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On a Greek island during the 1912 war, several people are trapped by quarantine for the plague. If that isn't enough worry, one of the people, a superstitious old peasant woman, suspects one young girl of being a vampiric kind of demon called a vorvolaka.Written by
Ken Yousten <email@example.com>
The 19th century artist, Bocklin, painted "The Isle of the Dead." It appears in the credits of this film and is recreated in the sets. See more »
At the 36th minute, the general leaves the house and goes outside. Two of the buttons on his jacket are fastened. When he approaches the burnt offering on the patio, only one buttoned is fastened. After he makes his offering and hears the old woman laughing, he turns and walks towards her, now the jacket is completely open with no buttons fastened. When he then confronts her face to face in the next camera shot, the jacket is back to having two buttons fastened. See more »
Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.
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When searching and looking up movies on the IMDb I'll often come across movies and think to myself that 'this one should be a little bit higher,' or 'that one should be a little bit lower' -- generally speaking I'm pretty comfortable with the ratings that I see. Every now and then though I find a rating that just absolutely mystifies me. Did the people who voted watch the same movie that I did? The number is an extreme from where I think the film actually belongs. For me, Val Lewton's 'Isle of the Dead' is one of those films. It currently has a rating of 6.4 and when I saw that I was stunned to say the very least.
I first saw this movie on late night BBC (I was living in England at the time) a couple of years ago. It has stayed with me ever since. I love old movies and horror movies are one of the kinds of film that I actively seek out and watch. 'Isle of the Dead' had a lot of competition if it wanted to have any lasting impact with me. It left a great impression and is the reason that years later I've sought out the rest of Val Lewton's work. 'Isle of the Dead' remains my favourite and I truly hope that people will give it another look.
Let me start with the setting. When I originally watched it I thought it was so fresh and original to set a horror film during the Balkan's war in 1912. I can't think of any other films that have done that before or since. You get a very morbid opening scene that reveals a great deal about Karloff's character. He doesn't instruct a sub-ordinate to commit suicide, but he publicly humiliates them and pushes a revolver towards them after making it quite clear that their military career is over. He has an extreme sense of duty, justice and obligation. Fail, in his eyes, and you'll pay a deep price. He's also very protective in his nature -- especially of the men who he commands. He is modern in his approach. Reason and logic are his weapons but superstition and a sense of obligation are his foundation. This is the man who will be trapped and quarantined on an island with a group of travellers and strangers while a plague, or something more sinister, slowly kills each of them off.
The movie is extremely claustrophobic and very well done. They can see the mainland but can't go to it. They are trapped in their own rooms -- alone -- or in the house with the other quarantees. The doctor will try to save them. Science, reason and logic -- the General's core -- will protect them. But when that core begins to fail, he is influenced by superstition, folklore and hysteria ... and acts accordingly. It is a terrific part for Karloff and the General is a great character study. The psychological depth is wonderful. There MUST be a rational explanation for the deaths. They try, and fail, to fight plague-like symptoms by using plague preventative techniques. He is so wedded to finding rational solutions that when confronted with their failure, paradoxically, he decides that the rational solution must be supernatural agents at work.
'Willing Suspension of Disbelief,' seems to be an unfamiliar concept for some of the film's naysayers. The film is unbelievable because people from different countries appear to be able to converse -- without difficulty -- in one language. It is in Greece and the only non-Greek characters are a British diplomat and his wife (may we presume that being a diplomat to Greece, knowledge of how to speak it MIGHT be advantageous?) an American reporter covering the war and a Greek general (since he doesn't have an interpreter, MIGHT he not have some knowledge of the language?), an ex-pat archaeologist who has been there for over a decade (he's probably had NO opportunity to pick up ANY of the language then, eh?) and a travelling student who is eager to return home (that classical education of Greek likely being of no use to him). People don't like the costuming either -- Karloff's wig being such a distraction that it makes the film unenjoyable for them. I really have no way of responding to what seems like an infinitesimally small and nit-picky criticism. The core of the story is whether or not as a horror film and a character study it successfully builds tension and depth from beginning to end. Do consequences of actions have meaning? The tension is high from the opening scene and the stakes only get higher through the film until the final bloody conclusion. The scares are fantastic -- particularly one in the shadows and who comes out of them. There is a tremendous scene with a coffin that is the very height of anxiety, despair and cinematic tension. Is that scene predictable? OF COURSE it is! That's what makes it's eventual occurrence so intense! It is a huge pay-off that is advertised with great skill and execution. This is one of the best films that Mark Robson ever directed and I think he graduated to A-list director largely because of it.
'Isle of the Dead' is under-watched, under-rated, and a gem of cinema intense in it's own beauty. It might be my favourite horror film of the 1940's through 50's.
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