Between shooting MOUNTAIN
OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER, Sergio Martino helmed an ambitious,
Lovecraft tinged tale that contains enough fanciful elements to fill three separate
pictures. Mingling THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK
LAGOON, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN is a delirious medley of volcanic eruptions, voodoo
priestesses, mad scientists, amphibious monsters and lost civilizations, all
corralled within a booby trapped tropical isle that makes the island on “Lost”
look like an ad for Beaches all inclusive resorts. Absurd yet endearing, low
budget but with charm, FISHMEN is ideal entertainment for an adventurous Saturday
Lost at sea with an assembly of convicts, Lieutenant Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli, SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS) is tossed overboard late one foggy night when his life raft grounds itself on the jagged coastline of an uncharted island. Marooned, starving and dehydrated, Claude finds himself one of only a handful of survivors stranded in a jungle filled with dangerous pitfalls and hostile wildlife. While exploring their new surroundings, Claude and the remaining men happen upon the remnants of an abandoned voodoo ritual site, giving clue that the island they are stuck on may in fact be inhabited. Such a notion is quickly confirmed when the group is approached by a beautiful woman on horseback. Clean and well dressed, the woman (Barbara Bach, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) insists that the men head back to the beach or risk finding themselves trapped in a fate worse than death. Ignoring her plea of caution, the men instead follow the beauty, eventually making their way to a mansion occupied by the island's owner, Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson, THE HAUNTING). Edmond is none too pleased at the arrival of uninvited guests, nor is he thrilled with the way his beloved Amanda swoons over Claude, but he eventually agrees to allow the remaining men food and a place to rest on his property. It however doesn’t take long for the convicts to fall back on old habits, as later that night Amanda is attacked by a would be rapist, who instead of tender flesh finds himself thrashed and bloodied by a nautical beast of great size and strength.
With his fellow castaways turning up missing, Claude confronts Edmond as to the purpose of his isolation, only to be put in his place and reminded that it is he who is trespassing and that on this island, Edmond is the law. Backed by an army of restless natives and a voodoo priestess named Shakira (Beryl Cunningham, DORIAN GRAY), Claude reluctantly bites his tongue but continues to explore the island, seeking to uncover the secrets that both Edmond and Amanda are clearly trying to conceal. Following Amanda as she rides effortlessly through the jungle's treacherous terrain, Claude is attacked by a monster -- half man, half fish -- which if not for Amanda’s intervention, would have ripped the good doctor’s throat out. Fed up with the conspiracy and lies, Claude demands answers but Amanda is still unwilling to come clean. Instead she pleads with Claude to travel to the other side of the island, build a raft and swim for safety. The Lieutenant is however not about to turn tail and run anytime soon. Stubborn as the day is long, Claude continues to explore the island eventually uncovering an uncanny plot that involves hidden treasure, ancient prophecies, scientific experimentation against man and nature and the lost city of Atlantis.
There’s no nudity, save for fleeting glimpses of Barbara Bach's nipples, very little gore and the title Fishmen look like they were put together mere minutes before filming began, but damn it all if ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN isn't a good time. Set in 1891, L'isola degli uomini pesce was purportedly filmed concurrently with Lucio Fulci’s magnum opus ZOMBIE, sharing both locations and actor Richard Johnson. Martino would himself recycle both setting and cast, as shortly after wrapping on FISHMEN he again cast Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli and Richard Johnson in BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER. Tame though the violence might be, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN is an extremely enjoyable outing due in part to its “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” story structure. There is just so much going on that it’s best to simply turn off your brain and any concept of logic, sit back and just enjoy the ride. The production as a whole is simply captivating. Miniature work, while easily discernable, is nonetheless amusing and the fishmen’s signature howl, a shabby, cut and paste combination of an elephant’s call and a tiger roar, up the cheese level in way that brings back fond memories of Saturday afternoons spent feasting on Doritos and Red Kool-Aid while enjoying throwback adventure yarns and Godzilla movies on basic cable.
Picked up for U.S. distribution by Roger Corman, ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN subsequently went through several overhauls and titles (ISLAND OF MUTATIONS, SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK) before finally finding peace under the title SCREAMERS. In an attempt to punch up a picture that otherwise had very little in the way of gore, Corman tapped Miller Drake to film several inserts designed to enhance the film's theatrical value, as well as a new opening to precede the re-dubbed and re-cut version of the film. Running just under twelve minutes, the new opening featured Cameron Mitchell (THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) as Decker, a boat captain hired to escort two explorers to the “Cave of the Dead” in their search for fortune and glory. All involved are made quick work by the monstrous Fishmen, adding little to the original film other than additional blood and guts, thus fulfilling its desired goal. Additional changes can be spotted here and there, the most significant of which is the final fate of convict José, played by Franco Iavarone (GAMBLING CITY). In the original, José is found by Claude and Amanda in her father’s secret laboratory, mutated into an aquatic creature with an exoskeleton type frame. In SCREAMERS, the set up remains the same however José’s outcome has been changed. Instead of a crustacean man, José's appearance is that of a younger brother to the Gillman only with a severe case of jaundice. While the make-up and effects are more impressive, such a change was hardly necessary and in no way backs up the film's American ad campaign, which promised viewers the chance at seeing “men turned inside out! And worse... they're still alive!”
SCREAMERS has been available on VHS for sometime, released by Embassy Home Entertainment, but if you wanted FISHMEN in its original form you were stuck ordering from overseas, either from NoShame who released the picture on DVD in Italy or from Marketing Film, who released both FISHMEN and its sequel THE FISHMEN AND THEIR QUEEN in Germany. That is until now. Presenting the film stateside for the first time, Mya Communication offers ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN in anamorphic widescreen, preserving the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There is very little in the way of print damage and colors are for the most part solid with a commendable amount of detail. There is however one scene, in which Bach travels to the shore to visits the Fishmen and is later attacked by one of the convicts on her way back home, that is so dark and murky that it’s hard to see anything at all. Making matters worse, said scene is the one and only source of titillation as it features Bach in a clingy, water soaked nightgown. Audio is presented in both an English dub and Italian language track, both in mono stereo. Both tracks are serviceable, without any glaring flaws however unless you understand Italian, you will want to stick with the English dub as no subtitles, English or otherwise, are provided. Extras include a theatrical trailer and photo gallery that includes both stills and advertising materials, including the film's fanciful Italian theatrical poster that Mya has wisely made use of for this release's cover.
Compared to the VHS copies and bootlegs of SCREAMERS that are still floating around, Mya’s latest represents a vast improvement both in audio and picture quality. It might be mindless entertainment, but it’s mindless entertainment worth seeking out. (Jason McElreath)
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