Surrounded by Aquatic EVIL, No One Can Escape “The Island of the Fishmen!” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

A French prisoner ship sinks to the bottom of the Caribbean leaving only a handful of prisoners and the Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, the ship’s doctor, stranded on a lifeboat for weeks until they a mysterious force drives them through the fog and crash them on the rocks of a seemingly deserted volcanic island. Only a few prisoners and the doctor manage to survive the wreckage, stumbling upon a ritualistic area of empty graves and abandoned artifacts of an island society. This is where the haggard and hungry men meet the beautiful Amanda Marvin on horseback and follow her through the island jungle to a clearing where the edifice of Edmond Rackham sits imposing on them. Having left his home country, Rackham settled upon this uncharted island, garnering local Caribbean inhabitants as servants, and being a greedy treasure hunter who might have just discovered the lost city of Atlantis. There’s only one problem, the city is surrounded by aggressive fishmen kept at bay by Amanda’s famed disgraced biologist father who has fallen severely ill, charting a course for the good doctor, Lt. Claude de Ross, to be unharmed in order to care for perhaps the only person who knows how to manage the wrath of the fishmen.

A swimmingly aquatic creature feature with an all-around gratifying men in costume pastiche, familiar to the style of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” in Sergio Martino action-adventure horror “The Island of the Fishman.” Also know under the revamped shots of “Screamers” aka “Something Waits in the Dark,” here we have the original film in all it’s natural glory from the director of “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” and “Torso” director Martino from a script by Martino, Sergio Donati (“Orca”), “Slave of the Cannibal God’s” Cesare Frugoni who workshopped with Sergio Martino’s older brother, Luciano Martino, (“So Sweet… So Perverse”) on the original story. Some would also say that “The Island of the Fishmen” is also a crossbreed between H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” and, aforementioned, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The 1979 Italian production stars an international cast shooting along various locations in Italy and is produced by Luciano Martino under Dania Films and Medusa Distribution.

American, United Kingdom, and, of course, Italian come together to form “The Island of the Fishmen” cast that doesn’t stray too far away from their individual innate dialects. The most pompous is he Essex-born Richard Johnson’s sadistic and fortune hungry Edmond Rackham with a caricature of a voice that isn’t like anything in his performance in Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” As Rackham, the inflections reminisce of a British Humphrey Bogart mixed with a one Dick Dasterdly and so Johnson comes off a bit cartoony and overly dramatic compared to the film’s panache malnourished yet earnest hero in Italian actor Claudio Cassinelli (“Murder Rock,” “The Scorpion With Two Tails”) as Left Lieutenant Claude de Ross, a ship’s doctor who suddenly becomes the medical caretaker and leading guard over a lifeboat full of hardened prisoners, some who have blood on their hands. Franco Javarone and Roberto Posse play a pair of surviving convicts, especially two at odds on how they should treat their next in rank penal officer. Though being thrust into the oversight position, the Lieutenant doesn’t have to worry about his prisoners for too long as the island’s baleful environment with jungle death traps, poisonous water, voodoo priestess, a sadistic lord of estate, and mutant fish people swimming in circles around the island’s parameter and through the cut through waterways sees to their wellbeing. “Island of the Fishmen” does have a few predominant male figures of different caliber but there are also a pair of women inhabiting the island who, too, have counteracting roles. Bond girl Barabara Bach (“The Spy Who Loved Me”) became plagued by the ocean’s frightening fishmen only two years later as the captive dame of Edmond Rackham who holds her hostage as he pushes her father (Joseph Cotton, “The Survivor”) to continue with his mind control potion over the fishmen. Then, there’s Shakira. No, not the Brazilian singer-song writer with the hypnotizing booty shaker. This Shakira is a voodoo priestess, played by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham (“Dorian Gray”), who works for Rackham but ultimately envisions foreboding doom on the volcanic island. Giuseppe Castellano and Franco Mazzieri round out the cast.

