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DVD Review: Island Of The Fishmen

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How does one even begin to define a wacky Italian motion picture like Island Of The Fishmen? What possible words could one use to describe such a film? My particular choice of words would be “Silly,” “Campy,” “Infringement,” and “Blender.” My explanation for using those words becomes very clear not too terribly long after the movie begins and a vague haze of H.G. Wells-ness envelops the screen. Soon, several shades of H.P. Lovecraft appear. And then, just when you think it can’t get any weirder, the movie becomes very Italian and drops an ancient Greek bomb on you.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself (not to mention giving too much of the peculiarities away). Set in 1891, the movie starts off with several ragged-looking men adrift in a lifeboat. Their mother vessel—a prison ship—had sank a week earlier in the Caribbean Sea, and now only physician Lt. Claude de Ross (the great Claudio Cassinelli) is left among a den of thieves, rapists, and murderers. When some unseen sea creatures force the lifeboat to the shore of an uncharted volcanic island, the survivors (whose numbers dwindle rapidly) find themselves surrounded by something resembling a daytime Italian soap opera written by a very high Jules Verne and an extremely drunk Edgar Allen Poe. Voodoo, volcanoes, men being turned into amphibious life forms by mad biologists, and even the lost continent of Atlantis all come in to play at one point or another.

Ringo Starr‘s beloved wife Barbara Bach gets top-billing in this fantasy/adventure outing from director/co-writer Sergio Martino (who also brought us 2019: After The Fall Of New York) as the captive would-be-mistress of an evil tycoon named Edmond Rackham. Portraying Rackham is Richard Johnson (Zombi 2)—who makes sure his performance is about as big of a Rack-of-ham as there can be. Joseph Cotton also makes an appearance or two, tearing up and eating any letters of credibility he may have had in the process.

While Island Of The Fishmen may have served as decent matinee fodder across the rest of the globe (I said “may have,” people—damned if I know), the movie did fuck-all for American distributors—originally. Famed B-Movie guru Roger Corman picked up the rights for this one, hiring Miller Drake to shoot some new footage and planned on releasing the new version as Island Of Mutations. Most of the dialogue was re-dubbed. A new intro with Mel Ferrer, Cameron Mitchell and Eunice Bolt was filmed in the remote region of Bronson Cavern in Los Angeles, with some new (gory) special effects by Chris Walas (the original movie’s violence level is rather minor). Additional footage of another survivor and some different fishmen creatures were spliced in here and there.

Island Of Mutations soon mutated into Something Waits In The Dark, and possibly back to a translation of the original Italian title (aka L‘Isola Degli Uomini Pesce) as well. It doesn’t matter though: the film still bombed regardless. And so, later, Jim Wynorski sold Corman on the idea of hiring Dick Smith to create an impressive special effects sequence wherein a man is turned inside-out. This shot was used in the trailer for what would eventually come to pass as Screamers—and later inserted into the re-release prints of the movie itself when one drive-in audience reportedly rioted over not seeing a man turned inside-out like the movie’s advertising claimed (those were the days, kids: when people actually expressed their anger and revolted, instead of sitting back idly or suing—you hear me, America?).

But enough of the history lesson. The original Italian version of Island Of The Fishmen finally makes its debut in America on DVD thanks to the demented souls as Mya Communications. The phony Screamers opening—as well as the other American-shot footage—is nowhere to be seen in this version (but it was on YouTube last I knew, should you really want to see it), so don’t feel apprehensive about sitting through any really extraneous moments. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, kids—the whole movie is rather extraneous when you think about it.

Presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement, Island Of The Fishmen looks fairly well. The overall picture quality is not as superb as one might expect it to be, though, and it‘s obvious this transfer wasn‘t from the original negative. The colors are somewhat muted at times, the nighttime sequences are a bit too murky, and there’s an occasional “lapse” in the footage. These moments only last for a split-second, as if the film was just a hair-of-a-moment too short to match the soundtrack and subsequently “paused” for a brief instant to get everything back to normal again. I don’t even know why I’m bothering to tell you this—most people probably won’t notice anyway. The International English dub is offered up here as one of two soundtracks, the other being the original Italian. Both tracks are presented in Mono Stereo. No subtitles are provided.

Special features are brief on this release. The previously-released PAL/Region 2 Italian DVD contained a featurette and the German issue (also PAL and Region 2) even has La Regina Degli Uomini Pesce, Martino’s 1995 half-assed fish sequel on it. This Mya release (the only one you’ll find in North America) features the original Italian trailer and a gallery displaying some of the film’s artwork and posters from several countries (including the highly deceptive American Screamers poster).

It’s silly. Campy. It borders seriously on copyright infringement, hands down. It also appears that the script was developed by throwing several different treatments into the blender. But, nevertheless, it’s an easy-to-swallow film for those of us who know how to appreciate such films—which leads me to the fifth and final word I deem necessary to describe Island Of The Fishmen: “Fun.”

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.