Island of Death (1976): Fun in the Sun

Matty revisits Nico Mastorakis’ video nasty.

In his archival interview on Arrow’s 2015 Blu-ray — an informative chinwag that’s appeared on a wealth of other ISLAND OF DEATH discs since the turn of the millennium — venerable Grecian genre peddler Nico Mastorakis describes his sophomore feature as “a recipe movie”. Inspired by the success of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which he’d seen with a pal at an open air theatre in Athens, Mastorakis reasoned that he too could make a boatload of cash by producing a scuzzy horror flick — particularly if it was more violent and more offensive than he believed Chain Saw to be. What followed was a flurry of creativity. The future purveyor of such primo VHS era goodies as The Zero Boys (1986) and Nightmare at Noon (1988) hashed out Island of Death’s script in a single week, ticking a list of taboos and deliberately exploitable ingredients as he went, before shooting it on a $30,000 budget and selling the film all around the world upon completion, its subsequent cult rep bolstered by its status as a so-called ‘video nasty’ here in the UK.

While Mastorakis continually cites The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as his primary influence, watching Island of Death today reveals it to be more preemptive of Hooper’s 1986 sequel than anything. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Mastorakis’ crackpot shocker contains similar pokes at conservative values. However, where Hooper had Leatherface et al railing against the squares, bemoaning capitalism and those who worship it, the psychos at the heart of Island of Death are the conservatives. Played by Bob Behling and Jane Lyle, Chris and Celia are a thoroughly twisted pair of newlyweds who, as far as Chris is concerned, are ridding the world of perverts and degenerates (a subconscious invoking of the rightwing military junta whose rule of Greece had ended just prior to Island of Death’s making, perhaps?). Their means include: forcing a lothario to drink paint; shooting and slicing a homosexual couple; beating and squishing a promiscuous ol’ cougar (Rejuvenator’s (1988) Jessica Dublin, whose role in that minor classic is strangely foretold by a catty line of dialogue that states she’s “discovered the secret to eternal youth”); and flambéing a recreational smackhead. Their hunting ground is the titular destination, the gorgeous Greek isle of Mykonos — a picturesque locale whose white-washed architecture and sun-soaked climes sit in marked contrast to the darkness of Chris and Celia’s ultra-violent ‘honeymoon’.

Murder, rape, buggery, racism, blasphemy, homophobia, mental illness, golden showers, bestiality (that goat, that poor bloody goat…), and, in a last reel kicker, incest — Mastorakis leaves no stone unturned, and, even some forty-odd years later, Island of Death packs a punch. In fact, if you’re of a sensitive disposition you’re probably best steering clear. But for those with a hankering for waggish, John Waters-style bad taste, Island of Death hits the sweet spot. Because as mercilessly crass and cruel as it is — and as beneficial a few pace-quickening snips to its bloated running time would be — it succeeds as a compulsive bit of transgressive entertainment due to Mastorakis’ staunch commitment to playing the whole thing for laughs. Again, it’s Chainsaw 2 territory: Island of Death is a zany, freewheeling comedy disguised as a brutal horror movie. Mastorakis might pretend he was trying to disturb and feign surprise at anyone finding humour in it, but the crazed Kabuki performances he extracts from the cast, and his barmy, ironic coda — a sort of surreal nod to the fatalism of one of his favourite films, Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) — sure suggest otherwise. Island of Death is as purposefully absurd as it is nauseating, and I mean that in the highest praising way possible.

Also known as ‘Island of Perversion’, ‘Devils in Mykonos’, ‘Cruel Destination’, ‘Killing Daylight’, ‘A Craving For Lust’, and ‘Psychic Killer 2’.

Greece ● 1976 ● Horror ● 106mins

Bob Behling (as ‘Bob Belling’), Jane Lyle (as ‘Jane Ryall’), Jessica Dublin, Nikos Tsachiridis ● Wri./Dir. Nico Mastorakis (as ‘Nick Mastorakis’)

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