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 Aspect Ratio
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. 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.
Island Of Death is presented on DVD at an aspect ratio of 1:33:1. During the Q&A featurette Mastorakis states that the ratio should be 1:85:1 and on the audio commentary he suggests that Arrow should crop the transfer for a 16X9 presentation. In Arrow’s defence their presentation seems to be the best option, since the framing varies from one shot to the next. In some instances there appears to be extra head room at the top yet, yet in other shots the image looks perfectly balanced and cropping would have resulted in significant information being removed. The only way Island Of Death could have been presented at 1:85:1 without severe cropping issues would have been to re-rack and align each image individually, in much the same way that the British Film Institute did for their release of Don Levy’s Herostratus (1967). Even with this procedure, it would be unlikely that the entire film would look 100% correct. It is also worth noting that all DVD editions, plus Arrow’s later Blu-Ray reissue in 2015, are also framed in this aspect ratio and were sourced from masters approved by Mastorakis. The image quality is sharp with vivid colours and minimal damage. This edition also amends a colour grading error from earlier DVD releases since one sequence, which was shot during the day but should have had dark tinting to fake a nighttime sequence (day-for-night), now has the correct colour timing.
Unfortunately, the elements for the original opening credits – in which the text was accompanied with the sound of a camera clicking synched up to the movement of the credits – are now lost so each DVD edition began with simple computer-generated red titlecards unfolding on a black background with musical accompaniment.
It will probably come as no surprise that Island Of Death has suffered many cuts and restrictions at the hands of the British censors over the years. It was heavily truncated when released in cinemas as A Craving For Lust; the film was issued uncut during the unregulated early days of video but was eventually banned; an attempt to get an official video certificate was rejected during the eighties; when the BBFC finally granted the film a DVD release in the early noughties there were many cuts. Rest assured, this Arrow Video release marks the first time that the film has been given a completely uncut release by the state censor.
The English language audio (as spoken during filming) is presented in its original mono dimensions 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.
There are some decent extra features on the DVD, a mixture of material produced specially for this edition and elements which have appeared on earlier discs of Island Of Death. The extras which are unique to this edition include an audio commentary with Nico Mastorakis and moderator Calum Waddell which was recorded in Dublin during the Horrorthon film festival in 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 which contains 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). This final extra is fun but ultimately inconsequential to the main feature.
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 (24 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 which play over clips from the film.
Please note that this review has been amended from the one originally written in April 2011 to include additional information about the transfer, which was made apparent thanks to Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray reissue of the film in May 2015.