APRIL 5, 2010
Well if you ever wanted to see Malcolm McDowell and Mos Def in a movie together, then Island Of The Dead will satisfy you on every possible level. Most horror fans, however, will probably be disappointed by the film’s lethargic pace and lack of satisfying kills (many of them are off-screen). But I kind of liked it; it had many issues (aforementioned pace being the chief one), but it reminded me of a 70s horror movie at times, where nothing much was happening but the film’s foreboding tone sort of made up for it.
Also it’s about supernatural flies. All I ask for is originality, and this movie has it. The flies (and maggots) are pissed that McDowell (who is essentially playing Donald Trump, right down to the casino and “Ms. Galaxy” pageant) is building a laboratory (yup, real estate horror!) on Hart Island, and when he and his lackey disrupt some graves, they strike back. And while they take out a few other guys for good measure, at the end of the film they ignore Talisa Soto (as a caring cop) and Bruce Ramsay (as a prisoner with a heart of, well, not necessarily gold, but a nice bronze) after taking out McDowell. They’re considerate supernatural flies. And we can’t leave out the maggots, who somehow use their questionable speed and strength to make their way across the island to take out the phone connection.
OK so it’s kind of ridiculous. But it’s played deathly serious (apart from Mos Def, who seems to have walked in from a different movie entirely), and after a while it kind of grew on me. Nothing happens for the first 52 minutes and change, but the inherent creepiness (and sadness) of Hart Island made it work for me. If you are unfamiliar, Hart (or Hart’s) Island is a real island in New York where unclaimed bodies are buried (including an Oscar winner, according to Wikipedia). It’s also the location of a prison and some other horror-movie ready stuff, which makes it baffling to me that THIS is one of the only movies shot there. The place is a goldmine for any number of horror movies!
Now, as this was on cable, I have no access to behind the scenes or commentary, so this is purely speculation, but I suspect writer/director Tim Southam is a native New Yorker and wanted to show off a part of his city that is underexplored in movies, as well as showcase some social issues of the city. But he failed to really make them connect. Throughout the film, Soto keeps having flashbacks to a group of obviously poor kids who are jump-roping on the sidewalk. It’s supposed to remind her/us of a case of three girls who went missing while jump-roping, but Southam keeps going back to it over and over, as if to constantly remind us of New York’s abundant population of folks who aren’t very well off. Also part of McDowell’s plan is to bring homeless there and use them as guinea pigs for his science lab. And to make sure we understand that he’s crooked, we are treated to an overlong scene of him talking business with some other rich white guys while some “gangsta” rap plays on the soundtrack instead of their voices. I’m all for social commentary in horror movies, but it has to be more integrated into the movie, not just tossed in.
Also, between the jump-roping children and the awful rap music, I felt like I was watching Nightmare on Elm St 5 again.
As I said before, the kill scenes are largely left to our imaginations, though it’s not always a bad thing. Mos Def’s demise in particular is pretty creepy, because they just keep cutting to the poor sod being swarmed by flies and trying to wave them off as the others watch/try to run away. But it’s done in a long shot, pratically a silhouette (most of the movie is pretty dark, actually. It’s like they filmed the entire thing at dusk in a gloomy November). You never see him fall or anything, he just keeps trying to swat them away, almost in slo-mo. It’s a weird, sort of eerie visual.
The “fly-cam” is pretty stupid though. Every now and then we get a jerky POV shot that’s supposed to be what the fly is seeing before he takes someone out. But the camera motions make no sense - they jerk around and come to a complete stop. Ever see a fly buzz around and then suddenly just sort of hover in one fixed spot that wasn’t a window or a light bulb? Nope. In order for a POV shot to work properly, you gotta think of what it would look like on the other side. The camera shots and angles on these scenes suggest a pretty erratic fly. Even for a supernatural one.
The IMDb is filled with “worst movie of all time” type posts and a pitiful 2.9 rating (one of the lowest I have seen for a DTV movie not featured on MST3k). Clearly people wanted more supernatural fly action (or possibly zombies, since that’s what the “of the dead” title seems to suggest), or were offended by the filmmaker’s suggestion that Donald Trump may be shady in some way. Whatever the case, it seems my “it was boring but sort of appealing anyway” feelings are among the most positive this movie will ever receive.
What say you?