A whole lot is going on in this film that from the surface seems, surfacing meaning the home video covers and posters, to focus chiefly on the hostile half-fish half-man creatures that bubble to surface, check out top side for any unwanted visitors, and quickly dispatch them before disappearing under the glassy waters of the Caribbean. I adore the design of the rather stiff but crudely convincing creature suits with buggy fisheyes, razor piranha like teeth, and cladded entirely green and scaley in a design by Massimo Antonello Geleng who by vocation was more a production designer with credits including this film along with “Cannibal Holocaust,” “City of the Living Dead,” “The Church,” and “Dellamorte Dellamore” to name a few. Yet, the fishmen were not a sole source of danger on an island that had a deadly schemer in Edmond Rackham, the motif of voodoo and jungle trap throughout, a volcano ready to erupt and engulf the island with lava, and the lost city of Atlantis as the grand epic finale that pivots this story on an acute elbow left that shows a mighty ambitious story on an Italian slim budget. To put it frank, Sergio Martino was able to put all the elements together into a cohesive, coherent plot with action, horror, exploitation, and mad science fiction albeit the story’s wild and diverging concepts.

Though many U.S. audiences know this film as Roger Corman’s highly altered, New World Pictures presented cut retitled as “Screamers,” Full Moon features releases the original oeuvre of Sergio Martino with a remastered Blu-ray release from the original 35mm negative. The 99-minute film is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio that captures in perfect matte composition and frame the locational miniatures, such as the manor house or the underwater Atlantis temples, in a compression that doesn’t make the structures obvious fakes. Slightly tinged yellow, the overall color palette is renders out well enough to suit the release with a pristine transfer seeing no signs of real significant damage. The English language tracks come in two formats – a PCM 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The English-speaking actors have their original tracks intact while the Italian cast have their original dialogue re-dubbed in English for posterity on new releases such as this one. Dialogue, nor any of the corresponding audio tracks, show any signs of fidelity issues or damage, but do feel muffled, even on the 5.1 as if the sound was boost stifled and left with some of the channels lacking vigor. Aside from Full Moon trailers, the R-rated film rides solo on this hi-def release. “Island of the Fishmen” is a small film fighting hard to swim upstream and really does a number on many different levels regarding where the audiences should focus their attention on, but I can see why Roger Corman wanted to give Martino’s film a second run after a commercial flop with a new, gory scenes edited right into the heart of “Island of the Fishmen’s” flexible, cartilaginous bones. Despite Corman’s efforts, Sergio Martino’s unmolested, original reeling reel is the one and only catch of the day for this purist.

Check out the scantily-cladded woman encroached upon on “The Island of the Fishmen” Blu-ray!

EVIL is in the Eye of the Beholder! “Mansion of the Doomed” reviewed! (Full Moon / Blu-ray)

“Mansion of the Doomed” on Blu-ray.  Hold Onto Your Eyeballs!

In a stroke of irony, renowned optometrist surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney had a car accident that accidently causes his young adult daughter permanent blindness.  Obsessed by guilt and determined for her to see again, Chaney moves toward a not only radical procedure but also unethical one of a full eye transplant.  The catch for this type of surgery to be successful is the eye has to be extracted from a living patient.  Unwilling to wait for a donor, Chaney employs every deceptive tactic to lure unwillingly healthy and beautiful globular organ donors into his dark basement where he drugs them unconscious, surgically plucks out their entire eyes, and leaves them locked in a cellar cage, blind and crudely healed with scar tissue but still alive.  With each failed attempt at restoring her eyesight, the reminders of his experiments linger down below, screaming in pain, and pleading for their lives.  Soon, those pleas will ultimately catch up to him. 

Before his fascination with mini-sized maniacs of killer animated toys and malicious experimental oddities, Charles Band used to produce other types of original horror and the “Mansion of the Doomed” was one of them.  The 1976 Frank Ray Perilli (“Dracula’s Dog,” “Alligator”) written and the “Dead & Buried” and “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” actor Michael Pataki directed mad surgeon “Mansion of the Doomed” was the first feature film Charles Band officially stamped his actual name onto along with father and western screenwriter, Albert Band, as financial executive producer.  While “Mansion of the Doom” is known by various other titles around the world – “Massacre Mansion,” “Eyes,” “Eyes of Dr. Chaney,” “House of Blood,” “Eyes of the Living Dead,” and “The Terror of Dr. Chaney” – the one aspect that the film is firm in is its Hancock Park and estate shooting location in Los Angeles as one of the very first features to come out of Charles Band Productions company.

