The Island Experiments theme is all about mad science, just in a specific remote location. But what turns ordinary, ill-advised science mad? The movies I’ve selected all feature monsters created by scientists. Their motivations may differ — and in one case the creature was even an accident — but in every case it is the scientist who built the beast!
The five films I’ve selected vary in quality and tone. I wanted to pick movies that I love that aren’t necessarily well-known to casual viewers. Hence, an older classic and some interesting ones from a bit more recently.
Genre fans have likely heard about most of these, if not seen them already. You may have other preferences (obscure or popular), and I invite you to share them! Add them in the comments, and let everyone know what other Island Experiments films they should check out!
The Flesh Eaters
Dir. Jack Curtis
A fun under-seen creature-features from the early 1960s. Martin Kosleck plays a Nazi scientist, living on a remote island to carry on experiments to weaponize flesh-eating microbes. When a small plane is forced to land due to mechanical problems, a pounding rainstorm is the least of their problems.
Lo-fi special effects, but surprisingly gory in parts. Lots of spousal arguing. Watch it for Kosleck and the microbes’ final attack.
87 min., b&w, 1964
No MPAA rating
Island of Lost Souls
Dir. Erle C. Kenton
When you think of 1930s horror, Universal’s monster movies are inescapable. But it was Paramount that produced this moody adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (the first film version with sound). Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi anchor the cast as Moreau and his Sayer of the Law, and Kathleen Burke’s Panther Woman is nearly as iconic as Dracula and Frankenstein.
Though there are some light prosthetics and hair applications, this is not really a movie about effects. It’s driven by character and mood.
70 min., b&w, 1932
Island of Terror
Dir. Terence Fisher
An accident in a research lab creates a bone-eating monster that splits every few hours. In no time the island is swarming with them, forcing the locals to seek shelter in a church. Co-star Peter Cushing and legendary Hammer director Terence Fisher bring class to the independent production.
The creatures are a bit silly but get the job done. The mounting tension leading to a siege is where it’s at.
89 min., color, 1966
No MPAA rating
Jurassic Park III
Dir. Joe Johnston
After The Lost World: Jurassic Park ripped off King Kong, this sequel proved that the franchise could still deliver by ripping off the first film. Sam O’Neill leads a team to one of the park’s research islands to help William H. Macy and Téa Leone find their son. It’s a rousing adventure that, while not providing anything new, gives more of what we liked about the original.
The dinosaurs aren’t the surprise they were in Jurassic Park, but it’s still solid work. Expect some moderate gore.
92 min., color, 2001
Dir. Ken Wiederhorn
I’m in a minority here, but I really like this one. John Carradine takes a boatload of tourists to a remote island where Peter Cushing is watching over his cache of Nazi zombies. It’s a bit on the tedious side, to be honest, but I love the ending. Wiederhorn’s biggest film would be Return of the Living Dead II, which should lower your expectations appropriately.
There’s very little going on effects-wise, but the zombies are creepy and there are a couple of effective shots of them.
85 min., color, 1977
Directed by Jack Perez
Written by Adam Glass and Jack Perez
Starring Daniel Letterle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chelan Simmons, Carmen Electra, Adam West, C. Ernst Harth, Alana Husband, La La Anthony, and Nick Carter
The horror movies of the 1950s have a certain cachet, not as exemplary films but as enjoyably cheesy. It’s a nostalgia thing, and it’s no surprise that filmmakers like Larry Blamire have used that as inspiration for their own efforts. Capturing that feeling of how we think movies were is a delicate task, and what is intended as homage can come of as misinformed, disingenuous, and cynical. By way of example, I give you the MTV production, Monster Island.
aka Dracula in Pakistan
Directed by Khwaja Sarfraz
Written by Naseem Rizwani
Based on Dracula by Bram Stoker
Starring Rehan, Habibur Rehman, Deeba Begum, Allauddin, Yasmeen Shaukat, Sheela, Baby Najmi, Asad Bukhari, and Nasreen
I can’t seem to escape vampires this year. Ganja & Hess, Kiss of the Damned, Near Dark, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Trouble Every Day, and arguably Veerana — nearly a quarter of the films I’ve covered this HubrisWeen have been blood-suckers. So it’s perhaps fitting that I close out the event with one more. Known hereabouts as Dracula in Pakistan, it’s the boundary-pushing Zinda Laash (literally “The Living Corpse”).
