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Pleading the Filth: Island of Death (1976)

vlcsnap-2016-08-05-21h44m51s188“Mother, I see the wonders of the day/millions of people left like clay/millions of whispers saying “I’m dying”/mother see the wonders of the day.” Some rubbish folksinger prick on the soundtrack here.

Well let’s face it, friends, readers, countrymen, leering perverts, bestiality fans, whoever, sometimes we make cultural mistakes. This film was recently featured on Theaterofguts.com (a site I occasionally write for) and I thought I would revisit it, as I had not seen it since probably the early 80s, when it was part of that whole tiresome UK video nasty anti-cultural shit that young horror fans deludedly slaver over like it was a fun time to be a part of. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to write a review of it, and told the erstwhile Kat Ellinger I would do so.

This was my mistake.

Well, watching the whole thing (chuckling here) was also a mistake, so I guess you can get two mistakes for the price of one here, entirely up to yourself. So this film was banned by Theresa May – sorry,Margaret Thatcher, easy mistake to make – and her effete idiotic cabal of paedophiles and murderers and inbrednecks back in the 80s. I have to say, though, that I totally agree with this film being banned. Cos it deserves to be, quite simply. It’s a piece of complete and utter gutter-howling shit with absolutely zero redeeming features.

Going into watching this, all I could very vaguely remember about it was some guy fucking a goat(!), and my uncle Gary saying at the time that it came out that he couldn’t believe that at the end of the film the Big Shocking Reveal was…ah, well, we’ll get to that presently. So I had no real preconceptions going into watching the film, and was basically expecting a John Waters-alike sleazefest and romp through bad taste. I don’t exactly know why I even expected this, but it’s basically what I got and more…or less.

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So okay. Young couple, self-introduced as cousins, Christopher (Bob Belling) and Celia (Jane Ryall)(he’s American, and she’s English) arrive on the Greek island of Mykonos to hide out from the cops for reasons that are never fully truly explained. Or maybe they are, but I found myself sweating bullets and blacking in and out of consciousness watching this test of my endurance when I could take no more wannabe-contentious, boring stupidity, and maybe the whole on-the-run thing was nearly explained at some point. Upon arrival on the island, they basically decide to go on a nihilistic, misanthropic, drug, murder, torture, rape, and sleazy-sex-drowned rampaging romp which gained this chunk of guitar-picks-of-the-future (old celluloid prints are melted down into guitar picks when they have outlived their entertainment usefulness; they should have just cut out the middle man and done that with the stock this film was shot on!) its notoriety and trendy banned status. Which is unfortunate, because these things make the film seem much more interesting than it actually is, to be honest.

Now. Christopher means ‘bearing Christ’ in Greek, and ‘Celia’ means ‘Heaven’ in Latin. I tell you this because, without doing absolutely any research on this film (except to see if Mykonos is a real island, and to see what the religion would be there), what this film genuinely comes off to like me is somebody rebelling darkly against their religious background, and doing so in the extreme way that often is the hallmark of somebody from a Christian or Catholic past. And seeing as how I find those sorts of films to be incredibly tedious (“Ooooh look, Jesus won’t like me for doing that! Anarchy!”), fingerpainting-in-shitty piles of faux-rebellious nonsense, watching this film was boring as hell to me.

Somebody wants to piss all over his homeland (hometown? No idea where director/producer/writer Nico Mastorakis grew up, and don’t care) and religion in a really sleazy, angry way, yay, hooray, how original! I mean, if, for random example, Luis Bunuel hadn’t been doing it several decades before Mastorakis, or if John Waters hadn’t been doing it years before…all this trite ‘angry at Jesus’ tripe might have been a whole lot edgier and more interesting. As it is, it just comes across as somebody who is being a rebellious teenager against religion in the scummiest, slummiest ways he can think of, but without any kind of depth to the attacks, any kind of clear (anti) ideology behind them. Because I couldn’t give a literal damn about Christianity or spitting or pissing or shitting on it, none of the imagery on display – rape, murder, brains blown across crosses, etc – touches me on any kind of religious transgressive level. I don’t share Mastorakis’s clear religious pathologies/taboo excitements and hangups, so the thing has to live or die for me on the strength of the story and characters. Where it certainly dies, and is certainly not coming back, unlike Jesus, or the French artist character crucified in the film.

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Now. As Christopher and Celia are presented to us as horrible deranged, amoral, scary sociopaths more or less from the get-go, we can’t relate to them, and there really isn’t a likeable character in the whole film, really. We are subjected to an endless decorticated parade of two-dimensional ‘perverted’ characters who exist solely to get undressed and then get murdered for the entertainment of the audience and the two main insane protagonists. From young to middle aged to just-turned-pensioner, there’s a…variable quality of tautness of flesh on dubious somecrimes-eyeburner display here.

There is a strong homophobic – I can’t even truly say undercurrent, it’s so in-your-face – overcurrent to the atrocities that happen. Ironic in that the real island of Mykonos is apparently very gay-friendly, as I learned from its Wiki page. On two separate occasions, Tweedledum and Tweedledummer break into the houses of gay couples – one male, one female – to torture and murder them. Christopher burbles away in religious-sounding psychobabble: “No-one wants to be brought up with perversion. Children must be brought up in a proper way. Nature is strong.” Abused as a child and acting out? That would be giving the film too much depth. It actually seems to come from a place of incredible sexual disgust, as befitting any extremist religious background, and is disturbing as such. I suppose you could try and tell me it’s a satire on the supposed hypocrisy of religious/moral avengers, but that’s a load of shite, really. Mastorakis attacks religion from every angle possible, so it can’t be said there’s been too much thought put into the insipid nihilistic drivel dribble on display.

