So I had occasion to buy a bunch of used horror DVDs from this guy who is knowledgable in the area, and he handed me this one, recounting one legendary bit of violence toward fetuses that occurs toward the end--one that got this movie banned in Britain and thus ensured its legacy. Now normally when all someone has to recommend about a film is a notoriously gory part--especially toward fetuses!--I'm not interested, but it was only a dollar and luckily, there turned out to be a lot more to it.
This is directed by Joe D'Amato, who is mostly known as a director of porn films such as 120 Days of Anal, Cop Sucker, and Sexy Nights of the Living Dead. It also stars Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia, and legendary star of Lucio Fulci's Zombie.
We begin with this couple walking through the winding streets of this Greek town as the credits play, then go down to the beach. The guy puts on his gargantuan headphones and rocks out while his girlfriend goes swimming. She spies this FUCKING CREEPY abandoned rowboat just drifting nearby, and decides it might be a great idea to swim over and check it out. Curiousity does to her what it did for the cat. Then we have a killer's-eye POV as he [or she?] comes up out of the water toward the guy with the headphones. He ends up with a cleaver in the face.
Then we join a group of tourists on some kind of tram suspended way above these mountains. There are about six on a trip, and Tisa Farrow just happens to be lingering nearby, fussing with her camera. One of the guys knocks it and breaks it, although the incompetence of the acting will have you wondering whether Tisa dropped it on purpose to lure the people into her web. They offer to repair it, but she's been listening in and says Hey, as long as you're going on a boat ride, why don't you drop me on this totally deserted and creepy island that is completely out of your way? Actually, not in so many words. Being idiot Euro-horror characters, they agree, obviously not having seen Zombie and knowing that you should NOT humor Tisa Farrow when she asks to be transported to an island. The guys think that Tisa is quite a piece, which we'll just have to take their word for. Her character's name is Julie, by the way, but it's more fun to just call her Tisa.
The rest of the group includes a few generic guys I couldn't tell apart, Maggie, who is pregnant, and Carol, who is blonde and constantly has a freaked-out, bitter look about her. They pull up to the marina and if you care to notice, they park their van literally in the middle of the road, right in lane, blocking traffic, and walk off [also without locking or rolling up the windows] for their multi-day boat trip. God, you know, I really am SO uptight compared to these free-spirit Europeans! Once at sea, it's time for that evergreen horror movie cliche that never loses its luster: the tarot card reading that gives the mortifying result. It's Maggie's reading, and Carol won't tell her [or us] what it means, only that the cards "aren't talking" to her and let me tell you, the shit is going to FLY when the cards stop talking. Carol, who is way freaked out and is beginning not to like Tisa one tiny little bit, also says that the cards are NOT keen on Tisa and do NOT want them landing on that island. I thought you said they weren't talking? Or did they WRITE that last part? Telex? Text message? Morse code? What's it gonna be, Carol?
Anyway, by now there's a lot of weirdness surrounding Tisa--like IS she luring them to the island for some nefarious purpose? And a lot of supernatural mystery is being built up around the island, like that it has weird currents that draw ships in. This is also the exact kind of hoodoo that draws ME in, and I was super into this movie around this time. Then Maggie sprains her ankle with her fist footstep on the island, so it's all seeming like a cursed place. They all leave Maggie alone to chill on the boat.
SPOILERS > > >
Well, we don't have to wait very long for something bad to happen to Maggie. Some deckhand or whatnot has stayed behind, and we see him dropping a bucket in the ocean to get some water--then we hear a big splash. Maggie goes over, pulls the bucket up and sticks her sprained ankle in it--stepping directly on the severed head! Someone's gotta stop leaving those things laying around. Anyway, something bad happens to her, but we don't see exactly what.
Meanwhile, the others explore the town, and find no one home. Or out. They find no one, is the point. Not even the friends Tisa was supposedly meeting. You'll notice that Tisa has been integrated into the group without question and there's no tension about having this stranger amongst them. Then--THE STORM! You knew there would have to be a storm, right? So they all head back to the boat, only to find it drifting way off in the distance, with Maggie on it, as far as they know. So they head back into town and find shelter, as Carol starts bitching and whining about how she told them all not to come to the island but no one listened to her--patently untrue, since she only mentioned minor reservations to one person--and she is met with exactly what you at home will be saying: "Shut up, Carol!"