Lance Henriksen.  You know name, right?  Sounds familiar, yes?  The “Aliens” and “Pumpkinhead” actor, hot off the success of “Dog Day Afternoon” with Al Pacino, begins his tour de force of horror and dark science fiction with the Pataki mad doctor eye opener.  Dr. Chaney uses his misguided experimental expertise first on Dr. Dan Bryan, played by Henriksen, after Dr. Bryan’s recent romantic relationship breakoff with the recently blind daughter of Dr. Chaney, Nancy (Trish Stewart).  Before he became the narrating voice in TV’s “Knight Rider,” the veteran actor Richard Basehart, who also had a role in the 1977 “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” became his own inhumane medical malpractice physician in Dr. Chaney.  Though Basehart makes for the epitome of a professional doctor, his performance was the weakest link in the cast’s locks that didn’t exhibit the stress and desperation of a man continuously exploiting and disfiguring people for his own personal guilt release.  The guilt was not compounding as much as the story wanted to suggest, but we feel more empathetic to Dr. Chaney’s longtime assistant in Gloria Grahame (“Blood and Lace,” “Mama’s Dirty Girls”) who we can see her character dissolve with each abducted patient and affected to the core by their sightless screams.  “Mansion of the Doomed” rounds out the cast with Al Ferrera (“Dracula’s Dog”), Marilyn Joi (“Black Samurai”), Donna Andersen, JoJo D’Amore (“Dracula’s Dog”), and Katherine Stewart.

Michael Pataki’s “Mansion of the Doomed” is an eye-peeling shocker that’s dark and grim to the core and has an eye for cynicism. I could keep the eye puns going but that would be too easy to pluck out. Perilli’s story is rather plainly spoken with not a lot of fluff diving into medical or procedural jargon to bore you down into a loss of interest. Instead, the good doctor character goes right to work getting his hands elbows deep into the eye sockets of his victims and that’s how this particular exploitation perfectly crafted the balance by tabling the under stimulating medicalese with caged disfigured patients left to live in agony. Where Pataki and Perilli faltered some is in the preface by skimming the surface of the Dr. Chaney caused accident that rendered Nancy blind when she face-planted right into the doctor’s windshield as he swerves to not runover a mutt. In driver’s ed, you’re supposed to hit the small animal that runs in front of you in order for these kinds of accidents don’t happen! Told in the inner thought of a flashback, the force between the two immovable objects shatters the glass but leaves Nancy unscathed physically yet, somehow, she loses her sight in both of her eyes and while Dr. Chaney is unable to best the blindness with everything the surgical optometrist throws at it, perhaps that’s the unsolvable mystery that beleaguers abashedly an expert at the summit of their excellence. ‘Mansion of the Doomed” is not a feel-good film as not one single character has a positive outcome and having lost more than just their sight but also, to name a couple, their humanity and their hope.

Uncut, restored, and remastered onto a new Blu-ray release, Full Moon Features re-release “Mansion of the Doomed” onto 1080p, full high definition, from the original 35mm negative. Source material held up over father time with a pristine 85-minute uncut transfer to retouch in a pop of color and refine the details in a softer, more airy-soft image, presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Full Moon offers two audio options available with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and a Dolby Digital 2.0 PCM. Though slightly staticky in the ambient and dialogue tracks, the balance works and is full-bodied around more essential scenes of surgery and the cries of anguish. Dialogue doesn’t sound overly boxy or hissy and the cult composer Robert O. Ragland’s (“Deep Space,” “Q”) classic orchestra score come across with a powerful range that speaks the scene without exposition. The region free Blu-ray has no extra features, leaving this release as a bare bone, feature only. “Mansion of the Doomed’s” harrowing ending induces stupefying blank stare and feels like a brick just walloped you in the face knowing that every pawn in this story loses at the hands of man disillusioned in playing God.

“Mansion of the Doomed” on Blu-ray.  Hold Onto Your Eyeballs!