Wee mad Christ(opher) rants about “punishing perversion” even as he carries out far worse acts of perversion and hatred than any other character in the film. Oh the deep, bleak, black irony! Could almost work as somebody attacking the things in themselves they hate, but this wouldn’t explain the Biblical-revenge ending, where he is raped himself(!) and…other things happen. It’s just a strange psychosexual clusterfuck from start to finish: sexual assault, incest (at one point the couple phone up Christopher’s mother back in England to have sex over the phone to her), bestiality, watersports, erotic arousal through violence, whatever you want – and the religious background to it all makes it incredibly uncomfortable, seeing as how it all springs from a one-man filmmaking band. Still, least he has/had art to take it out on, eh?

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This is an incredibly conflicted film. What makes it that way is the obvious pride that Mastorakis has in the incredible beauty of the real island of Mykonos (did the islanders even read the script before this film was made there, if it was? I would imagine this film is widely despised there now due to its content, and unflattering portrayal of the locals as weirdos and rapists and creeps), mixing gorgeous cinematography with the scathing disgust and scorn he pours onto everybody there. Because make no mistake, this is an incredibly well made film, full of paradoxically beautiful shots, making it come off like a sex tourist film for maniacs shot by The Peter Sutcliffe Cultural Sensitivity Society. The oddly respectful and reverent way the irreverent-cum-irrelevant production treats the local scenery with is matched and outdone only by the graphic, psychotic, ludicrous savagery with which it flays and flagellates pretty much every single character during the running time. And there’s a great use of camera stock too, where Christopher takes photos of their victims (i.e. a stand-in of a sort for the director himself), with the resulting monochrome shots shutter-clicking us through some excellent murderous slideshow sequences. But really it’s too little, too late, or, to quote Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live, “like pouring perfume on a pig.”

Island of Braindeath is vicious and nihilistic and graphic and horrible, but this is not necessarily any kind of endorsement of it – unless you like watching 5-year-olds chew up their food and then hold their mouth open to show you the mass of mess to try and disgust you, that is. It’s ultimately impossible to fully truly take this film and its levels of contentious wannabe-offence seriously, because it is trying way too hard to shock and awe the audience. There’s a couple of bits where a hippie folk singer sits randomly playing an acoustic guitar, singing the inane insane song quoted at the top of this review, and it’s fucking terrifying, really, like a folk music video filmed by GG Allin. But it didn’t offend or shock me, it just made me yawn. I just sat there going okay, Christopher just pissed on this woman and she’s into it and now he’s going to kill her, and then they’ll just bring on some new random stupid sleazy scene, and rinse and repeat, and blah blah blah…who gives a fuck?

 Guess I must just be getting jaded and cynical as the years and cinematic miles roll on.

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 You want to cut up paper-thin characters with scissors and then have the fools who do it light votive candles in repentance? Go for it. Just don’t expect me to give a flying fuck. Period. I’m no prude, as anybody who knows me will know (witness my Facebook Mad Foxes page), but I confess it genuinely does confuse me how some films get an undeserved ‘cult’ status. Not that this one’s cult status is entirely undeserved, mind you: I can see how there’s enough sexual and violent sleaze to satisfy the prurient trauma voyeur instincts of people with low skinematic standards. (I am laughing here as I write this). There’s a scene in the film where Christopher and Celia run over a rubbish tip that could quite neatly serve as a metaphor for the whole film, were you so inclined to make that comparison.

Why couldn’t one single person in this film give a performance approaching anything but terrible softcore porn level? We never find that out. Were the couple meant to be international drug smugglers? We never find that out. Some “funny nigger” (subtle!) called Foster is chasing them because he thinks they’re killers. Why? We never find that out. Were they just rebelling against Christopher’s mother? We never find that out. Are they decadent upper-middle-class English inbredneck shite? We never find that out…then again…it’s kind of obvious that they are, really. Why are they related and yet speak with different accents? We never find that out. How did Foster find them as they only mentioned being on a small Greek island when he was tapping their phone? We never find that out. What the fuck did the director and crew and actors think they were doing when they made this film, except making money from sleaze? We never find that out. And never will. Why am I still writing about this? We’ll find that out, cos I’m stopping here. And that Big Shocking Reveal I mentioned earlier? Watch the film and find out yourself. Cos you will probably want to, if you’ve not seen it already. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned. And if Nico Mastorakis ever invites you to Greece for a relaxing religious holiday…

…I don’t need to tell you what the hell your answer should be as you run far, far away from him as fast as you can.

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About Graham Rae

Graham Rae has been writing about weird and wonderfueled cinematic oddities for nearly 30 years. He started off writing for the legendary Deep Red, and since then has been bounced around like a human pinball around such venues as Film Threat, American Cinematographer, Cinefantastique, and Realitystudio.org.. A selection of his genre writings are available at www.facebook.com/raewrites, and he runs a Mad Foxes page on Facebook too. You have been warned.

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