Island of the Dead (2000): Come Flies Away With Me

Exodus 8:21 says in part “I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses.” You might be wondering why I would bring that up. If I were you, I would be. Well, there are just not that many instances of instances where flies are used in a threatening way. You can turn to the Bible for a good ole fashioned plague of flies or you could sit down as I did and watch Island of the Dead. I know what you’re saying. It sounds like a zombie movie. It sure as hell does. Intrigued by the promise of Mos Def and Malcolm McDowell sharing the screen in a zombie film, I snatched it up recently at one of my favorite DVD scavenging grounds. Imagine my surprise when no dead came shambling forth, and instead I was greeted by the terror of Sarcophagidae a.k.a. the Flesh Fly.

Since 1869, New York has been burying the unknown or unwanted in Hart’s Island, a small island off the Long Island Sound, but now real estate tycoon Rupert King (Malcolm McDowell) wants to change all that. He wants to build a low-income housing development on the island called “Hope City”. Accompanied by his assistant, a cop looking for a missing child, and some inmates whose job it is to bury the dead, King takes the ferry to the island for a groundbreaking ceremony. As night falls, King’s assistant goes missing after being attacked by a swarm of flies. When he is found later, his body is badly decomposed and riddled with maggots. As King’s true plans for the island come to light, the flies become even more aggressive, and the chances are that they will all join the dead buried on the island.

Even the set up to the film with Hart’s Island and its ground full of the neglected dead seem to point to a zombie film. This is really the major weakness of the film, the bait and switch. Everything about the film points to the rise of flesh eaters, but instead we get a problem that could be solved with a screen door, a can of Raid, and a fly swatter. No matter how aggressive or vicious they show the flies being, it’s kind of impossible for the little buggers to instill much fear. If it had taken the zombie route, it would have been a much better movie. Even though the film was made for TV, it still has a good look to it thanks to cinematographer Daniel Jobin and director Tim Southam. Island of the Dead was the first movie in the horror genre for Southam, and he nailed the feeling and the atmosphere. The big problem was his script based on Peter Koper’s story. The characters were there, but the drama and thrills got left back on shore somewhere.

Saying the characters were there might be a stretch, but at least a few of them showed up. Some people have talked down on Mos Def as an actor, but from 16 Blocks to Hitchhiker’s Guide, and now Island of the Dead, I’ve found that Def is able to bring a special kind of slyness to his roles. There’s always a twinkle in his character’s eye that makes them interesting to watch. Malcolm McDowell on the other hand is great at playing huge bastards, and this time is no exception. McDowell and Def both seem to be having a good time in their respective roles. However, the rest of the cast quickly fades into the background and that is unfortunate because neither Def nor McDowell is the main character in Island of the Dead. I don’t really have anything much to say about the other actors except for the lead Talisa Soto. The former Bond Girl (License to Kill), Mortal Kombat star (Princess Kitana), and Vampriella (the abysmal 1996 film co-starring Roger Daltrey of The Who) is a fine looking woman, but the fact remains that she just can’t act her way out of a paper bag. It is really no wonder that her career came to a grinding halt after only two more films.

All in all, Island of the Dead is a mess of a horror film. It had some interesting characters thanks to the two big name actors, some decent direction, and a solid title. Unfortunately, the title totally misses the mark of what the film is about, the other actors are either bad or uninteresting, and the threat in the film could be stopped by clever use of sticky paper hanging from the ceiling. While I had a great time watching the former Black Star rapper and former Clockwork Orange star do some verbal sparring, that is really the only thing that drew me into the film. The rest of the movie seemed like something SyFy would have turned down even when they spelled their name with enough letters. So beware the Island of the Dead, but not for the reasons that the film would like you to believe.

Bug Rating

There's no trailer for me to embed, but anyone interested can go HERE to IMDB to see the trailer. Instead, I will leave you folks with a little tune from Mr. Def.

1 comment:

  1. nigel "incubator" jonesJune 13, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Malcolm Mcdowell is British so theres the main problem just for starters.


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