Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Isle of the Dead (1945)

During the First Balkan War, right after commanding his bestus buddy ever to shoot himself in the head, the good General Pherides (Boris Karloff) decides to put flowers on his wife's grave. Said grave is on a nearby island and he brings new bestus buddy ever, an American reporter, along for the ride.

After spending the night at a rural estate, they wake to find that one of the other guests has died of ... wait for it ... the Plague!

Well, Pherides decides to take command of this band of civilians and quarantine the group until the disease has, well, run it's course. Along the way we get to know the odd collection of guests trapped on this Isle where people Die. The man who puts his faith in Hermes, while erroneously thinking he is the god of medicine, the young(ish) hottie(ish) who hates Pherides for his famous cruelty, and the old housekeeper who thinks the hottie is a vrykolakas, some sort of Greek vampire like thing.

So, what are the horror elements here? (psst. spoilers) First, there's Boris. Next, there is death both by plague and murder. There's the element of the supernatural. Finally there is premature burial. Can't go wrong there, right? I'm not so sure. Good 'oll Val Lewton did a different kind of horror. Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie are great examples of excellent movies that stretch the genre. Here, it falls short for a couple of reasons. Not once, even or a second, did the viewer entertain the notion that pretty Thea was the undead. The only thing that legitimately lends to the argument is one decent startle moment. Other than that, it was Karloff does Wuthering Heights.

But this movie was intended, made, and billed as horror, so I give it my horror label. It is also the least entertaining Lewton film so far. And Martin Scorsese called it one of the scariest horror movies of all time. Clearly he was thinking of Karloff's curly hair wig. AMRU 3.

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