Let us imagine, if you will, that we’re watching Saturday afternoon television in the early 1980s. It is reasonable to assume that on one of the pre-cable UHF stations, we might come across a scratchy old print of a cheap Italian exploitation film. As enlightened hipsters with a keen sense of the ironic, we might find the awful dubbing, the horrible costumes and wigs, the hackneyed plot, the poor use of stock footage, and the cheap scares to be a bit of fun.
Now let us image that as adults, we have fond memories of the funny grindhouse schlock that we’d spent our teen weekend afternoons obsessing over. A lot of this material is available on DVD or elsewhere, but let us assume that we’ve become inspired enough to make a movie of our own.
Do we let our love for 1972 Italian exploitation films become one ingredient in our art, one influence of many, all melting together to define our creative vision within a quest to entertain and enlighten people?
Or do we set out to make something shitty on purpose, with our only real goal being to create something even worse than what we remember from our youth, perhaps because recognizing and regurgitating every cinematic failure makes us feel superior to them?
In the case of “Isle of the Damned”, the creators chose the second option.
Really bad wigs (on purpose), really bad acting (on purpose), really bad dubbing (on purpose), a really bad script (on purpose), and really gory special effects (on purpose), make “Isle of the Damned” a must-skip (on purpose).
If you want to see a funny old exploitation film, then by all means go do it.
If you want to see a bunch of amateur hacks recreating this genre (with an extra heaping load of gore added) but without the patina that gives the original 1970s exploitation films their charm, or the earnestness that give them their camp appeal, then here you go. But: “Isle of the Damned” is a failure on every level, created by people who don’t understand that the most appealing ‘cult classics’ are the ones that take themselves seriously. Bad films that are the results of sincere but failed attempts to be good can be charming; bad films made that way on purpose almost never work. Here is a classic example of the latter.
Less than three minutes into the film, the out-of-synch dubbing shtick is already old, and by twenty minutes in, we get to a scene where a pregnant woman is killed, while guys dressed as “cannibals” feast on her fetus, and then roll the woman’s corpse over and rape it.
That’s enough for me, I’m outta here.