Island of the Fishmen

Island of the Fishmen
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Sergio Martino
Starring: 
Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson, Joseph Cotten
The Setup: 
Guy gets shipwrecked on island where a crazy doctor has developed a race of fishmen.
Discussion: 

A friend of mine recommended this, saying it wasn’t all that great, but what else are you gonna do, right? And so I threw it to the top of my list because, well, what else am I gonna do? Depiliation? Make a beet and goat cheese salad? Embroider a pillow? No--I’m gonna watch a cheesy Italian mash-up of The Island of Doctor Moreau and, you know, everything else.

We learn quickly that this stars Barbara Bach, star of Black Belly of the Tarantula and Mrs. Ringo Starr, who I have recently learned is NOT to be confused with Catherine Bach, of Dukes of Hazzard fame. It also features Richard Jordan of Zombie [AKA Zombi 2] fame, and is apparently filmed on the same island at the same time, in the same house! Which implies that Tisa Farrow was on hand, making it seem a bit rude that they couldn’t find SOME part for her. There’s also some Italian hunk in the lead role, Claudio Cassinelli, who was not unpleasant to look at.

So it’s 1891 and this small boat is adrift with some survivors. The tasty Italian hunk was a Lieutenant and everyone else were prisoners, because the ship that sank was a prison ship, but that whole angle doesn’t go that far. They get attacked by fishmen in the water, then the survivors land, wander inland, and are attacked by more fishmen. They find this house on the island and meet the lovely Ms. Bach as Amanda, but she tells them they can’t use the phone and if they know what’s good for them they won’t even ask. Nevertheless, they stay, and are soon captured by the nefarious Edward Rackham, who invites Claude [that’s our hunky lieutenant] to a tense dinner.

Now I have written in my notes “Amanda goes and feeds the fishmen,” which I don’t remember now, but makes me picture her dropping a pinch of flakes on the surface and then seeing all the gaping mouths of the fishmen come up and gasp at them. I also have written: “Bach is not the greatest actress.”

So we’re now HALFway through the movie and nothing has really happened yet. It just meanders, and I was quite tepid on it. Luckily the second half piles on a few narrative wrinkles--and then goes for it and adds fifteen more.

SPOILERS > > >
Now we also saw the name of [poor] Jospeh Cotten in the credits, did we not? And oh yes, here he is, as this scientist Rackham has locked in the basement! And it turns out that he’s Amanda’s FATHER! And it would also seem that his hands need some pretty intense 24-hour waterproof moisturizer. So Rackham wants Claude to keep the professor alive for a reason we’ll get to, but in the meantime you had better believe it is NEFARIOUS.

So Rackham takes Claude into a little diving bell located in the secret caves under the island [where they are also stowing the ship Enterprise] and they dive straight down where they see... the lost continent of ATLANTIS! You heard that right. It would seem that the fishmen are the last descendants of Atlantis and Rackham feeds them a special serum that [don’t think about this too deeply] makes them want to dive down and retreive all the gold stored in the old temples and bring it up and take it to local pawn shops. So if the guys take this diving bell straight down and there’s all this open space with Atlantis there... what, is the island above floating? Is it on pylons? Like I said, best not to reflect too deeply.

Now’s when the action starts ramping UP, and seventeen separate narrative strands are thrown into the mix at once. First--THE VOODOO CEREMONY! Where we learn that the natives are annoyed. Then--THE SHOCKING REVELATION! That the fishmen are fishmen AREN’T actually the last descendants of Atlantis, but regular dudes made into fishmen by Joseph Cotten, as we learn when we see Claude’s shipmate from the beginning, now in fishy form. Then--THE VOLCANO! Didn’t know there was a volcano, huh? And sometimes those things DO just sneak up out of nowhere.

Then--THE VOLCANO STOCK FOOTAGE! Because the volcano is naturally erupting as matters come to a head. Rackham is ready to get off the island with his gold. The fishmen aren’t going to take it--NO! They ain’t gonna take it!--and are glaring menacingly at Rackham. Amanda, standing right there, has several opportunties to push Rackham into the water where he would be instantly devoured by fishmen, thus solving everyone’s problems, but she chooses instead to stare blankly ahead with an expression of “Oh My God!” on her face. But it’s only a matter of time before he falls in anyway. Then Claude ‘rescues’ Amanda by taking her back up onto the island while you’re like “But... isn’t the boat right THERE?” Sure enough, eventually they end up right back at the ship. You know, I guess sometimes it pays to take the long road. Enjoy the journey, and all that. But by that time the eruption is a crackin’ and several models are being burnt. Then the fishmen grab Amanda and Claude, and it looks like curtains for them...

But it turns out the fishmen SAVED them! By putting them on a flat piece of wreckage in the middle of the ocean with no shelter, no food, and no means to catch food. They’re SAVED! Claude is now, in fact, back in the same desperate position in which he began the film. Oh but look, there’s a big rescue ship RIGHT THERE. Good things DO happen!
< < < SPOILERS END

Well, my friend was right--it’s not great, by any stretch, but it’s got enough elements to keep you going, like men transformed into fishmen, attacks, island madmen, scientists held prisoner, mythical lost continents and suddenly erupting volcanoes. It never quite takes to life or becomes really involving, but it throws enough new elements at you [especially after the relatively dull first half] that it quashes that impulse to just turn it off. But it’s doubtful anyone is going to feel like they’ve become a better person by watching this.

As can be observed about many things and people in life, the best thing that can be said about it is that it passes time relatively painlessly.

Should you watch it: 

Depends how much free time you have to kill. A LOT?