Monday, February 25, 2019

"It's a World of Ifs, Pal" - Island of Blood (1982)

The latter part of the slasher boom spawned many interesting horror movies, a description that certainly applies to Island of Blood (1982). The original title of the film, based on the copyright notice in the end credits, was Whodunit, which sums up the movie well due to the fact that the killer is unknown until the very end.

Many critics in your universe have been harsh regarding Island of Blood. For example, oraklon writes (interminably), "It's painfully apparent that nobody, in front or behind the camera, have no clue what so ever what the hell they're doing. Incomprehensable story, dialogue that makes no sense, acting from hell, weird cuts etc." Reviewer gridoon writes (briefly), "One of those slasher films that give a bad name to the entire genre." And reviewer coventry writes (at great length), "a wondrously inept and totally redundant low-budget flick with all the right ingredients: a senseless basic premise, unmemorable characters, a complete absence of logic, laughable dialogs, various but totally non-shocking killing methods and one remotely ingenious little gimmick (a constantly repeated rock song of which the lyrics reveal how the next victim will die a gruesome death)."

Of course, these reviewers entirely miss the point, so it must be spelled out...

In classic slasher fashion, the film opens from the point of view of a stalker observing a young woman behind bushes. Instead of a forest, however, the stalking occurs in the backyard of an affluent house, and the young woman, wearing a bathing cap and polka dot one-piece swimsuit, dives into a swimming pool. In a surprise departure from slasher tropes, the stalker’s weapon of choice is a gun, and he shoots the young woman, who falls to the bottom of the pool.

The film proper begins on a beach, as a rock band prepares to take a boat to the titular island of blood. Meanwhile, the cast of a low-budget movie is also on the way to the titular island of blood. The audience also finds out from the island’s caretaker, Bert, that there is a school on the island, and the whole island is owned by an elderly widow.

With the narrative basics set up, we move on to the island, where the filmmakers within the film set up inside the school. One of the cast is working on a song with his guitar, and another, who appears to be an extra from Grease 2, or perhaps a similar movie such as Grease, is worried about Bert returning with the boat and, presumably from his antsy behavior, drugs. The guitarist summarizes his lyrical philosophy: “It’s a world of ifs, pal. You know, if the sun comes up, if your woman loves you, if your heart keeps pumping.”

Then he hits the Grease 2 extra with his guitar for no reason before singing a song whose only lyric is “Black boat.”

Other cast members explore what they call a “faculty house,” which appears to mean a house full of someone’s belongings where nobody is currently living. A girl named Donna looks through the basement, where she is menaced by someone wearing a mask who attacks her with a giant cardboard sword. “It’s just a joke,” he says when she screams.

The cast and crew have a meeting in another part of the house. The director, Franklin Phlem, runs the meeting. He explains there are no phones on the island, but Bert’s boat has a radio phone. “Don’t annoy Bert,” suggests Mr. Phlem.

Mr. Phlem’s stated intention is to make a positive youth film that shows young people what is right with the world. The film is about a group of young people putting on a rock musical to raise money for scholarships. “These are up-up people,” says the director, who wears a big gold medallion.

Meanwhile, Bert antagonizes the young people, whose generation he hates, by saying, “You tell the others they eat what I put on the table, or they don’t get nothing. I’m not gonna mess with a bunch of food-picky drug freaks.”

One of the young actors is soon murdered by being pushed into the swimming pool, which is somehow filled with boiled water.

The filmmakers, having learned wit from their cinematic precursors, cut from the death by boiling to a boiling pot on the stove.

Unlike many slasher films, everyone is aware that the young man died in the pool, but nobody calls the police or questions Bert’s contention that the pool thermostat was broken. The writer/director tells the producer, “Look, Steve, about the dead guy, don’t worry. I’ve written him out. We’ll save a bundle.”

At night, the young cast wanders through the house randomly. At some point, one of them is speared through the head while wearing a transparent mask.

The next morning, the greaser and the bespectacled lead actor look down at the boiled victim’s blanket-covered body lying on the beach. The lead actor says, “I happen to believe in reincarnation. The soul that was in that body will come back.”

The greaser replies, “Yeah? So will the Beatles.”

On the beach, Bert and the producer speak philosophically about life and death. Bert says, “First bad memory this island’s given me since the only thing I ever loved died.”

The producer asks, “How long were you married, Bert?”

Bert corrects him: “I’m talking about my dog.” Bert then asks, “Did you every kill anything?”

“Yes,” the producer says. “I was driving and I killed a baby. Uh, a baby deer.”

The next murder occurs offshore, as the boat with the producer on it suddenly explodes.

