Monday, June 27, 2016

#2,125. Island of the Fishmen (1979)

Directed By: Sergio Martino

Starring: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson

Tag line: "They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean ..."

Trivia: A sequel directed by the same director Sergio Martino was made and released about sixteen years later and entitled The Fishmen and Their Queen

A late ‘70s Italian take on The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of the Fishmen squeezes as much exploitative goodness as it possibly can into a feature film.

The year is 1891, and Lt. Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) is floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea. A doctor whose ship, a prison transport vessel, sank several days earlier, Claude, along with a handful of convicts, are short on supplies and hoping beyond hope that they soon make their way to dry land. As luck would have it, their boat does, indeed, reach a remote island, but Claude and the others quickly realize it’s not exactly paradise; aside from some well-concealed (and quite lethal) booby traps, there’s also a group of mysterious creatures stalking them every step of the way, beings powerful enough to kill a man with a single blow.

Eventually, Claude and the two surviving convicts, Jose (Franco Iavarone) and Peter (Roberto Posse), push further inland, where they're approached by a beautiful woman on horseback, warning them to leave the island as soon as possible. Her name is Amanda (Barbara Bach), and she’s the unwilling consort of the tyrannical Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson), who, for all intents and purposes, “owns” the entire area. But Claude and his companions have no means of escape, so Rackham agrees to put them up for a few days. 

During his time with their host, Claude discovers a number of disturbing things, including the fact that Amanda’s father, world-renowned scientist Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotton), is also on the island, and is responsible for creating the monsters, known as Fishmen, that Claude and his cohorts encountered shortly after their arrival. Along with being incredibly strong, these fishmen are also helping Rackham retrieve treasure from what he believes is the sunken city of Atlantis! Throw in a voodoo priestess named Shakira (Beryl Cunningham) and a volcano that’s about to blow and you have one extremely tense situation.

Can Claude and the others escape this island prison, or will they, too, fall victim to the dreaded Fishmen?

While the movie itself is light on gore and doesn’t feature any nudity (we do, however, get to see a soaking wet Barbara Bach in a sheer white dress), Island of the Fishmen still has lots to offer, starting with its exotic locale (a fair portion of the film was shot on-location in Nuoro, Sardinia). In addition, there are plenty of dangers to keep the characters on their toes, including snakes, scorpions, and deadly traps (one poor convict falls into a pit of sharpened sticks, and is killed instantly). We’re even treated to a voodoo ceremony, complete with an actual sacrifice (animal lovers beware: a chicken loses its head before this sequence is over), and the film’s finale is as intense as it is exciting.

As for the Fishmen, they may look kinda goofy at first (they reminded me of the monsters in 1980’s Humanoids from the Deep) but when the chips are down, they’re pretty damn intimidating. We don’t get a clear look at these creatures early on; when polishing off their initial victim, a prisoner named François (Francesco Mazzieri), we see little more than the swipe of a claw and a jarring close-up. Before long, though, these Fishmen become an integral part of the story, and we even feel a bit sorry for them as the movie progresses (their sole purpose is to swim to the ocean floor and bring treasure to the surface).

An Americanized version of Island of the Fishmen, titled Screamers, was released a year later by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and featured an added sequence (a prologue starring Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer that expanded on the lost city of Atlantis subplot). I’ve never seen this version of the movie, though, to be honest, I don’t think Corman or anyone else could have improved on the original. With its fast pace and thrill-a-minute story, Island of the Fishmen is a veritable smorgasbord of fun.

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