Written by: Christopher O’Neill on May 27th, 2015
BluRay released: May 25th, 2015 (UK) / May 26th, 2015 (USA)
Approximate running times: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR (USA) / 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region Free / Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $39.95 (USA) / £17.99 (UK)
Synopsis: The picturesque island of Mykonos becomes the destination for sex, murder and sadism with the arrival of Christopher and Celia. The young couple torture and slaughter those who do not abide by their warped beliefs while they themselves indulge in taboo-breaking acts of sexual depravity. Homosexuals, adulterers, hippies, horny middle-aged women and even goats are among the victims whose unpleasant and prolonged deaths are captured by the killers’ ever-present camera. As Celia tires of their twisted crusade, Christopher’s insatiable thirst for cruelty grows increasingly out of control, which draws the attention of the local authorities. They flee to the hills to avoid arrest. Does this mean the end of the killing spree, or will the couple get their comeuppance for their heinous crimes?
In an accompanying interview on the DVD, director Nico Mastorakis states “I didn’t want to make a cult movie, I didn’t want to make the most violent and perverse movie ever made, I wanted to make a movie that made money”. From a screenplay written in seven days and eventually shot for a very modest budget of $30,000, Island Of Death was not only one of the first exploitation pictures to emerge from Greece, but one that was successfully sold to several territories worldwide so not only did it turn a profit, but allowed Mastorakis to begin his international career. While Mastorakis’ financially-driven determination may suggest a rather cynical approach to filmmaking, to his credit his second feature actually stands out positively from similarly-themed ‘cruel’ films of the seventies due to its absurdist sensibilities: the couple murder and torture those that they believe are sexual deviants, yet they themselves are extreme hypocrites who are far more depraved in their own carnal practices. The acts of brutality and perversity are framed against the picturesque surroundings of sunny blue skies and white building exteriors backed by folksy euro-pop songs. Since the couple document their murderous activities with a camera, the perspective switches from the point of view of the filmmakers behind the scenes to the unhinged characters on-screen. This unusual approach to the material means that Island Of Death functions as an overblown critique of right-wing values, class rivalry, religious hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy. Mastorakis may laugh at such readings of his film, deeming them unintentional, but the director’s playfulness proves to be a major asset since it ultimately makes Island Of Death a darkly humorous film. This does not necessarily diminish its ability to shock and disarm but it thankfully keeps at bay a sense of mean-spiritedness that the film could have easily possessed.
Arrow Video has issued Island Of Death for a second time on DVD in the United Kingdom together with the first high definition version of the film on Blu-Ray. Both the Blu-Ray and DVD are available in a special combo pack. Arrow Video has also released this combo pack in the United States (The content and mastering is the same in both countries). This review relates specifically to the Blu-Ray edition of the film.
Island Of Death is presented on Blu-Ray at an aspect ratio of 1:37:1 (pillarboxed). While Arrow Video’s standard definition presentation of the film (released on DVD in 2011) had a satisfactory image, the Blu-Ray edition is even better. There was extensive restoration work done on the original elements and the results have paid off handsomely. The image quality is sharp and even tighter in high definition, while the vivid colours pop out even more. As is noted on the accompanying liner notes, reel 5 of the negative was damaged, resulting in issues with the colour fluctuating unevenly. Because of this, this section of Island Of Death is imperfect but Arrow Video have done an amazing job to try and balance the colour problem as much as possible and it is never as distracting as it would have been in its unrestored condition.
Since the elements for the original opening credits are now lost, previous DVD editions of Island Of Death begin with simple computer-generated red titlecards unfolding on a black background with musical accompaniment. Thankfully, for this Blu-Ray newly-created titlecards have been created to replicate the lost title sequence.
The English language audio (this was the language spoken during filming) is presented in its original mono dimensions (uncompressed PCM) and sounds excellent. As one would expect from a low budget film of this vintage there is occasional hiss (resulting from the location recording), mild damage or sync issues (due to some ADR work done in the sound mix), but this is never an issue and, overall, the sound is clear and robust throughout.
It is worth noting that the Blu-Ray has Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, which the earlier DVD release did not.
For Arrow Video’s second release of Island Of Death, the especially-commissioned extra content found on their previous edition (the audio commentary; the Q&A filmed at the Horrorthon film festival the Dublin; the Re-Recording of Destination Understanding music featurette) has been dropped and replaced with new material. Exploring Island Of Death is a 39 minute interview with Stephen Thrower (author of Nightmare USA and Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco) who talks about the film in-depth. As Thrower demonstrated in his appearances on both volumes of the Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide box sets, he is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker and this feature is a most welcome addition. Return to Island Of Death (17 minutes) finds Mastorakis visiting the island of Mykonos and various locations where the film was originally shot. Other content unique to this Blu-Ray are two alternative titlecards for the film as Island Of Perversion and Devils In Mykonos. Island Sounds (24 minutes) is a superior upgrade of the The Music of Island Of Death found in the previous edition featuring five songs from the film.
Ported over from the previous DVD edition is an entertaining interview with Mastorakis (24 minutes) which is particularly worthwhile since it essentially sums up the core information found on the now-absent audio commentary, and a theatrical trailer, carrying the title Cruel Destination, which is an interesting addition as it features many alternative shots for scenes which are featured in the final edit.
Found on the Blu-Ray (but not on the accompanying DVD found in the combo set) are two significant bonus features. The Films Of Nico Mastorakis is a four-part documentary (running 159 minutes in total, presented in standard definition) covering everything from the director’s earliest television work to his penultimate film The Naked Truth from 1992. These segments were split up and found on various DVDs of Mastorakis’ films released over a decade ago but are compiled together here for the first time. The format, which is a scrapbook mixture of voiceover, film extracts, trailers, behind the scenes footage, outtakes, and occasional Pop-Up Video-style titlecards, is put together in a crude video editing fashion that seemed dated even back in 2002. This reviewer must confess that he did not find many of the films covered here appealing – T&A comedies such as Sky High and Glitch appear notably obnoxious – but even when such films are covered Mastorakis’ good natured narration is worth a listen and, regardless of the quality of some of these works, it is hard not to warm to his roguish personality and tales of independence within the film industry. Also included on the Blu-Ray but not the new DVD is the Nico Mastorakis Trailer Reel (34 minutes, standard definition) which covers several but not all of his feature films.
Last and certainly not least there is a 24 page booklet featuring stills, an informative essay entitled A Cruel Destination: The History and Legacy of Island Of Death by Johnny Walker, and details about the restoration undertaken to present the film on Blu-Ray. Arrow Video also presents a reversible double-sided sleeve featuring the original UK video artwork on one side, and specially-commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys (which is vastly superior to the lurid artwork which appeared on Arrow’s previous edition of the film).