Thursday, June 30, 2011
Island of the Fishmen aka L'isola degli uomini pesce
Well, it's been a while since I wrote (or watched, for that matter) anything as gloriously silly as Island of the Fishmen. Whilst I have seen it before, it was only once and somewhat over a year ago, so I thought this re-imagining of Dr Moreau's isalnd was ripe for another watch. And what a (ahem) treat it is!
It opens as you might expect a tense serious monster film to: the sea is still, several injured men look silently at the camera and a gull screeches overhead. Something has gone very wrong here, but we just don't know what! Maybe this will be, despite the name, a slow-building tense affair, all hinted-at flashes and unsettling curiosities..... OH WAIT, NO! MONSTERS HAVE ARRIVED!
The boat rocks, the men shout and scream, despite clearly being in a studio rather than the ocean they are plunged into the sea! We see flashes of fishy monster hands and eyes... and all this in the first five minutes.
The greatest thing about this film is that, unlike many of its ilk, it never really slows down. All too often, I've watched dull films with snappy titles, fun beginnings and then a tedious 45 minute crawl towards a decent finale, the kind of film that makes 90 minutes seem like a very long time indeed. Thankfully, Island... is not one of these. The pace does dip and wobble but the sense of threat and excitement never really leaves. Even within the first half hour or so most of the first characters meet grisly fates (more fishmen!) , presumably-poisonous snakes have threatened the others and native islanders have attacked and captured our heroes. Through all this carnage walks the impressive mustachioed badguy, Rackham (Richard Johnson), sneering and snarling his lines at his captive would-be wife and our shipwrecked hero.
From here on in it just gets sillier. We learn about the rediscovery of Atlantis, the origin of the savage clawed fishmen and the dastardly Rackham's true plans. It's chaotically silly stuff that makes little sense to anyone but it romps on through with gleeful abandon. And it is great fun.
I don't want to give too much of the fabulous plot away but I couldn't help but mention the volcano shots... Every now and then the camera cuts to some very impressively shot footage of erupting volcanoes - obviously lifted from a nature documentary - which, when contrasted with the unspeakably silly Fishmen costumes, makes them look even more ridiculous than they otherwise would have done.
N.B. This was re-cut and re-released in the US as Screamers. I'm not really sure in what ways that version was different, as I watched the Italian print, but I do know that Roger Corman re-shot the intro to add more gore... The poster for Screamers bears almost no relation to what happens in the Island of the Fishmen!