Sunday, April 17, 2022

cod only knows.

Preparing for tonights Doctor Who Easter special (featuring the return of everybodies favourite fishy foes The Sea Devils) by totally ignoring this once proud - and brilliant - show as it drunkenly stumbles further and further into utter shite-ness and rewatching this classic instead which, if I'm honest will probably be much more entertaining.


L'Isola Degli Uomini Pesce (AKA The Island of the Fishmen, Screamers, Something Waits in the Dark, 1979).
Dir: Sergio Martino (and the enigmatic Miller Drake).
Starring: Barbara Bach, Richard Johnson, Bobby Rhodes, Claudio Cassinelli,  Joseph Cotton and depending on what version you watch maybe even Cameron Mitchell, Mel Ferrer, Tom J. Delaney, and Olympic sprinter Eunice Bolt.

Be Warned: You will actually see a man turned inside-out. Only you wont unless you're watching the trailer for the Corman recut.

It's a Johnny Depp free Caribbean Sea sometime in 1891 (tho' it's more like 1981 by the cut of the trousers) and we join our story as a bobbity boat approaches a mysterious fog enshrouded island that looks uncannily like Bronson Caves in Griffith Park in Los Angeles from a distance.

That can't be right tho' seeing as this is a cheap n' cheerful lo-fi Italian monster flick.

Oh right, this must be the bits Roger Corman did to beef up the running time/quality for a more sophisticated audience.

Anyway back to the plot where aboard the aforementioned steamer is the bubble-pipe blowing salty sea dog Captain Blacken Decker (professional scenery chewer Mitchell) who's been hired to bring failed gambler - both onscreen and off - Daniel Radcliffe (Mel 'my illustrious career' Ferrer) and his 'beautiful' wife Samantha (Bolt) to search the island for a fabulous buried treasure fabled to lie in the spookily monikered Cave of the Dead.

Which is nice.

Wandering into the dark opening Daniel and Samantha soon stumble across some shite-encrusted pound shop skeletons clutching a big bag of chocolate coins and excitedly head back to the boat.

Which makes you think that if the treasure was so easy to find why has no-one else bothered getting it before now?

Well that might have something to do with the killer fishmen (hidden in the shadows to make it easier to match them to the original costumes later) that are currently ripping the heads off the crew before getting to work on our three guest stars.

It might only be a cameo for Ferrer but don't worry too much, Nightmare City awaits.

"Is it in yet?"

A new day dawns on different film stock (and in a totally different location, we're now in the Philippines, where permits are cheap) as we start the film good and proper - and as the original director intended -  with ships doctor Kemp De Ross (the late, great Claudio Cassinelli) and some criminal types drifting ashore on the same island (honest) after the prison ship they were traveling on ended up  sinking during a typhoon.

Waking on a pleasant Club 18-30 style beach De Ross is unnerved by the discovery of the dead body of one the prisoners, I've no idea why tho'...seeing as he's just been thru' a typhoon and a boat smashing but hey perhaps he has a fear of damp corduroy who knows? anyway he soon comes to his senses and heads off to look for survivors.

From the shipwreck that is not episodes of the hit 70s Terry Nation show.

Tho' Ian McCulloch turning up probably wouldn't do this movie any harm.

Almost immediately he runs across a small group of drip drying criminals who've decided to pass the time shouting 'I'm going to kill/bugger/eat/pick on you!' at the only other surviving authority figure whilst shaking their fists in a fairly comical manner hoping among hope that the dubbing director does them justice.

No chance really but they can but dream.

Luckily for the viewer the palatable air of community drama group tension is soon dissipated when slimy French crim Francois (probably one of the paparazzi responsible for Princess Di's crash) is ripped to pieces by a large half man/half Cod with big stick on finger nails.

Laugh now!

The convicts react as anyone would in this situation and run screaming and shouting into the trees and straight into an ancient tribal burial ground full of empty graves.

By this point I was sure that they run aground on the worlds most clichéd - and cheapest -  haunted house attraction.

All that's missing is a few rubber snakes draped on the branches.

Jose (a nice criminal), in what is probably the films best scene starts shouting about how the whole thing "reeks of that voodoo shit....reckon that the island is full o' zombies getting ready to eat our asses!"

Which if it did happen would make this an altogether different and probably much more entertaining film.

Maybe a wee bit like this one.

