Island of Death, directed by Nick Mastorakis, is one of the nefarious features censored in the 80’s in conjunction with the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. The 72 banned films known as the Video Nasties, are a kind of variable cinematic gauntlet reserved for the most passionate of horror fans. Though a number of these Tory-Blacklisted features are hidden gems, obstructed by generalization, scapegoating, and shock, a number of the films exist for the sole purpose of pissing off censors.
Island of Death is one of those films and its getting a Blu-ray re-release from Arrow films.
A couple, Christpoher and Celia, (Robert Behling and Jane Lyle) posing as newlyweds arrive on the Greek island of Mykonos after having fled the UK for unknown reasons. It’s not long before the two reveal a hyper-sexual relationship and sadistic need to punish and photograph those they see as perverse on the otherwise sleepy island.
Its hardly a synopsis screaming BAN VIDEO SADISM NOW! like the Daily Mail did in 1983, but there’s plenty here to bait an 80’s audience with. Mastorakis has supposedly admitted he made his debut feature purely as a commercial enterprise in the lucrative aftermath of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. His aim: to make something more fucked up than Hooper’s classic.
Island of Death doesn’t boast half the technical flair of TTCM, nor the mood of dread, but it has its moments. Ingeniously, Mastrorakis employs scenic documentary aesthetics to juxtapose his startling subject matter and imagery. The Blu-Ray clean-up looks pretty amazing and helps invoke this idea all too well. Often, Island of Death has a touch of The Wicker Man about it: pretty, serene, but heavy with the weight of its eventual degradations. A late-night chase through the white washed alleyways of a Greek town could have been great for garish 80’s blood spatters, but never gets used to full advantage.
On the other hand, OTT moments of cruel punishment are an oddly charming hoot in their dated exposure. Celia isn’t up for coitus, so Christopher sneaks off to commit bestiality and Hiricide, in exactly that order. Christopher wants to wind up his old mam, so calls her and lets her listen in on his raunchy session with his “wife”. A private detective turns up hot on the couple’s tail, only to end up hanging from an airborne plane by his neck. It’s a film comprised of ludicrous moments and little character work, which- at a run time of 1hr 48mins- is dangerously uninvolving.
But then, it’s not supposed to be involving, it’s supposed to be the opposite. Heroine-addicted lesbian barmaids, mutual masturbation, effeminate pederastical relationships, decadent middle aged women enjoying Golden Showers, it’s all here. A twist is gleefully blurted out in the final moments, paired with a terrifically sadistic demise, and that’s it, the film ends. An odd testament to the talent of Behling and the golden age of shock.
An adventure of omni-sexual discourse, sadism, murder, and violence, Island of Death has a few superb moments of nasty violence, but its gore never quite gets up there with the likes of Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust or Ferrara’s Driller Killer. It’s the kind of shameless exploitation film that, softened by its age, appears somewhat playful alongside contemporary “Nasties” like A Serbian Film, Grotesque, and The Bunny Game. A plethora of extras allows intimate understanding of the film’s construction and survival.