Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Donati and Cesare Frugoni
Starring: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson and Beryl Cunningham
Reviewed by: Josh G.
They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean ...
Poor box offices. What a shame. When Lisa and the Devil failed to garner up enough audiences, Exorcist rip-off scenes were shot with Elke Sommer to create an altered recut version, entitled House of Exorcism. From Bava to Martino, it looks like nobodyís film is safe when a person of a higher power decides to drain the original intention out of art for a few more bucks. Such is also the case with Island of the Fishmen, reducing its total runtime by approximately twenty minutes in order to recut the retro-inspired (for the Ďthení times) horror-adventure sci-fi Italian production into a slightly gorier but far more confusing movie in the end. Now called Screamers or Something Waits in the Dark, the original picture remained a bit tougher to track for the North American viewer, until thankfully, Mya Communication picked it up for a US DVD release. As a fan of both Barbara Bach (The Spy Who Loved Me; The Unseen) and Richard Johnson (Beyond the Door; Zombi 2), I could visualize beforehand their presences as definite enhancements to the picture. When I sat down, Fishmen played out slightly different than my mind conjured up at first.
In 1891, a lifeboat with the survivors of a sinking prison ship, consisting of one Doctor Lt. Claude (Claudio Cassinelli) and a handful of convicts, ends up in rubble along the shore of an island. Stranded, the doctor and men search for food, losing a few guys along the way. Making their trip through a voodoo ritual site, the final trio meet up with the beautiful Amanda Marvin (Bach) and her questionable rich partner Edmond Packham (Johnson), who at first are not impressed with their unannounced visitors. Making an exception, Claude and his two shipmates spend the night, but not without suspicion. What are those strange natives of this volcanic island doing serving Mr. Packham, who is the man beyond the door at the beach home, does Amanda have an attraction to Lt. Claude, and where are the remaining prisoners disappearing to? Oh yeah, and why didnít anybody tell the new guys about the fishmen with sharp claws that hide in the waters surrounding the place?
Though visibly alluring, Island of the Fishmen is not one of Martinoís best pictures even in the horror genre, but in 2.35:1 widescreen, and using the scenery elements to advantage, it is still a fine showcase of work for movie-making at the time. Bach is a little wooden at the start but warms up as the feature gets going, and Johnson is actually a fairly funny villain with his English accent, though it does not detract from his devilishness, but in fact adds a dimension to the hate one can feel for him. Of course, Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane; Baron Blood) makes a fine appearance in a smaller role as well, as does the underused Beryl Cunningham (Weekend Murders; Death Took Place Last Night) as Shakira. The use of a limited amount of nameable characters, a cheesy creature and an older setting time frame makes Island of the Fishmen feel directly like an homage to Creature from the Black Lagoon and films of its likeness. Itís a blend of Italian and American styled film making, only a noticeable Martino film Ė it is not. To see a signature value attached to the director is not eye popping in the least. Even after researching the credits, there is a distinctly different odour in the air.
Much like Black Lagoon, we figure out that the title focussed monsters, The Fishmen, are actually more or less victims than they are the true non-stopping ripping machines. Very fun to look at notably so for the outlandish hokey make-up that, for better or worse, depending on how you view it, is on par with the films itís imitating. Yes, it is pretty laughable to watch the fish eyes shift from side to side while stalking their human prey, and if it wasnít for the tasteful score, some scenes might be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 worthy. Yikes! But all in good fun. The Screamers recut version might be better to take control of that campiness, as the majority of the original version for Island of the Fishmen is a well crafted fantasy film with a cute lead up to a Cassinelli-Bach romance and a lesson in greed.
Lower on gore and bare of nudity (unless you count Barbara in a wet gown as nudity) Fishmen is entertaining nonetheless and I think delivers what it can. What took me as a surprise was that I thought the known actors would carry the entire subject along, but the movie truly relies on its surroundings and storytelling more than I was expecting. In turn, it becomes apparent that the small touches such as horse riding, bubbling grey water and a chicken sacrifice piece together the puzzle perfectly, adding the illusion of a higher budget and a better movie. Slowing just before the end, Fishmen is properly paced and ends in a longer, satisfying climactic fight/destruction scene. No gaping holes in the plot are left even after the bizarre shots of Barbara feeding the monsters of the water white liquids. Very neat and touched up.
A commendable release from Mya Communication gives the West another chance to relive this lesser seen, more talked about Sergio effort, in its true form. Rating it, Iíd give it a number thatís high up there. Itís no masterpiece, and hell it has its flaws in effects, performance and tediousness. Colors are a tiny bit soft on this DVD, but it is from the original negatives and looks excellent anyways. A major plus for the great cover art, which can be also seen up close in the photo gallery, beside the Italian trailer. The English audio sounds stronger than the Italian, but both are highly supported by this fan. Looking for something from the late 70s that is against the grain of the followers at the time? I hand you this. If anything, the underwater scenes will get you going. Just remember to get the Island of the Fishmen one. Just once though. I said Iíd give it a high number rating, but I think once is enough to keep this buried Atlantis fishmen treasure a happy memory. L'isola degli uomini pesce is a Rent it!
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