Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Census Bloodbath: Island Crime

Year: 1982
Director: Bill Naud
Cast: Marie-Alise Recasner, Rick Dean, Ron Gardner
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

I never thought I'd get to see Island of Blood. AKA Whodunit?. AKA Scared Alive, for some reason. I've being doing my slasher research and gathering information on where to source these movies since early 2013, and Island of Blood has been one that resolutely refused to appear on home media, streaming, thrifting, or even in my crystal ball after a sizable blood sacrifice. There almost certainly will be movies I have to skip over in this project due to lack of availability, and I thought this would be the first one. Enter Tubi. The streaming service has finally answered my prayer because they stream the most random shit, and included in that junk pile was, would you believe it, Island of Blood.

Usually when you have to put this much work into merely watching a film, there's a reason you weren't able to find it. I have been disappointed at the end of many a hunt, even for a film with as cool a poster as this one. So you can imagine my surprise when Island of Blood was... wholly acceptable!

Remember we're grading on a scale.

Island of Blood is like if somebody mashed up Curtains and The Slayer with a little bit of Terror on Tour, though it's a rare person who has that exact frame of reference, so I should probably still go through the plot. A group of young people has just arrived on a secluded island for the filming of a "positive" motion picture about "up up" people who are putting on a rock concert to save their high school. Director Franklin Phlegm (Ron Gardner) and producer Steve Faith (Terence Goodman) are running rehearsals while they wait for the crew to arrive, but a killer has taken it upon themselves to do a bit of a casting cull: murdering the people on the island one by one according to the lyrics of a truly terrible original 80's rock song that is constantly playing on the killer's Walkman.

But first let's Meet the Meat! There's star of the show Betty Jean AKA "BJ (Bari Suber), a girl whose older husband died leaving her his fortune, which she has used to buy her way into the movie despite an extreme lack of talent; Taylor (Gary Phillips), a doom and gloom guitarist who is convinced the world is going to end in a nuclear holocaust any day now; Donna (Marie-Alise Recasner) the token person of color who can't stop talking about being from Detroit, though she does provide us with the sterling insult "you fishface honky"; Rick (Richard Helm), a dumb jock who takes off his shirt in a blissfully long sequence; Jim (Rick Dean), one of BJ's hired helpers, and a clearly unhinged anarchist from square one; Lyn (Jeanine Marie), a dancer who's on crutches and very angry about it; and John (Jim Piper, an ADR voice on Dr. Giggles, and that's pretty much the only pedigree we get here), the condescending lead of the movie, cast even though he very clearly should be playing a pimply nerd.

Is the killer one of them? Or perhaps disgruntled island caretaker Bert (Jared McVay)?

Stay tuned to find out, because I truly don't mind spoiling this movie! I consider it a service because the third act is pretty incoherent, so SOMEONE needed to parse it all out.

Maybe it's just that I've just seen one dozen too many low budget slasher movies that are infinitely worse than this, but I actually enjoyed Island of Blood quite a bit. It has its flaws (don't worry, we'll get to them), but it succeeds more than it fails. First off, I can't say I expected anything in this film to be a Hollywood satire, let alone a pretty amusing one. In particular, BJ's rehearsal scenes with the director are a fierce battle of egos as she contends with his truly awful dialogue (one line includes the phrase "guys and gals" both at the beginning and the end) and he tries not to burst into a rage at her terrible flat acting and her complete misunderstanding of her talent ("Was that too much emotion? Should I give it less?"). There's also a bit of fun to be had with the sociopathic pursuit of success that allows the characters to justify why they keep working on this dumb movie even though half the cast is six feet under.

The score is also pretty decent, swinging between atonal Law & Order clunks and clangs to obvious cheeky Psycho riffs to a hilariously jaunty funeral dirge played on a synth.

Then there are the kills, which are totally fine! They're within the daffy, unrealistic range you might expect, but they're at least trying! Even the kills that are offscreen aren't trying to hide anything - we get to see the aftermath a little bit later, so they're not just hiding the death to avoid having to create a special effect.   And I do like the framing device of the Walkman playing a lyric of the song on repeat to portend the manner of the next victim's death, though I do wish we had a chance early on to hear the whole song in advance so we might have a bit of anticipation as to what fate will befall everyone. Also there's literally no motivation for the kills to be presented this way, but hey. I'd rather have a framing device than not have one, y'know?

It's also not a horribly executed whodunit. Just a pretty badly executed one. We spend far too much time on the Jim red herring that we the audience don't get to cast too much suspicion on anybody else, but there are plenty of delicious parlor room scenes with people throwing accusations one way or another.

Does this screenshot have much to do with what I just wrote? No. Is it visible? Not really. Is it the only other screenshot I could find? Bingo.

Even with all that qualified praise, shockingly this film has flaws. The beginning and end are more than incoherent (it starts with a death by shooting - not what you want from a slasher - and we never find out who the victim is or how they relate to literally anything), to the point that at first I was neither completely sure how many people died nor who the killer was (except that he looked good shirtless, but not Rick good). Plus, the cat & mouse scenes of people wandering through dark rooms in the final twenty minutes leave something to be desired. Like anything interesting. And for a long time the kills are just jammed in between random scenes, like bad softcore scenes shoehorned into a late night film to make it more marketable. 

But really, at the end of the day, if you're looking for a goofy dumb slasher and have a high tolerance for low budget acting and lighting, look no further than Island of Blood. Its bizarre cinematic instincts are beyond compelling, from the fully clothed sex scene ("it's chilly!") to the character picking up a common power tool and exclaiming "it fires nails like a gun!" to the fact that this movie is framed and shot for the first hour like the killer might actually just be a sentient Walkman. Remember that I am providing this recommendation with a grain of salt the size of Pluto. But it was a blissful reprieve from the bottom-of-the-barrel slasher sludge that usually populates the segment of my 1982 list that we've reached - the alphabetical list at the end containing all the films that are so obscure they don't even have release date information on IMDb beyond the year.

Killer: Steve (Terence Goodman)
Final Girl: BJ (Bari Suber)
Best Kill: The "get bunked" moment (with thanks to the Kill by Kill podcast for the phrase) where a man gets stabbed through his mattress with a knife that is wickedly big.
Sign of the Times: There is an Evil Real Estate Broker, and if that wasn't enough, his outfit certainly is.

Scariest Moment: Right before Rick's death, the camera keeps cutting to a bunch of roses shaking in the wind. It happened so many times, I was sure something was going to happen with these goddamn roses. Nothing does, but it's very unsettling.
Weirdest Moment: Taylor makes fun of Jim using a Mickey Mouse impression, then hits him in the gut with the neck of his guitar.
Champion Dialogue: "It's weird being on an island!"
Body Count: 11
  1. Swimmer is shot.
  2. BJ's Assistant is boiled alive in a swimming pool.
  3. Clown is stabbed in the head with a spear. (I assume this clown is Taylor, because he doesn't show up again afterward, but for the life of me I can't figure out why he'd be in the basement dressed as a clown.)
  4. Donna has acid poured into her shower.
  5. Mr. Phlegm is stabbed in the gut through his mattress.
  6. Rick is dismembered with a chainsaw.
  7. John is decapitated.
  8. Lyn is shot with a nail gun.
  9. Jim is shot with a nail gun.
  10. Bert is stabbed in the back.
  11. Steve is shot.
TL;DR: Island of Blood is a cheapie, occasionally incomprehensible slasher, but dammit I had a good time.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1560

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