Director: Bruno Mattei
Writers: Antonio Tentori, Bruno Mattei, Giovanni Paolucci
Starring: Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo
The dumbest fortune hunters on the seas are having a bad day – they really should have studied up on things like how to successfully bring treasure chests to the surface – but when they discover a heretofore-unknown island, they embark on one of the most lackluster adventures this side of a rejected Scooby-Doo script. The location shooting is at times truly impressive, and the cinematography far better than it has any right to be. But once inside the island’s catacombs on sets that must have been left over from old GILLIGAN’S ISLAND or MONKEES episodes, the treasure hunters predictably split up, encounter a wide array of inconsistently powered ghost-zombie-vampires, do the flamenco, drink maggot-infested wine, and get themselves killed off way too slowly. You’ll be feeling shipwrecked yourself as this often padded and uneventful ‘adventure’ limps to its finale and one last attempt at a shocking twist.
Bruno Mattei has a place in the hearts and guts of zombie fans from his work on immortal ‘classics’ like HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and ZOMBI 3. ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD was his penultimate film – part one of a two-part saga – but it’s not exactly a triumphant return. There’s really no sugar coating it; this is a bad movie. The acting is amateurish (although admittedly you can tell that most of the cast members are really trying), the dialogue (assuming the dubbed lines are close to the original writing) is awkward and childish, and the quality of the production is a step or two above community theater. Ed Wood himself would be proud of the actors’ attempts to enliven their acting with cartoonish gesticulation and googly-eyed expressions, to say nothing of a familiar lack of discretion in waving guns around at colleagues; Plan 9 is definitely in effect. You do get the sense, however, that everyone involved is working hard to make this come together into something resembling a finished product, and that dedication alone is admirable.
Ed Wood himself would be proud of the actors’ attempts to enliven their acting with cartoonish gesticulation and googly-eyed expressions.
It’s also possible Mattei might have been deliberately playing up the flaws normally associated with his other films for the fun of it, but even if we give him that (and that’s a stretch), the movie still fails to deliver on much of what made his other work so memorable. This is a remarkably tame ‘exploitation’ film, with no nudity and little gore to provide visceral thrills; the only thing it exploits is the viewer. ISLAND could easily air on cable and look poor in comparison to edgier fare on commercial networks.
This is a remarkably tame ‘exploitation’ film, with no nudity and little gore to provide visceral thrills; the only thing it exploits is the viewer.
The zombies are a mildly interesting mix of monsters, with some of them gleefully stalking prey while others are quite chatty. They blur the lines between corporeal zombies, ghostly apparitions, and in some cases, skull-faced vampires! At least one of them demonstrates the ability to regrow a lost limb; that’s a new one on me. The movie also offers a veritable catalogue of zombie pop culture references, with nods to the genre’s Voodoo origins, scenes and lines of dialogue lifted wholesale from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBI 2, BURIAL GROUND, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, PSYCHO, THE FOG, and THE EVIL DEAD, and references to KING KONG as well as musical nods to ALIENS and the Berlioz piece heard in THE SHINING.
ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD may be a mess, but it’s still the first part of Mattei’s two-film farewell and a must-see for any zombie fan.
It is a shame that this is only presented dubbed; the only proper way to see films in another language is with the original soundtrack and subtitles. But if this is the only way we get to enjoy Mattei’s final zombie epics, it’s a cross we’ll have to bear. Besides, based on the acting we can see, it’s unlikely the original voices would change the proceedings too much. ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD may be a mess, but it’s still the first part of Mattei’s two-film farewell and a must-see for any zombie fan. Once you reach the typo-ridden disclaimer text at the end, you’ll surely be rushing to move on to the final chapter, so lock and load and join me for ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING!
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