Unfortunately no zombies (ass eating or otherwise) show up but a rubber snake - which is indeed hanging of a tree -  does but any slithery shenanigans are cut short by the shooting skills of the 70's breasted, fluffy haired Amanda (The Spy Who Loved Me, The Humanoid and Caveman star Bach) who then - either quite enigmatically or quite woodenly) wanders off into the undergrowth.

My head is in a spin
My feet don't touch the ground
Because you're near to me
My head goes round and round
My knees are skakin' baby
My heart it beats like a drum

It feels like
It feels like I'm in love....with a huge cod.

Being deprived of any female contact for months our motley crew follow thru' the 'jungle' (OK it's a garden centre but at least they're trying) to a big house - a very big house in the country possibly - guarded by fierce looking natives.

Well I say fierce natives but the cruel reality is it's guarded by some obviously uncomfortable extras - probably the local jobseekers group) hastily facepainted and forced into tiny leather pants and a collection of feathery festooned hats.

It's a living I guess.

Turns out that the house belongs to a rich bad man named Edmund Rackham (Zombie Flesh Eaters star Johnson) who purchased the island on Ebay and is busy working alongside bubbly Babs, her kindly scientist dad (B-movie stalwart and father of Ferne, Cotton) and the chicken killing Voodoo priestess cum maid Shakira (the slinky-hipped pop princess herself  in her first film role) on some project or other that will upon completion benefit the whole of humanity.

Or at least his wallet.

You know my hips don't lie. ... Oh I know I am on tonight my hips don't lie. your fingers smell of salt and vinegar chipstiks.

Invited to lunch De Ross (and by default us) soon learns that the island is in fact all that remains of Atlantis - and no I didn't see that coming - and Rackham is planning to steal all of the fabled Atlantean gold in order to fund a worldwide chain of hat shops catering for the larger headed man.

It appears that as a child Rackham was cruelly taunted at school for having an overly large brow meaning that his school cap didn't fit so he had to wear a discarded pair of his fathers pants instead.

Trust me I know what that can do to a child.

Realizing that this might be too big a job for just the four of them - and the fact that the treasure is lying within a temple two thousand feet below the surface - Rackham has decided to employ the local fish men - on zero hour contracts obviously - as a labour force.

Obviously he's never visited The Cave of the Dead, that place is full of the stuff.

Maybe he's been too busy to take a stroll along the beach?

Or maybe, just maybe the continuity between the original film and Corman's footage is just shit?

Answers to the normal address.

But Rackham has a secret.

It seems that the drug addicted fish folk working for him are not, as De Ross thought, the survivors of a long forgotten race but something much more sinister....

Well I say sinister but let's be honest how sinister can a man in an oversided mackerel mask actually be?

Same shit, different smell.

Best known for his Giallo work (oh yes and the star studded spleen sucker  Mountain of The Cannibal God) director Sergio Martino, for his first foray into sci-fi pays tribute to H G Wells (specifically his novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau)  and luckily for us it's way more entertaining than the big budget Moreau movie starring Burt Lancaster that was released two years previously.

Which sounds like damning with faint praise but heyho.

And at least with Martino's vision we're spared the sight of Richard Basehart dolled up like an albino Care Bear and Michael York in an ill fitting set of Austin Powers style teeth.

In its favour tho' it does have Barbara Carrera pretending to be a slinky cat whereas Martino is stuck with Barbara Bach attempting to emulate (and failing) a large piece of plywood.

And bizarrely enough both Johnson and Lancaster appear to be wearing the same costumes - and fake facial hair - perhaps there was a sale on?

So swings and roundabouts really.

Barbara Carrera: hairy back and arse.

But back to The Island of the Fishmen (or Screamers or is it Something Waits in the Dark? Fucked if I know) where whatever the film lacks in budget (or good sense) it more than makes up for in pizazz, the monster suits aren't too shoddy - in a sort of community panto way that is, the island location is stunning and the sets look fairly sturdy whilst the cast (Bach excepted) seem to be taking it seriously enough.

Which is nice.

Martino regular Cassinelli is his usual reliable self and makes a likable hero whilst 'B' movie stalwarts Richard Johnson and Joseph Cotton battle to see who can soar the highest without the use of drugs or wings, chewing the scenery like giant Godzilla's and filling the screen with menacing ticks, large hats and mad eyed stares.

It's like watching a Euro-horror face off between an evil Chuckle Brothers.

Just slightly sexier obviously.

