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Isle of the Dead

USA 1945
produced by
Val Lewton, Jack J. Gross (executive) for RKO
directed by Mark Robson
starring Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer, Katherine Emery, Helene Thimig, Alan Napier, Jason Robards sr, Ernst Dorian (= Ernst Deutsch), Skelton Knaggs, Sherry Hall, Erick Hanson
written by Ardel Wray, music by Leigh Harline

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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War-torn Greece, 1912: General Pherides (Boris Karloff), otherwise known as the watchdog for his uncompromising attitude, uses a lull in combat to make a trip with his reporter friend Oliver (Marc Cramer) to a nearby cemetery island to visit the grave of his wife. To his utter surprise, her coffin is empty, and the uninhabited island is all of a sudden inhabited - by a Swiss archeologist, Albrecht (Jason Robards sr), who lives in a mansion where he entertains a circle of illustruous guests ... and he insists for the general and Oliver to stay overnight, just for a bit of change. Then though, one of the other guests (Skelton Knaggs) dies from plague. Pherides immediately seizes command of the situation, forbids everyone to leave, has a doctor (Ernst Dorian) from the mainland come over, and figures this way he will have the plague contained in no time - no such luck, only a day or two later, the doctor is one of the first to die from the plague. This is made all the worst for Pherides because he blames himself for the doctor's death ... and now he makes the mistake to listen to a local woman, Madame Kyra (Helene Thimig), who tells him this is all the work of a local wolf spirit, the Vorvolaka, which has found a host in young and pretty Thea (Ellen Drew), incidently the girl Oliver has fallen for. Pherides now leaves no opportunity unused to bully Thea around, threaten her, and sabotage any and all attempts of her and Oliver to leave the island. Everything comes to a head when Mrs St.Aubin (Katherine Emery), Thea's employer, dies, and she's quickly locked away in the crypt. But she's not really dead but only in a state of catalepsy, and eventually, she comes to finding herself nailed into a box ...

In the meantime, the wind has turned, which means the end of the plague (at least according to the film's logic), but Pherides has already been hit by the illness and knows he has to die soon. However, also driven by Madame Kyra, he has made it his mission to kill Thea before dying. Then though, Mrs St.Aubin manages to free herself from her box, and now she's mad as a hatter and kills both Pherides and Kyra before taking her own life.

 

This film starts out quite wonderfully, as a psychodrama with horror and old dark house overtones, carried by some really nice performances. But once everything is set up as well as can be, the whole thing goes to hell, plotwise: The whole supernatural (or should we say superstitious) undercurrents come along as nothing short of silly, Boris Karloff's character is pretty much devoid of interesting motivation, something not even an actor of his caliber is able to butter over, and quite a few major clues (like Mrs St.Aubin's catalepsy) are given away way too soon to properly work. And the finale including happy ending seems to be merely pulled out of a hat rather than worked towards.

That said, the film is still plenty atmospheric, but damn, the script could have done with a workover!

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD