Isle of the Damned

Dir. Mark Colegrove

Banned in 492 Countries!

Private Investigator Jack Steele (Larry Gamber) is hired by a mysterious treasure hunter to help him locate the lost treasure of Marco Polo. Steele’s quest brings him to a strange island off the coast of Argentina rumoured to be populated by a lost tribe of cannibals. As Steele and his small group of treasure hunters explore the island, they realise that the rumours are true and they must utilise all their resources to stay alive and make it off the island in one piece… But who is the bizarre recluse, Alexis Kinkaid (Keith Tveit Langsdorf)? And why do everyone’s lips move out of sync with what they’re saying!??

Screened as part of Belfast’s first Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival – and winner of Best International Film - Isle of the Damned is a deliberate and shameless throwback to 80s era Italian Cannibal movies such as Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox and Deep River Savages – with added satire and irascible self-awareness thrown in for good measure. The work of Ruggero Deadato is specifically mined for inspiration and lovingly parodied; most notably in the images of skewered victims and the film’s deliberately overwrought ‘social commentary.’

The mythology and notoriety surrounding the film is mainly down to director Colegrove and writer Mark Leake, who have concocted a juicy story about the making of this ‘lost film’ that slyly recalls the actual spate of events that dogged Ruggero Deodato when he shot Cannibal Holocaust back in the 80s - and echoing the similar tricks of the makers of The Blair Witch Project.
Apparently, you see, Isle of the Damned was originally released in Italy in 1980 and has since become a legendary lost film. Its director Antonello Giallo came under fire yet again by the Italian government, who were still infuriated by his earlier film Pleasure of the Damned. Can you see where this is going? Outraged by the shocking and real scenes of primitive tribal rituals and cannibalism portrayed in the film, the government sought to prosecute Giallo, who subsequently fled the country into a state of solitary exile. The film has been long out of print, but is now finally doing the festival circuit and presented in a digitally remastered form. Huzzah!

The soiled story unravels under grainy and sleazy footage of an expedition to a mysterious island to retrieve hidden treasure. However, the reason for the characters going to the island is soon overshadowed as soon as they get there, by scenes of depravity, mayhem and gore. Lots of gore. Much of it would be utterly offensive and downright disturbing were it not for the fact that Isle of the Damned’s severed tongue is wedged firmly in its flayed cheek. Its so outrageous, over-the-top and ridiculous, it can’t help but incite laughter; be it shocked or otherwise.

Actors are kitted out with the worst wigs and beards imaginable, 70’s moustaches, retro-kitsch outfits and more deliberately bad dubbing and ludicrous dialogue than you can shake a fistful of innards at. Even the lengthy and at times utterly irrelevant dialogue and the many scenes of pointless and trite exposition are expertly and lovingly realised – recalling the often tedious scenes that unfolded between the scenes of carnage and violence in the original films. And let’s face it, the moments of gore, cannibalism and violence are what made those films so infamous in the first place and the reason why so many flocked to see them. Toilet humour and a raised middle finger to political correctness also ensure the satire in Isle of the Damned is sharper than a savage’s spear.

The SFX are pretty impressive and stir up memories of the early work of Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero to name a few; with buckets of brains, blood, guts and spunk.

The winning soundtrack is yet another throwback to the heyday of the progressive music that accompanied 80s euro-sleaze and Mondo-exploitation fare. The likes of Libra, Fabio Frizzi, early John Carpenter and Goblin are evoked and particularly stir memories of Riz Ortolani’s folksy compositions for Cannibal Holocaust, as gentle guitar ballads are strummed out over shots of wildlife and jungle-scapes. Amusingly, animals that are not even native to that part of the word (off the coast of South America) are featured, including rhinos and cheetahs. A yawning lizard and a rubber spider provide yet more guffaw-inducing moments of giddy glee. The rest of the soundtrack comprises of wizened synthesiser drones and echoes of Italo-disco beats.

All of the things that made those original movies so notorious are recreated here with ease and a wry smile – the sleazy, creepy tone, copious splashy gore effects, casual racism, brutal scenes of murder and rape, lengthy and irrelevant scenes of exposition to pad out the story and the quite often tenuous subtext: the question ‘who are the real savages?’ This social commentary is kicked squarely in the teeth, dragged out of the subtext and randomly spouted by the badly dubbed actors – ‘we’re the real savages!’ in appropriately overwrought and out of sync fashion. Adding to the absurdity of this, is the overacting combined with the bad dubbing that often contradicts the manner in which the dialogue is delivered.

A celebration of schlock that manages to exude a perverted charm all its own. Anarchic and likely to offend those of a somewhat sensitive disposition, fans of 70’s/80’s cannibal exploitation flicks won’t want to miss this. Best enjoyed with friends and liquor.


Matt-suzaka said…
Thanks to a lovely couple of friends, I own a copy of this movie, and thought it was quite fun and entertaining. I met the guys that made it at the most recent Monster Mania, and they were a very cool group of guys. Definitely worth the support, and definitely perfect for a group watching with some booze!
James Gracey said…
Hey Matt. I had a sneaky suspicion you would like this... I really had no idea what to expect - or rather, what I was letting myself in for! When I wasn't gasping at the audacity of it all, I was grinning like a fool.

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