Saturday, December 12, 2015

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

aka Screamers

Original title: L’isola degli uomini pesce

Prison ship physician Lt. Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) finds himself in the unfortunate situation of being adrift in a skiff on the open sea with a boatful of prisoners he rescued when the ship they were all on went under. Things don’t improve when the gang crashes on a mysterious island, for the local fish person population soon kills off most everyone except for the Lieutenant and two of the prisoners.

At least the island is not completely unpopulated of people (probably) not from Innsmouth: the trio soon encounter Amanda (Barbara Bach) who warns them off and basically tells them to shoo back to sea; curiously, that’s not an offer Claude takes. Instead, the stranded follow Amanda to the nice little mansion where she lives under the thumb of sadist prick Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson), a voodoo priestess maid (Beryl Cunningham), and a handful of “natives”. Edmond clearly has plans for his unexpected guests, though it takes a bit for him to go beyond saying every sentence he speaks with improbable sarcasm (there’s not a single word the dubbing actor says that isn’t surrounded by invisible air quotes of doom).

Let’s just say the man’s plans have something to do with the fish people, the mad scientist (a terribly sick looking Joseph Cotten playing a terribly sick man) he hides in his house and who spends most of his time spying through peepholes, the lost race of Atlantis, and so on, and so forth.

I am a great admirer of Island of the Fishmen’s director Sergio Martino’s giallos. However, his work in other genres wasn’t always as fine, with films whose quality was all over the place. Island is very much all over the place, too. At its core, it’s a somewhat Vernesian adventure movie often pretending to be a horror film that follows the old rules of one damn thing after another plotting, and contains nary a second that makes any damn sense at all. I, at least, did have a hard time understanding what Edmond’s plans were actually supposed to be, why he does what he does, and other completely unimportant questions.

But hey, the film does feature the fish people its title promises rather extensively, as well as the obligatory scenes of our wetly clad (clearly, Martino did his best to get around Bach’s no nudity clause in a Bollywood approved way) heroine having a good time with them. There are completely useless (and mildly offensive, as are all the non-white characters, though you gotta admit the white people here are generally pretty offensive too) voodoo rituals, lots of shouting and running around by everyone, an explosion or two, a mad science villain speech each for Johnson and Cotten, as well as a pretty crazy soundtrack, and an English dub that sounds as if we’re listening to a first run through with especially bad accents (Johnson’s voice can only be heard but not described, unless nasal to the degree of cosmic terror counts, while Cassinelli dubs himself as a Frenchman with a heavy Italian accent). And fish people. In other words, I find it pretty damn difficult to find a bad word to say about the film, even though Martino’s direction is uncommonly bland for the third-most stylish giallo auteur, the plotting is, well, not actually plotting, and there’s not a single sensible idea in the movie.

Well, I’ll just admit it, this is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

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