The Plot: Jack Steele (best name EVER!) is hired to lead an expedition on Cannibal Island (worst name EVER!) in order to find the lost treasure of Marco Polo. Along with his adopted son Billy, their crew master who wants to hump billy’s backside and assorted pirate companions Jack must fight his way through the unforgiving jungles in order to track down this mysterious treasure. However, and prepare to be shocked right now, Cannibal Island is overrun with CANNIBALS! They immediately attack the new inhabitants and Jack loses the majority of his crew. Thankfully Jack and Billy are rescued though when they encounter Alexis Kincaid – a recluse anthropologist who has taken his place on the island in order to better understand how the cannibals live – as he feels that modern man is a far greater savage than they. Together the three must venture back out into the jungle and save the rapist crew master who has been kidnapped by the cannibals – and then find their escape. Who will survive, and how many pieces will be left of them? Dun, Dun, DUNNNNN!!!
The Review: Although the Italian genre scene is one that is rife for parody, few filmmakers have taken up the torch to actually lampoon what was probably the silliest and most over-the-top cinematic movie business the world will likely ever see. Only in Italy during the seventies/eighties could films such as Cannibal Ferox, The New Gladiators and Emanuelle in America have been made – especially with the intention of actually making a profit. During the better part of the nineties, if you knew about films such as these or if you actually owned them and had more films from these subgenres – you could consider yourself pretty far “in the know”. With the boom of the internet however and a wealth of cinematic knowledge at the fingertips of any would-be-geek, we’ve seen a fairly dramatic rise in the popularity of these films with American audiences and horror fans the world over. A decade ago, the title “Cannibal Holocaust” was almost universally unknown – however thanks to dozens of little film geeks parading their knowledge in various other internet cultures – the majority of film fans out there have at least heard of this influential and disturbing horror great. Now it seems, thanks to the folks at Dire Wit Films, we actually have what has to be the first Italian cannibal parody. I never thought I would see the day.
I was contacted by the Dire Wit Films crew via myspace a little while back. They offered to send me a screener, and although I get pretty burdened down with independent film reviews over at Rogue Cinema, I was sold after watching the trailer. A parody of Italian cannibal films? Without question, I consider it one of my favorite subgenres – even despite the fact that I realize only one out of every five of these flicks amounts to even the worth of cinematic fertilizer. For every Cannibal Holocaust or Jungle Holocaust, you’re bound to sit through a Cannibals/Cannibal Terror/Emanuelle & The Last Cannibals/etc. When finally receiving the film however; so much had I forgot from that little trailer I had watched and so little did I know what to expect that the film was able to catch me completely off guard. Isle of the Damned isn’t just a parody set from the outside, it’s a parody of a genre that most film fans simply aren’t going to have previous knowledge for. It’s a flick full of inside jokes and is so much a product of one time and era that it carries on the tradition of these films it apes and actually contributes to their legacy.
The film, although without the budget to actually be completely successful in mocking the look and feel of these films, does an incredible job with what it has. The filmmakers also have no problem in having a laugh at their own lack of financing by giving the actors the worst possible wigs and props one could conjure up. I am reminded of the equally entertaining internet program Italian Spiderman which takes a similar direction in the fact that it apes Italian genre cinema, but in a much less direct approach. That series creates a sort of mix-mash of Italian genre staples and throws them in the midst of an action genre that simply never existed. Isle of the Damned however is much easier to track down just what influenced what – as it wears all of its influences on its sleeve. From the wavy blonde hair of our hero Jack (who reminds me a lot of Richard Harrison or any number of Italian leading men of the time) and his impossibly dark mismatched fake mustache, the puffed out fake blonde wig that his girlfriend wears, the Giallo-esque lighting that permeates almost every indoor scene – if you’ve seen much of Italian genre film you have seen these characters before.
The absolutely horrible dubbing of the film, well, I can’t really say I am reminded of anything in particular from the Italian horror scene. Nothing that jumps directly into mind – however, I am reminded of a few German horrors that have come to America in recent years and have had the misfortune of carrying over some of the worst voiceover dubbing in all of history. I am thinking of Andreas Schnaas’ Zombie 90: Extreme Pestilence in particular, which by itself isn’t that great of a zombie flick, but combined with the intensely bad voiceover acting – it becomes quite the unintentionally hilarious little masterpiece. One character in particular has went down in infamy, a nerdy white doctor who was apparently voiced over by what sounded like a burly African American man. The character of Jack, our hero in this film, seems to have shared a similar fate. I can’t say for sure if this is what the filmmakers were referencing in particular, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past them. Particularly after seeing just how gory this nasty little number gets; these guys just have to be fans of Schnaas – and if they’re not, they should be.
At thirteen minutes into the film, you’re welcomed to the real world of Isle of the Damned in a very special little welcoming scene. Imagine some of the most over the top acting as a man is tied between two trees and violently tries to tear himself away from the cannibals threatening him. Now imagine this scene isn’t exactly all that disturbing due to character being dubbed over with the voice of a whining teenage boy. Then imagine the previous lighthearted attempts at comedy being shattered in an instance as the scene grows more complex as we the audience are tortured with one of THE MOST DISGUSTING CASTRATION SEQUENCES YOU WILL EVER SEE! I kid you not, I’ve seen all the ‘greats’. Cannibal Ferox doesn’t compare, the scene in August Underground: Mordum is probably still a little worse – but it isn’t the actual ‘sawing’ through the shaft that makes this one all that bad. It’s the poking, prodding and opening of the wound afterwards that really sets off the vomit alarm. Testicles, strands of god knows what and other unmentionables are devoured by our cannibal lunatics (who look exactly like the tribe in Cannibal Holocaust). The scene could have ended there and we’d all have been properly sickened and would have walked away happy – but those sick, brilliant and utterly depraved folks over at Dire Wit had to take it up an extra little notch by having one of the cannibals molest the girlfriend of our poor ex-man with his own decapitated penis. THAT my friends is proper sleaze. If you’re going to take it to an extreme, you might as well kick it up a notch.
Isle of the Damned starts off as a campy spoof of exploitation films, but eventually turns into a brilliant piece of exploitation cinema itself only without the pretensions of grandeur. It certainly helps being familiar with the cannibal genre, but it isn’t a prerequisite in order to enjoy the film. However, for the fans out there, this one is going to blow your minds. An extreme film that lampoons the extreme. Everything you would expect from a z-grade Italian cannibal film is here. The obvious stock footage inserted at every opportune moment, the notes written in Italian but dubbed over through dialogue in English and of course the blatant homages to Cannibal Holocaust such as the infamous image of impalement (seen in the picture gallery) and the speer dragged across the chest that leaves a trail of blood (one of the hokiest FX shots of both movies). I mean, they actually verbalize the entire “modern man is the TRUE savage!” message that most of these films carried with them for pete’s sake. At this point I’ve written more about the film than I do for most – but the fact is there’s so much to stop and talk about when discussing the movie. It’s a flick that’s made for a very niche audience, but for those who can enjoy this sort of thing – it’s a true breath of fresh air. In a film where almost every possible taboo is broken, to say this one isn’t for all audiences is definitely an understatement.. There’s necrophilia, a man eating diarrhea, ritual gangrape on a tied up man, knifes up the rectum, sex with a rabbit… yeah, this flick does indeed rule. However, if any of that offends you, the descriptions don’t even do the film service. I’m giving Isle a four out of five. It’s a hard choice, but it’s tough to give it a perfect rating when not everyone will be able to enjoy the low budget stylings or the extreme gore and perversity. Still, I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed the film. You can find more about Dire Wit Films at their personal website HERE.