We soon see that this is the kind of movie where, when someone lights a candle, someone offscreen shines a light ON THEM. Anyway, they're just hangin' by these barrels when a woman leaps up out of one and stabs one of the guys in the back. Turns out this is one of Tisa's friends! She apparently survived whatever's happening by hiding in that barrel with her knife. They bring her into this house and clean her up.
Meanwhile Carol is having snit after snit and making it quite clear that she does not like Tisa one little bit. Part of this has to do with the fact that none of the guys, including her boyfriend, will look her way since Tisa's been shaking her split ends around. So Carol does what any of us would do, throws a fit and runs outside, causing Tisa to run after her, whereupon Carol locks her in the creepy graveyard! Around now the killer is finally revealed--oh, it's just a bearded guy with Silly Putty on his face. Ho-hum.
This is also the point at which all the supernatural mystery that was so good about this thing is summarily abandoned and it becomes a straight-ahead slasher. Snore. So now it's the next day and two guys are wandering the coast, looking for the ship, planning on swimming out and getting it if it's still drifting nearby. They decide to split up, and one of them starts heading toward the interior of the island. Uh, I don't know, buddy, but I suspect the ship is NOT that way. But he soon finds this ornate house with a mysterious woman inside--who hangs herself spectacularly as soon as they enter. This could be an amazing Martha Stewart solution for handling surprise houseguests when you haven't got any salmon compote. Anyway, they find Carol inside [shouldn't have gone in THAT house]. Meanwhile one of the guys finds this catacomb, and looky-look, there's Maggie! The killer approaches them, and the guy say "Go away! Leave us alone! Go away! Go away! Go away!" I have found that this approach rarely works when a demented serial killer is REALLY intent, but hey, you can try it. It seems to have a greater chance of success than against Great White Sharks, as we see dramatized in Jaws 2.
Then--SUDDEN FLASHBACK! It would seem that the killer, before he had Silly Putty on his face and was actually kind of smokin', was adrift and apparently starving with his wife and pudgy little brat, who suddenly started looking mighty plump, juicy and succulent. Plus, he's probably never going to grow up to play pro basketball, so why not roast the little beast? This is what apparently happened, and I guess it drove dad mad and then he applied Silly Putty to his face and killed everyone on the island. We now return you to our murder in progress.
So here comes the big infamous scene, so sit yourselves down and get ready for some extreme violence against pregnant women. The killer throws Maggie down and reaches in, you know, UP THERE, yanks the fetus out [not medically possible] and takes a bite out of it! All you really see is his hand in the general vicinity, then next thing you know he pulls out this thing [that looks nothing like a fetus] and chomps on it. I was going to write about why this is less offensive than the fetus violence in something like Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, but them I realized that there's no real defense, it's just that they could show less back then, but it's the same sick impulse. I also think I was geared up for it because the guy who sold me the video warned me. And ultimately it turns out to be not that much of a big deal; it just kind of happens, but the movie doesn't make much out of it and then it just goes on. But there you go--the notorious scene.
This leads to a big showdown with Tisa where she falls down a well and somehow some rope that winds around her wrist gets spontaneously tied in a tight little knot? Yeah, that's what happens. It's kind of hard to engage in the supposed "suspense" of a scene when it's based on such false premises, but whatever, the movie's almost over. Blah, blah, she gets out, and one of the guys shows up in a nick of time and stabs the killer, leading to the second notorious scene, where the killer rips out some of his own guts and starts chomping on them. Wow. Then it ends.
< < < SPOILERS END
As I said, I was really into it for the first hour or so, when it seemed like there was something supernatural about the island and that Tisa might be part of some mysterious plan we're going to learn more about--but no, turns out to be the same old psychotic killer. Which I suppose is, you know, average, it's just that I had started gearing up for more.
On other levels, it's one of those spooky things which maintains a creepy menace, although one isn't sure whether that is intended or just filmmaking incompetence. Other than that, not too much to say.
It's amusing for a while, and it maintains a spooky atmosphere, but I wouldn't go too far to seek it out.