Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) Blu-ray Review

Island of Death (1976) d. Nico Mastorakis (Greece)

This glorious masterpiece of prurient behavior gleefully dances across every line of good taste laid out by polite society, then goes further. Incest, public telephone booth sex, adultery, homosexuality, murder, rape, bestiality... and that’s just in the first 20 minutes! For another 80, we follow the exploits of a sociopathic American Christopher (Robert Behling) and his Brit “wife” Celia(Jane Lyle) as they work their way through the populace of the small Greek isle of Mykonos, doling out their own special brand of morality and punishment. Mastorakis juxtaposes jaw-dropping onscreen events with gorgeous locales, all set to a groovy soundtrack courtesy of Nikos Lavranos and repeatedly punctuated by the catchy vocal tunes “Do You Love Me Like I Love You” and “Destination”. With golden showers, drug use, and death by makeshift blowtorch, samurai sword, bulldozer blades, and DIY crucifixion, it's a parade of sleaze well worth the time for fans who’ve seen it all.

For such a notorious flick (it was among the 39 titles on the official BBFC Video Nasties list), Island of Death has had a fairly robust distribution history. According to Nathaniel Thompson, editor/author of the DVD Delirium book series, a cut version was released in the UK by Vipco followed by Arrow Video's uncut version, with Mastorakis releasing his own uncut version through his Omega Pictures distribution company in the interim. (This version was the one picked up by Image and then released in the U.S. in 2008.)

There is some debate about the 1:33:1 aspect ratio, which seems to be the only version available, despite the writer/director reportedly having claimed during Arrow’s 2011 DVD audio commentary that it should be shown in 1:85:1. Nevertheless, Arrow's recent Blu-ray edition maintains the 1:33:1 ratio (and also doesn’t include the commentary in question, interestingly enough), but the full-frame doesn't distract in the slightest.

The supplements are just as generous and enlightening as the film is bizarre and shocking, the first being “Exploring Island of Death,” Nightmare U.S.A.'s Stephen Thrower's excellent overview of Island's checkered past and Mastorakis' career, which clocks in at nearly 40 minutes. “Return to the Island of Death” revisits the exotic and picturesque locations - sort of a "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" minus the hair gel.

Mastorakis tenders a lengthy interview from 2002 where he reveals his intentions to create an exploitation film that would ride the coattails of Last House on the Left and Texas Chain Saw Massacre - not out of any deep-seated admiration for Craven or Hooper's work or desire to generate notoriety, but purely hoping to make a film that would make money. He also takes pains to assure us that the infamous goat deflowering sequence was well and truly faked, which is a pretty darn funny story.

The Films of Nico Mastorakis is fairly self-explanatory, and considering that most horror fans are only familiar with this title, it may open some eyes and minds to the Greek auteur's other offerings. Alternate title sequences, of which there are many, include Devils in Mykonos, A Craving for Lust, Diamonds on Her Naked Flesh, Cruel Destination, Psychic Killer II, and Isle of Perversion, which alternate between music and the camera clicking noise that accompanies the original title (shown in the feature presentation). Speaking of music, there are five soundtrack songs showcased in “Island Songs,” and the disc wraps up with a half hour of trailers of the director's oeuvre.

Island of Death is available now from Arrow Video on Blu-ray and DVD (through MVD Entertainment) and can be ordered HERE:


--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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