Written by: Christopher O’Neill on April 15th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: Theatrical Release Date: Greece, 1976
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Writer: Nico Mastorakis
Cast: Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin, Gerard Gonalons, Nikos Tsachiridis
DVD released: March 21st, 2011
Approximate running time: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1:33:1 Fullscreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £15.99
The picturesque island of Mykonos becomes the destination for sex, murder and sadism with the arrival of Christopher and Celia. On the run from British police, the kinky young couple (actually brother and sister) torture and slaughter those who do not abide by their warped beliefs while themselves indulging in taboo-breaking acts of 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 couple to the attention of the local authorities. They flee to the hills to avoid arrest but does this mean the end of the killing spree, or will the couple get their comeuppance for the heinous crimes?
From a screenplay written within seven days and eventually shot on 35mm for $30,000, Island Of Death was among the first exploitation films to emerge from Greece and was sold successfully to international territories. In the accompanying interview found on the DVD, 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”. For a film made with a purely financial agenda rather than for artistic merit, Mastorakis’ second feature nonetheless possesses a unique offbeat charm that makes it stand out from similarly-themed ‘cruel’ films of the seventies. The various scenes of grim brutality and perversity are in striking contrast to the bright surroundings of sunny blue skies and white building exteriors. The hypocritical killers murder and torture those that they believe are sexual deviants yet they themselves are far more depraved in their own carnal practices. Unsurprisingly, such a film caused much controversy back in 1976 when the film was cut and banned in a variety of countries, but 35 years later Island Of Death functions so strongly as a humorous and witty critique of right-wing values, class rivalry and moral bankruptcy that it is hard not to be at least faintly amused rather than offended by the film.
Island Of Death has been issued on DVD at an aspect ratio of 1:33:1. Curiously, during the Q&A featurette Mastorakis states that the ratio should be 1:85:1 and on the audio commentary suggests that Arrow should crop the transfer for a 16X9 presentation. In Arrow’s defence this transfer seems to have been sourced from the same elements as the American Image DVD and this too was 1:33:1, suggesting it is the only version supplied. The fullscreen framing is fine, revealing extra information on the top and bottom that would have been missing from its theatrical presentation, while removing slight information from the left and right (the fullscreen trailer included on the DVD is framed differently and reveals the extra picture at the sides). This is only apparent with a handful of shots which appear tight but never seems heavily cropped, so is acceptable. The image quality looks amazing and is sharp with vivid colours and minimal damage. This edition corrects one error from the earlier DVD issues since one sequence was shot day-for-night and should have had dark blue tinting added. This tinting was missing from the other discs but this has been corrected here.
Unlike previous versions approved in the UK for theatrical and DVD, Arrow presents Island of Death completely uncut for the first time in the country. An uncensored video release was released in Britain during the early eighties but was withdrawn and banned as a “video nasty”. All DVD editions of Island Of Death vary from the original version in regards to the opening credits, which now open with computer-generated red titlecards unfolding on a black background with musical accompaniment. The 1976 edition played with the text on a white background with the sound of a camera clicking synced up to the movement of the credits. It is a pity that this alternative title sequence has not been included as an extra.
The audio is presented in its original mono dimensions and sounds excellent, it is clear and robust with no noticeable hiss or damage. It is the original English audio track as recorded on location.
There are some decent extra features on the DVD, a mixture of material produced specially for this edition as well as elements which have appeared on earlier discs of Island Of Death. The new extras include an audio commentary with Nico Mastorakis and moderator Calum Waddell which was recorded in Dublin during the Horrorthon film festival 2010. It’s an awkward listen, since the good-natured Mastorakis seems irritated by Waddell’s outlandish and antagonistic sense of humour – for example, when the director says that he hopes if Jane Lyle has kids they have not seen the movie, Waddell replies “if they did [their response] would just be ‘wow mum, you had nice breasts’.” It comes to an end with the director saying “thank god” when told that the commentary is about to finish. Also filmed during Horrorthon is an introduction to a screening plus a Q&A discussion with Mastorakis, Waddell and the Irish Film Institute audience which runs 17 minutes. Re-Recording of Destination Understanding is a 21 minute feature in which five extremely different cover versions of the song featured in the movie by Acid Fascistsrage Punk Version), Sea Bass Kid (The Indie Version), The Fnords (The Riot Grrrl Version), Southern Tenant Folk Union (The Bluegrass Version) and Kylie Minoise (The Extreme Noise Version).
A theatrical trailer, carrying the title Cruel Destination, is an interesting addition to the disc since it features many alternative shots for scenes which are featured in the final edit.
Extras ported over from the previous American Image disc are an entertaining interview with Mastorakis (25 minutes) which essentially sums up the core information from the audio commentary and The Music of Island Of Death (7 minutes) which features three songs featured in Island Of Death accompanied by silent clips from the film.