aka Whispering Corridors
Directed by Ki-hyeong Park
Written by Jung-Ok In and Ki-hyeong Park
Starring Kang-hee Choi, Gyu-ri Kim, Min-jung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Yu-Sook Kim, Mi-yeon Lee, Jin-hee Park, and Ji-hye Yun
A teacher is strangled and strung up to look like she committed suicide. There’s a long history of vengeful spirits in books and movies, but what we get in the Korean film Yeogo Goedam is something rather different. The ghost that haunts the girls’ school has anger issues, but mostly it wants to be a normal student. Murder is just something unpleasant that she engages in from time to time.
aka Alligator X
Directed by Amir Valinia
Written by George Michael Kostuch, Cameron Larson, Caleb Michaelson, and Claire Sanchez
Starring Lochlyn Munro, Mark Sheppard, Elena Lyons, Paul Wall, Caleb Michaelson, Ricky Wayne, and Scott L. Schwartz
It used to be that prehistoric critters would turn up in lost worlds, places that were isolated and difficult to access. Sometimes a natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane, would release them on an unsuspecting modern world. After Jurassic Park, of course, those pesky scientists kept bringing them back to life. Xtinction: Predator X mixes and matches a few of the prehistoric origins to create something remarkably uninteresting.
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi
Written by Satoshi Takagi
Starring Masashi Endô, Kwancharu Shitichai, Yôko Asada, Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf, Bass Wolf, Mikoto Inamiya, Naruka Hakajo, Taneko, and Yoshiyuki Morishita
Sometimes a movie is so overstuffed that it transcends petty issues like coherent narrative and physical laws. The enthusiasm of the production is enough to propel the audience past any concerns about logic or story structure. Such a movie was Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, a gleefully gory zombie romp from Australia. Wild Zero is another such film, also about zombies — this time from Japan.
Directed by Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay
Written by J.K. Ahuja, Shyam Ramsay, Omar Khayyam Saharanpuri, and Safi Ur-Rahman
Starring Jasmin, Hemant Birje, Sahila Chaddha, Kulphushan Kharbanda, Satish Shah, Rajesh Vivek, Roy Kamal, Vijayendra Ghatge, and Gulshan Grover
Reviewing movies from unfamiliar cultures can be challenging. I’ve been watching Japanese movies and shows for long enough that I have at least some context for films like Organ. India is a large country with many distinct and separate regions, and watching only a small number of Indian movies in no way provided me context for Veerana. Therefore, for this review I will assume that anything I find weird, confusing, or off-putting is a result of my own ignorance.
Directed by Mary Lambert
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
Starring Kate Mara, Robert Vito, Tina Lifford, Ed Marinaro, Michael Coe, and Rooney Mara
Urban legends were all the rage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in no small part due to the exhaustive series of books about them by Jan Harold Brunvand. These took the stories out of the realm of academic journals and presented them for enjoyment to a larger audience. It was inevitable that we’d get a slasher film using these modern folk tales as a gimmick. It was also probable that the sequels would wind up being released direct to video, as was the case with the third installment Urban Legends: Bloody Mary.
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau
Starring Vincent Gallo, Tricia Vessey, Béatrice Dalle, Alex Descas, and Florence Loiret Caille
I’m generally willing to meet a film at least half way. A slowly paced story with lengthy silences isn’t a deal-breaker for me, and the horror of the human condition is my kind of thing. English, French, Japanese, Hindi — the language doesn’t matter as long as I can follow along with subtitles. But at the end of the journey, I need to have felt something more than tedium. Trouble Every Day only added irritation for me.
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee and Bill Gunn
Starring Stephen Tyrone Williams, Zaarah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Felicia Pearson, Katherine Borowitz, Joie Lee, and Naté Bova
For a long time, it wasn’t easy to see Ganja & Hess, especially not as originally released. The distributors pulled it from theaters, recut it (removing around a half an hour from its run time), and re-released it as Blood Couple. A complete print was donated to MoMA and has had a few releases, most recently though Kino Lorber. I mention this because because by doing a remake of the film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Spike Lee essentially brought Bill Gunn’s version to a wider audience.