Death as his debut, but it was actually made after Death has Blue Eyes, which was released later (likely straight-to-video). I am unfamiliar with all of his other releases, but the titles and plot descriptions reveal a wide range of odd ideas and genre types. Blind Date (1983) concerns a man that goes blind with grief, is fitted with a computer-aided vision device, and faces off with a serial murderer (footage from the trailer is included on this disc). The Next One (1984) stars Adrienne Barbeau as an astronaut’s widow who meets an alien with amnesia (Mostorakis claims that John Carpenter ripped him off with Starman). The Zero Boys (1986) sounds like an ‘80s slasher version of Deliverance.

Island of Death is clearly directed by an amateur upstart with a minimal budget, but, between the awkwardly patched, overlong tourism montages, fumbling sex scenes, and mean-spirited violence is an infrequent artistic flair. Fisheye lenses, extreme perspective, and kaleidoscopic editing offset the occasionally bland, unbalanced compositions. Mostorakis’ script is brimming with mundane dialogue, which can be simply read as a clumsy attempt to define characters via small talk, but is more likely meant as a sardonic contrast to the sex and violence. This bizarre stew is unique enough to justify watching and even enjoying the film, especially those moments that blur the line between genuinely bad movie-making and cinematic sarcasm. Unfortunately, the 108-minute runtime is gruelingly protracted. Mostorakis stretches the purity of his trim exploitation concept by introducing pointless obstacles, like a (American? British?) detective (Gerard Gonalons) hot on the couple’s trail and a novelist interested in their story (Mastorakis himself). This extraneous material turns an outrageous film into a sometimes boring one.

 Island of Death
Island of Death was ‘rescued’ from obscurity when it appeared on the BBFC’s ‘Video Nasties’ list of banned films in the 1980s. Had British censors not feared that children and disturbed individuals would rent the film and try to recreate its atrocities, the early VHS release would’ve probably gathered dust (I’m pretty sure it never made its way onto US VHS). In the BBFC’s defense, it is – along with Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Cesare Canevari’s The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977), Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978), and Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came In From the Sea (1976) – one of the few movies on the list that is still pretty distressing, even by modern standards.

Video


Island of Death’s growing cult pedigree and banned status in the UK drove up the prices of already rare VHS releases for years. Legend has it that Mostorakis himself noticed the demand for a home video release and personally oversaw a restoration for DVD. The first official stateside DVD version was released by Image Entertainment in 2003. Then, in 2011, Arrow fixed the Mostorakis-supervised transfer up a tad and released an uncut DVD in the UK (I believe it was first time the film was not censored in the region). Now, Arrow has restored the film once again from the original negative with help from Mostorakis (in 2K) and released it for the first time on Blu-ray in both the UK and North America.

 Island of Death
The new, 1080p, 1.33:1 (Mostorakis’ preferred framing, it seems) picture looks fabulous. Print damage is minimal, consisting of mostly of a few stray blotches and scuffs. There are a handful of specific scenes (for example, Christopher and Celia’s escape from the police) that feature more significant artefacting (notably water damage). Grain levels are fine, picking up a bit in underlit interiors, then regulating in the sun-baked exteriors. Nighttime (day for night) images include strong shadows, generally clean blacks, and only minor pulsing effects. Details are pretty consistent with only minor fuzziness on the edges of wide shots (most of the blur is inherent in the imagery). The colours are vibrant throughout, including blue-tinted night exteriors, washed out daytime exteriors with punchy costume highlights, and obscenely vibrant interiors. Some of the outdoor images suffer a slight yellowing from shot to shot, as well as some minor posterization. The more damaged footage of the climax features considerable blobby discoloration. Compression is not an issue, aside from very slight sharpening effects.

Audio


The original mono audio has been cleaned up a bit and is presented in uncompressed PCM 2.0. Though technically a Greek production, it was made with an international release in mind and shot entirely with English dialogue (not to mention the fact that most of the lead cast was either British or American); thus there is little use for additional language tracks. There’s little ADR recording and the added sound effects are usually a relatively overt stylistic choice (the click of a camera aperture that accompanies the edits from location to location, for example), so basic ambience and dialogue is captured on set. The breeze and splash of the nearby ocean helps cover slight buzz that hums beneath the dialogue-heavy indoor scenes. Nikos Lavranos’ music alternates between energetic percussion motifs, oddball moog themes, and inappropriate pop/folk songs (with lyrics by Mastorakis), which give Island of Death a subversive edge – intended or not. The music has plenty of depth, warmth, and bass, even without the benefit of a stereo soundtrack.

 Island of Death

Extras


  • Exploring Island of Death (38:30, HD) – Historian and ace critic Stephen Thrower discusses the making of Island of Death. Thrower covers the film’s censorship in the UK, its various titles, its actors, as well as Mastorakis’ continuing career (including footage from his other films and television appearances), before delving into a more critical analysis.
  • Return to Island of Death (17:00, HD) – Mastorakis returns to the original Mykonos island locations, complete with then-and-now comparisons.
  • Archive interview with Mastorakis (23:40, SD) – An interview with the director from Arrow’s earlier UK DVD release.
  • The Films of Nico Mastorakis – An extensive, four-part documentary charting the director’s filmmaking career. It appears to have been made exclusively for inclusion with various DVD releases by the director, who acts as host and narrator (he interviews himself). It runs a gamut from self-praise to self-effacement, includes lots of footage from the films (including outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage), and is quite charming, despite feeling kind of like a homemade commercial.
    • Part 1: From the Very Beginning to Skyhigh (58:30, SD)
    • Part 2: From Zero Boys to Terminal Exposure (23:40, SD)
    • Part 3: Nightmare at Noon (35:40, SD)
    • Part 4: And Final (40:50, SD)
  • Alternative opening titles:
    • Island of Perversion (:50, HD)
    • [I]Devils in Mykonos (1:10, HD)
  • Island Sounds (24:00, HD stills) – Five songs from the film’s soundtrack
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Nico Mastorakis trailer reel (34:20, HD, but usually SD footage) – Including Blind Date, Skyhigh, Zero Boys, Glitch!, Nightmare at Noon, Bloodstone, Grandmother’s House, Hired to Kill, In the Cold of the Night, The Naked Truth, and .com for Murder.


For whatever reason (some weird rights issue?), Arrow’s older DVD’s commentary track, which featured Mastorakis and author/critic Calum Waddell, is not included.

 Island of Death

Overall


Island of Death is a unique slice of offensive, low-budget filmmaking. It has pacing issues and its amateur production certainly requires patience, but perfection isn’t really the point of this brand of exploitation production. Arrow’s Blu-ray release is a fan’s dream come true, including a mostly great new HD transfer (the final act has some understandable print damage), solid, uncompressed sound, and enough extras to fill an entire day of viewing.

 Island of Death
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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