At night, one of the actresses is killed in the shower when the killer turns a valve, switching the substance coming out of the shower head from water to battery acid.

Unlike most slasher movies, the characters are actually affected by all these deaths. The survivors gather in the living room to discuss the situation. The greaser realizes that the murders all follow the song playing on a tape recorder, the same some that accompanied the gun murder of the girl in the swimming pool in the prologue. The lyrics include lines such as “boil me” and “set me on fire.”

While most of the actors go to their rooms to wait out the night, two actors, including the greaser, run to the school to look for weapons. For unexplained reasons, they fight each other. Then the other actor locks the greaser inside a room. There is a long sequence of cat and mouse in the dark, in which it is suspenseful unclear who is chasing whom.

Back in the “faculty house,” the director Mr. Phlem and his lead actress make love while mostly clothed, but Phlem finds himself impaled from below by something sharp and black while the song repeats “stab me” over and over.

The murder results in the classic line “Phlem is dead.”

The cat and mouse chase at the school is unresolved, and one of the actors returns to the “faculty house” carrying a nail gun, which he gives to an actress, telling her, “Take this. It fires nails. Like a gun.”

The surviving characters move back and forth between the house and the school. All of them act afraid of the others, implying that none of the actors is the killer.

In the middle of the terror, one of the actors climbs a ladder to reach the second story of the “faculty house” rather than entering through the door, but he is pushed down by the greaser. The poor actor is confronted by the killer, who plays the perhaps odd lyric “saw me, saw me” while menacing the young man with a chainsaw. The poor man loses his limbs before finally falling silent dead. Then the killer saws his crotch, accompanied by his (possibly reanimated) screams.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled actor attempts to escape the island by dragging an outboard motor along the beach and holding the nail gun. Unfortunately for this young man, the tape player is playing the lyric “chop me, chop me” over and over.

We do not see him get chopped, but we do see him turn to see his killer, all the while forgetting to use the nail gun.

The next murder employs the nail gun to the catchy tune “nail me, nail me, nail me, face to face.”

The only surviving actors are the greaser and one of the actresses, who runs away from him, ending up somewhere in the school. The greaser carries a knife and stalks her through the school, so there is some amount of suspicion generated that he might be the killer. In fact, he does turn out to be the killer. “All I want is you,” he tells the girl, whose name we find out in the last sequence is BJ.

She runs and twists her ankle. “My ankle!” she yells. Then she runs away again, her ankle no longer bothering her.

When the greaser finally catches BJ and puts a knife to her throat, he says, “It’s about time.”

But one of the actors is still alive, and attacks the greaser with the nail gun, killing him and then dying in the process.

In the film’s coda, the police and the local mayor explore the murder house. They find yet another tape player explaining the killer’s motivation: “I boiled them, I burned them, I chopped them in two. I nailed them, I speared them, I stabbed them in two. Nobody knows. No one will care. Cause when I’m done, nobody there. That’s it.”

A frightening confession, made all the more shocking with the line “I stabbed them in two,” which would make sense only to a madman.

The mayor asks BJ, “Did you know this guy was a psycho?”

She knew he’d had a nervous breakdown, but not that he was a psycho.

In the end, we find out that the producer somehow survived the explosion of the boat—nearly bleeding to death. He and BJ live together in a mansion with a swimming pool. When BJ goes to get the producer coffee, however, she discovers the shocking twist: the producer was behind the entire slasher experience, somehow filming all the deaths. He answers the phone and tries to sell his snuff film for a million and a half. He framed the greaser by recording his audition as a psycho.

“Now I’’ll have to kill you,” he tells BJ.

She finds a gun.

“The gun’s not loaded, BJ. Go ahead, pull the trigger. Pull it!”

She pulls it. It’s loaded. Freeze frame.

Island of Blood has much going for it, and its ambiguity is one of its major highlights. Although the purpose of boating to the titular island is the make a film, we learn only minimal information about the intended film itself, and the information we do learn is contradictory. The writer/director says the film is intended to be uplifting, but the only scene we hear about is on the beach, with the female lead constantly telling her boyfriend that she wants him, implying the film is intended to be more lascivious. The ambiguity extends to the middle part of the film, in which the characters wander around the darkened house and school for many, many hours. Why are they randomly wandering, and why do they fight with each other? We may never know.

And of course the ending is ambiguous--who put the bullet in the gun?

The writer/director of Island of Blood, William Naud (not to be confused with the writer/director of the film within a film, Franklin Phlem), wrote and directed several movies in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. If his 1980s contribution to slasher cinema is any indication, I am excited to see his other works, particularly a film called Ricky 1 (1988), apparently a spoof of the Rocky films featuring a male stripper who becomes a boxer. What could go wrong?