Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Isle of the Dead

Isle of the Dead

Cinema Monolith: 5/10
IMDb: 6.6/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *** out of 4

Released on September 1, 1945
Not rated
72 minutes

Directed by Mark Robson

Written by Ardel Wray

Cast: Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer, Katherine Emery, Jason Robards Sr, Alan Napier, Ellen Thimig, Ernst Deutsch, Sherry Hall, Erick Hanson, Skelton Knaggs, Rose Hobart

Director Mark Robson, who would go on to quite the prolific and varied filmmaking career, got his start making atmospheric (i.e. low budget) horror films for producer Val Lewton at RKO, and here they collaborated—for the fourth time—on the dark and foreboding Isle of the Dead, a title which would lead one to believe they were about to experience a deadly island of murderous zombies, or perhaps a haunted atoll inhabited by living, attack-happy skeletons. Right?

No, not this time. Instead, I was drawn by a carrot on a stick down a path that introduced me and the film’s characters to the existence of the vorvolaka, a vampire-like nightmare figure from Greek superstition that punishes mortals — or in this case, a handful of people quarantined on an island (of the dead!) by the threat of a strange wartime plague. When the houseguests start dropping like flies, everyone begins to wonder…is it the plague, or the dreaded vampire of lore?

It took me a while, but I finally began to clue in: this wasn’t about a vorvolaka at all, but about mind games, the fear of death, and battling personal demons (and of course, the aforementioned plague). And it was this unexpected psychological aspect that put a real damper on my enjoyment of the film; if I’d had a hint of this from the start, I might’ve been more enthusiastic about the end result.

Sure, it was all very moody and gothic, and there existed a low level of tension throughout the film, and Boris Karloff’s menacing expression and wonderfully unique voice added immeasurably to the film’s tone, but given the choice between actual monsters and existential ideas on life and death…well, I think I would’ve gone with the monsters. Or if I really had my way, the killer skeletons.  (5/10)

Isle of the Dead

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