Nico Mastorakis had a dream. His dream was to make films for a living. However, for a virtually unknown Greek television director in the mid-1970's, becoming a household name wasn't exactly an easy feat. When he and a friend walked out of a theater after viewing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, Nico had an idea. He would make the most vile and repulsive film ever set to celluloid, eschewing no taboos no matter how disgusting or depraved, and this film would make him enough money to make the films he REALLY wanted to make. While it may not have launched Mastorakis into the Spielberg stratosphere, his idea did pay off, and Island of Death became one of the most controversial cult classics of all time.
Chris (Behling) and Celia (Ryall) are a young couple vacationing on Mykonos, a small Greek island, where they quickly befriend a group of oddball foreigners who have called the island home. When Chris begins having delusions of grandeur regarding these "foreigners" and how they've exploited the lovely island, he and Celia begin to punish through increasingly sexual and violent means.
There's not much more to tell than that! Mastorakis keeps the film simple and leaves the dull exposition to a minimum, instead focusing on the duo's horrific acts and juxtaposing those scenes with gorgeous imagery of Mykonos. It's this balance of the beautiful and the brutal that make Island of Death stand out from its exploitation brethren, and, while it may not have been his intention to do so with this particular film, shows Mastorakis as an auteur to be reckoned with.
Now what's so controversial about Island of Death? Well, Mastorakis set out to make the most vulgar film for profit, and for his time he achieved just that, although I've seen much worse since. There are the usual scenes of rape and violence that are the trademark of exploitation cinema, but the violence is very toned down, and the rape scenes are actually quite tame when compared to the brutal stuff we've seen before and since. There are a few scenes, however, that rival the infamous Salo, such as a bit of bestiality, a man urinating on a naked old woman, and a particularly brutal crucifixion. None of this is too shocking, but shocking enough where I can see how censors of the period may have felt that Island of Death was beyond redemption and simply banned it out of existence. Mastorakis, himself, finds the film uncomfortable to watch, but, has personally supervised this re-release of the film from its original negatives, probably for the same reason he made it in the first place; money! At least he's honest about it!
Personally, I enjoyed the film tremendously. I felt that, beneath all of the shock, there lay an intrinsic beauty that was probably a bit of Mastorakis showing off his abilities beyond mere exploitation. It gave the film an element of class that has done much to make Island of Death a favorite with cult film fans and critics alike.
Omega Entertainment releases this DVD in its original aspect ratio (so while it may appear full screen, look closely around the edges and you'll see black "letterboxing" on all four sides) in a very impressive transfer. The film's colors are vivid, especially considering this is from an almost thirty year old super 16mm negative! The mono soundtrack is rather dodgy, however, with occasional buzz and distortion during musical interludes (there are a few folksy type songs, with lyrics by Mastorakis, that are actually quite cool and are included as extras on the DVD in "music video" form. Oddly, the songs don't distort nearly as much when isolated from the film, so one can only assume that these versions were taken from a different audio master.). The DVD also features a lengthy and informative interview with Mastorakis himself.
Island of Death is not as foul or depraved as many would have you think, but it does offer ample shares of exploitation goodness and hints of cinema genius in the making. I've been a fan of Mastorakis' horror and suspense films for some time, and I am very pleased to see that Omega is releasing this underrated director's films under the banner of The Nico Mastorakis Collection. Do yourself a favor and check him out!