"I can see your house from here Peter"

Talking of sexiness it's at this point that Roger Corman steps into the picture - not literally mind but take a moment to imagine the great man himself turning up halway thru' and fighting an army of fishmen, cinema gold I'm sure you'll agree - when his New World Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film.

Thinking the original cut lacked a certain something (gore and an appearance by cinema slut Cameron Mitchell), Corman hired his teaboy Miller Drake to write and direct a new opening for the film alongside some new gore FX from
his paperboy at the time Chris Walas.

Enjoying his experiences so much Walas gave up delivering newspapers and took up special make-up effects full time, going on to work on such movies as Gremlins, Return of The Jedi and, um, The Fly II.

Which just goes to show that nobodies perfect.

He was also charged with beefing up the half man/ half cod reveal near the films climax which saw the originals frankly terrifying Giger-esque paper mache  monstrosity replaced with a far more subtle - and slimier - Creature From The Black Lagoon tribute.

It was upon seeing these changes at a Halloween showing given by John Landis that gave George Lucas the idea for the Star Wars special editions and so he began to retool and reimagine his movies in the hope of achieving the same stunning realism that Walas did all those years ago.

And for only 30 quid.

And so in the summer of 1980 and with its title changed to Something Waits in the Dark the film was finally unleashed on the American public.

Unfortunately no-one bothered to go see it.

Probably in part to having the worst fucking poster design this side of Rick Melton's deranged, tit-fueled scribblings.

Oh and that wibbly-wobbly blood font didn't help.

Undeterred (and not wanting to waste any cash) Corman called his gardener 'Jungle' Jim Wynorski and asked him what he would do to make the movie a hit.

After a brief pause Wynorski suggested replacing the fishmen with a collection of flesh-eating conifers (he'd just bought a job lot and had them lying about in his shed), retitling the film Screamers and adding a scene where a man gets turned inside-out.

This latter part was due to him suffering from organophobia (a fear of internal organs) an affliction he'd suffered from since he was a child and meant that he always wore paper suits in public.

Unable to afford treatment on a gardeners salary Wynorski decided that by featuring such a scene in the movie he could face his fear and hopefully cure himself.

And by default others too.

The thought of being able to help sufferers of such a terrible condition was too great an opportunity for Corman to pass up (as was the chance of some cheap trees for his garden but that's another story) but there was a major problem.

The film had already been booked for a re-release the following week so there was only time to change the title card before it shipped to the cinemas.

Undeterred Corman allowed Wynorski to shoot the inside out man specifically for the trailer thinking that even if folk didn't go to see the actual movie - either because their phobia may stop them or just that they thought it looked shite - the fact that it would be in the preview might even reach and maybe even cure more people.


The title changed seemed to do the trick and within a month of its release in June 1981, it became the biggest ever box office hit to be named Screamers and starring Barbara Bach ever released.

A record it still holds to this day.

And what of Jim Wynorski?

Luckily the film not only cured his organophobia but cemented his love of directing with him going on to direct such classics as Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre, The Hills Have Thighs, Busty Cops 2 and Vampirella.

And for that we should be eternally grateful to Lord Roger.

Actually they don't....the girl standing in front of the hills does. Plus if you want to be precise about it that's a mountain range.

As a curious aside back in 1995 (ask your mum) Sergio Martino returned to his magnum opus and directed a straight to TeeVee pseudo-sequel entitled The Fishmen and Their Queen featuring the Romanian-born Italian actress, singer, model and politician Ramona Badescu (as the Queen obviously).

Under the sea and inside my mooth.

Taking it's cues (and a shit-load of footage) from his 1983 hit 2019: After the Fall of New York, the 'plot' (what there is of it) follows the adventures of a couple of grubby teens as they escape from a post apocalyptic New York in the hope of finding a better life.

Tho' what life could be better than living the Italian movie dream is beyond me.

After a few so-so adventures that unfortunately don't feature either of them selling their arses for food they happen across an old tramp named Jeff  Socrates (Alien 2: On Earth's Mr Raymond himself Donald Hodson) who offers to take them to the island from the first movie because rumour has it that it's the only place on earth untouched by the nuclear fallout released during World War III.

Tho' by the state of the fishfolks massive green heads you'd be hard pushed to tell.

As you can probably guess it was utter shite, 

Tho' Badescu does wear a pretty crown in it, coming across like a council estate MiLF version of Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Which is nice but probably not reason enough to bother searching for it.

My that's a bit of a sad way to end isn't it?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You made a wise decision skipping that Doctor Who episode.