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A grotesquely disfigured harpooner called Iguana is severely mistreated by his fellow sailors on a whaling ship in the 19th century. One night he escapes and takes up residence on a remote island. He makes himself ruler of the island and declares war on mankind. Anyone unfortunate enough to wind up on the island with Iguana is subjected to his cruel tyranny. Written by
I haven't watched every Monte Hellman film ever made, but I've now seen this, Cockfighter, Two Lane Blacktop, Ride in the Whirlwind, The Shooting, and of the movies he was part director of, Avalanche Express and The Terror. The subject matter is usually some pretty tortured stuff, The Shooting is a mad forced march into the oblivion, in a claustrophobic universe, what is called by some an existential Western, Ride in the Whirlwind is a bitter Western noir, two peaceable cowboys end up sleeping in just the wrong cabin of a night. Cockfighter and Two Lane Blacktop are almost fetishistic in their nihilism.
Iguana is the most tortured of them all perhaps. It's a movie about a harpooner, Oberlus, half of whose face is blistered and deformed. His shipmates take a disliking to him, deciding that he's some sort of Jonah, and end up tearing his flesh. Oberlus in his deep torment escapes to a deserted island of which he then proclaims himself king and declares war on the world. The soul of it is the Phantom of the Opera, which Hellman thought this movie would be like after reading a summary of the script. It wasn't so much what the original novel was like I think, but that's the mark of an auteur, to take the script and make it their own.
It feels like a spiritual return to the origins of his film-making with Roger Corman, indeed this movie could be given the title of Hellman's first movie, Beast from Haunted Cave. Oberlus enslaves washed up sailors and even a young lady. There is some graphic content in this movie and Oberlus, well let's just say he doesn't have any hang-ups.
This is a perfect example from Hellman of Roger Corman's philosophy of film-making, he liked to give the audience something to look at, but he wasn't happy unless he was making it on two levels, giving people who liked to think about the film something to think about. You never feel demeaned watching any type of movie that comes out of that philosophy, that's the true greatness of the Corman technique.
The ending is disturbing and you really can't believe Hellman ended it like that, he's well named indeed. There's also the liberal theme that if you treat people like animals they become animals. Oberlus is shunned because of his physical ugliness, which then becomes spiritual ugliness, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when his shipmates refer to him as a voodoo devil.
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