Island Of The Fishmen: Some fish with your cheese?

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIsland Of The Fishmen directed by Sergio Martino horror film reviewIsland Of The Fishmen directed by Sergio Martino

Previously, my respect for the brothers Martino – director Sergio and producer Luciano – had been a result of the quartet of excellent “giallo” films that the pair had come out with from 1971-’72: The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark and (hang on for one of the greatest titles in cinema history!) Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, those last three starring the so-called Queen of Giallo, Edwige Fenech, girlfriend of Luciano at the time, the lucky bastid! (I still have not seen the Martinos’ 1973 giallo entitled Torso, which is supposed to be excellent.) But, as most of their fans know, the brothers often ventured outside of the realm of giallo, and with some surprisingly good results, if their 1979 effort, Island of the Fishmen, is any example. Originally released under the Italian title L’isola degli uomini pesce (and later, with additional gore footage shot here in the States, as Screamers), the film turns out to be a pleasingly old-fashioned, Saturday matinée-style monster bash, with a hissable villain in black, a hunky good guy dressed in white, a beautiful damsel in distress, a mad scientist, jungle natives, bug-eyed creatures and an explosive climax. What kid – or kid at heart – could ask for more?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIn the film, a prison ship sinks in what the viewer infers to be the Caribbean, in the year 1891. Only Lt. Claude de Ross (charismatically played by Claudio Cassinelli) and a half dozen or so convicts manage to survive, their lifeboat washing ashore on a mysterious, volcanic island. The men are quickly done in by various island perils (poison water, staked pitfalls and, most especially, some lumbering, bipedal, amphibious creatures!), until only the lieutenant and two others remain to encounter the island’s HUMAN inhabitants: Edmond Rackham, who is exploiting the island creatures in furtherance of his own schemes (deliciously well played by Richard Johnson, who had starred in the scariest movie ever made, sez me, The Haunting, back in ’63, as well as Lucio Fulci’s cult item Zombie that same year); a beautiful young woman who the viewer automatically assumes is his wife, Amanda (Barbara Bach, apparently game for some physical stunts here); a half-mad biologist (the great Joseph Cotten, here cashing a paycheck for perhaps three minutes of overacted screen time); and a whole gaggle of voodoo-practicing natives, who carry out Rackham’s every wish. And before long, treasure hunting, the lost continent of Atlantis, and a volcanic blowup (has there EVER been a volcano shown in a film that failed to eventually blow up?) are all conflated into this truly wild and crazy tropical stew…

Island of the Fishmen features surprisingly solid acting from its three leads, endearingly cheezy monster effects (the fishmen look like something out of an old Outer Limits episode; for example, the monsters in the 12/23/63 episode entitled “Tourist Attraction”) and a fairly thrilling windup, as the titular monsters go on a murderous frenzy when the island tears itself to bits. Sergio’s direction is imaginative and stylish, as his giallo fans might have expected, and the music by Luciano Michelini is by turns lovely and gripping. I don’t want to oversell the film, which in essence is a somewhat hokey schlockfest, but darn it, for those of us who love their BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and their matinée material of this ilk, the picture should prove a nicely winning diversion. Think Jules Verne‘s Mysterious Island crossed with H.G. WellsThe Island of Dr. Moreau and you might start to get an idea of the pulpy fun in store. Further good news regarding the film is that its current DVD incarnation, from an outfit apparently called Mya, is a nice one, with a very decent print on display and proper framing of the film’s CinemaScope image. Sadly, no subtitles have been provided, but a very adequate job of dubbing does serve to compensate. Break out the popcorn, sit down with your 8-year-old nephew, and enjoy!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. Didn’t Chekhov say that if you show a volcano in act one it has to erupt by act three? And I mean Anton Chekhov, not the Star Trek guy.

    • sandy ferber /

      If you say so, Marion. I must confess that I am FAR more cognizant of the words of wisdom of Pavel Andreievich Chekov (note spelling) than Anton Chekhov, by a long shot….

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