1/2/09

Feature Friday: Isle of the Damned (2008)

Hello Moonies and welcome to the Friday Feature for the month of January, It's a Jungle Out There. This is where you'll find 5 weeks of Cannibals, Jungle Queens, and other adventures in the "Green Hell". Tonight we're kicking it off with a film that was sent to me a few weeks back, but with all the Christmas content I hadn't got around to watching it. I finally have, and I have more than a few thoughts about it. Reportedly the lost film from Italian master Antonello Giallo, it is actually an independent film made recently in Maryland. While they have lots of things in Maryland, I'm pretty sure one of them is not an....

Isle of the Damned (2008) starring Larry Gamber, Peter Crates, Keith Langsdorf, and Dustin Edwards. Directed by Mark Colegrove. 

Jack Steele (Gamber) is a private eye who has been hired by Harold Thompson to help find the lost gold hidden by Marco Polo somewhere off the coast of Argentina. Jack and his adopted son Billy (Crates) have to explore one last island before the mission is over. The last place left to look is the unfortunately named Cannibal Island. They land on the island only to run into roving bands of cannibals out to have them for lunch. 
The group gets split up and might become food if not for the mysterious archeologist, Alexis Kincaid (Langsdorf), and his servant Cain (Edwards) who comes to their rescue. 

They are taken back to Kincaid's jungle mansion where they learn that he lives there because he believes that civilized men are the real savages. Kincaid also holds the secrets to the location of Marco Polo's gold, but he will not reveal it. Thompson will stop at nothing to get his hands on it and shows how savage a man can be to get what he wants, but will any of them survive to leave the island or will they all be devoured by the natives. 

Film Facts

--The film was shot entirely on location in Maryland.

--This is the second feature for director Cosgrove following up his first Antonello Giallo flick Pleasures of the Damned. 

The Bug Speaks

I want to start off talking about the positive things this film has to offer. The idea of making a spoof film based out of the Italian cannibal pictures was an intriguing concept, and while you have to have a basis in some of these film, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Antropophagus, etc., to really get everything out of the film, knowledge of the genre is definitely not required. However it will add to your enjoyment of the intentional bad dubbing, ludicrous story line, and spliced in footage of jungle beasts if you do have a background. 

The acting is pretty solid, and the film making sometimes even strikes of real Italian directors such as Sergio Martino. The gore is also handled quite well and one scene where a character's face is ripped off is as well done as practically any such effect I have seen.  Larry Gambler as Jack Steele is particularly entertaining and reminds me of the American actors who were dropped in to many Italian productions to be the rough and tumble adventurer. The other high point comes from the story of Kane, a one time Yakuza hitman who has given up violence and taken a vow of silence. The love story that blossoms between him and a mute almost victim of the cannibal tribes provides many amusing moments. 

This is where things start to get bad. While the film has many laughs courtesy of the intentional bad dialog and off kilter story, it suffers when it deviates into darker corners. Jack's adoptive son is almost raped by Thompson in one scene, and much is made of the boys obvious homosexual tendencies.  While in some scenes it is handled for laughs effectively, a back story is put in on the abusive sexual relationship between Billy and his real father that seems like it should take a more serious tone. Instead the movie intends to play this for laughs as well. 

I want to say right off that I am not easily offended. In fact Chis Seaver makes some of the most offensive movies I've ever seen, and there are few that I don't greatly enjoy, but while Seaver is able to let the audience know that he knows how bad and offensive the material is, Colegrove lets the film make some very dark turns (such as when Thompson finally does rape Billy with a knife no less) without them being a bit funny. The film marches on as if it was another gag, but to me rape, child molestation, and rampant homophobia are not funny. 

While I feel sure the director added in these parts since sexual deviance and rape are a large part of Italian exploitation pictures the difference seems obvious to me. Films such as those were not comedies so the horrific and depraved nature of the acts fits with the tone of the film. While some of the Italian cannibal and gore films would shoehorn in a comedic character or situation, the violence was never the source of the laughs.

I hate it that this film took that turn because it had a lot going for it. It was a great idea which was well executed and had to potential to be a very special kind of film. Instead it became another kind of special film. I have always felt that comedy in horror films serves a great purpose because it heightens the effect of the scares, but this film did just the opposite. By making light of the very real horrors in the world of rape, incest, and hatred, it brought the comedic value of the film crashing down. Without such content this film could have easily scored a three bug or higher rating, but with it being in there it's not a film I would recommend to anyone to watch. 

I know that I could tow a party line on a free film that I was given to watch and overlook the faults in order to ingratiate myself with the film maker and the film's fan base, but it was too far beyond the pale for me to condone the subject matter in the film. I want to give you folks the straight dirt on how I see things, and I know you folks out there expect nothing less from the Bug. So take my opinion for what it's worth. If the things I've described seem like they would not bother you, then there is much to like here apart from them. 

Bug Rating


Join us back here next week as I get into some actual Jungle action with the Deodato film Jungle Holocaust. 

1 comment:

  1. Although I have not seen this movie, I do agree with your take on it. I love comedy with my horror just as much as the next guy, but don't show me something truly depraved then tell me it's funny. I sure am glad I didn't watch this one with you!

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