kindertrauma random header image

The Island (1980)

August 8th, 2008 by unkle lancifer · 22 Comments


For a film that I do not often think about, I sure have a long and varied history with THE ISLAND, a 1980 wannabe-actioner based on a novel by JAWS scribe PETER BENCHLEY. The first time I saw it, my father took me and my brothers to go see it in the theater. I was about the same age as the young boy in the film and I remember absolutely loving the flick as a violent, forbidden spectacle that fanned my adolescent running away and joining the circus fantasies. The next time I saw it, I was in my early twenties and I hated it. I thought it was trash and I wondered what I was thinking as a lad. Now, after watching it once more as a theoretical adult, I have to say that early twenties me was a pretentious poser who wouldn’t know fun if it karate chopped him on the neck! MICHAEL CAINE stars as a delightfully lenient dad (nudie mags and a gun are allowed for his 12-year-old son) who just happens to be trying to solve mankind’s greatest and most relevant natural mystery, that of the dreaded Bermuda Triangle! (I cannot get enough of the Bermuda Triangle). What he finds instead is a bunch of crazy pirates who like to plant axes into tourists’ skulls and swipe their luggage. CAINE‘s son is brainwashed and groomed to become one of the pirates, thanks to his excellent marksmanship and CAINE himself is kept on a leash and used for breeding purposes. It’s all as insane as it sounds, and is probably one of the few examples of a big budget exploitation flick. I agree with 20-year-old me that it’s all pretty stupid, but 12-year-old me was smart enough to be satisfied watching literally dozens of men machine gunned down in an awesome climax that would become a video game staple 20 years later. My one complaint is that the actual pirates look like crap. Maybe this was the director’s lone unwanted nod toward reality, but they are a sickly, toothless lot that look like they could be swept away with a large feather duster. (Saving CAINE for “breeding” purposes is a bit sketchy too). Maybe I’ve read too many matchbook covers, but I thought pirates looked less like Tippy the Turtle and more like this exquisetly butch “DRAW ME!” specimen…


Anyway, as a kid not only did I covet the exciting lifestyle of CAINE‘s son who gets to murder people while pretending to be brainwashed and will never be acountable for his actions, but I was also very much fascinated by this girl…


Her parents were murdered in front of her eyes and now she operates as a decoy! She poses as if she needs help and then when someone tries to aid her, the pirates come out and slit their throats. I know it sounds sick, but I think that this is the best job ever! All she has to do is sit there and do a creepy smile once and awhile!

The most laughable scene in the movie happens when the pirates invade a boat of coke smugglers and come face to face with a BRUCE LEE impersonator who wears his shirt tied up around his waist like Mary Ann from GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Something tells me this guy was in line to host DANCE FEVER right after DENEY TERRIO and ADRIAN ZMED. This is a full two years before the famous superfluous karate scene in PIECES and really has to be seen (and heard) to be believed…

I swore long ago that I would never use the phrase “So bad it’s good,” so I’m not going to start now, but make no mistake THE ISLAND is super-fantastic-awesome-genius if you take it with a very large grain of sea salt. If you’re lucky, it can also make you feel like you’re a 12-year old kid again.

And as for my 20 year old self, good riddance I say. What kinda ingrate thumbs his nose at a movie that is kind enough to throw this lovely image at the viewer in the first ten minutes?

Tags: Tykes in Trouble




Subscribe
Notify of
22 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
kittyleclaw
12 years ago

this exquisetly butch “DRAW ME!” specimen

Tee-hee! Thanks for tossing in this giggle to distract me from my bone-jarring fear of the Bermuda Triangle. To even contemplate it makes me feel nauseous. Tied-Shirt Guy is not helping!

Crazy movie, Dear Uncle. And, is it just me, or is Mr. Axehead a dead ringer for Pappy The Child-Molestin’ Good Luck Troll*?

Registered Trademark, Russ Industries. All Rights Reserved.

Tank
Tank
12 years ago

Well done, my man!  I visit this site every day, addicted to reading everyone’s recollections of their pop-culture scars. I have been wanting to join in for some time, having whittled down a list of my own run-for-mommy’s-arms moments from various films and TV programs. And THE ISLAND was at the top of my list! In the early ’80s, when I was roughly 9 or 10, my family finally spritzed for our 1st VCR. My dad would always rent a couple of titles for the whole fam, but then 1 or 2 R-rated flicks for him, that he would hide from us kids and watch in the later hours. Of course, I made it my mission in life to suss out this secret stash, and try to watch as many as I could before the old man got home from work. Because of my dad’s responsible parenting, I was a fairly sheltered child, at least when it came to graphically violent films. Which was not very good preparation AT ALL for the time I found THIS gem in his not-too-well-thought-out location for hoarding. (The cabinet above the fridge. Real stealthy, Pops.) I had invited my best friend over to check this one out, as we had vivid recollections of the striking video box art (that pale, grey hand rising out of the water, grasping an axe). We popped it in and sat real close to the TV, the better to quickly switch it off and return it lightning quick back to the Rated R Cabinet. As stated in your article, the film gets off to a running start, with the murderous hijacking of a scooner by the (yes, now ridiculous) baddies of the film.  My wimpy 10-year-old ass, however, was NOT ready for that jump-scare moment of head-splitting gore when that 1st axe comes up out of nowhere and goes THWACK right through some poor bastard’s melon. I remember hauling ass backwards on ass and elbows, and uncontrollably BAWLING at what my eyes just sent to my brain for permanent registry. Of course, my asshole best friend (whose parents were a lot more leniant on his viewing habits) just sat there and mercilessly tore into me for being such a goddamn ninny. The bastard didn’t let up on me, never letting me forget this unfortunate episode for the rest of our friendship. (Of course, I gave it back to him later when I witnessed him yelping and diving into his dad’s lap during the face-ripping scene in POLTERGEIST). Like many die-hard horror/exploitation fans, my love for this type of cinema grew out of being completely affronted by something I didn’t understand…but wanted to very badly. After a few years (and some therapy), I went back for more and soon became a huge fan of the genre. You are correct that this is, to put it very kindly, a flawed film. The last scene grab posted above was the EXACT moment of my freak-out. Funny how painfully absurd and fake it looks today. But I’ll always hold it near and dear for being my gateway into the darker, nastier, and (particularly in the case of THE ISLAND) goofier realms of fringe cinema. Thanks for sharing this one, my man! Ahhh, memories…THWACK!

Absinthe
12 years ago

You forgot to mention Mr. Wanna-be-Bruce-Lee’s awesome John Ritter shorts -=- that is enough to send most children running for their mommies.

TenebrousKate
12 years ago

You had me at “drawing test pirate” (I did not have to draw a pirate OR a turtle in order to get into art school–which still disappoints me) and then you RE-had me at Danny Terrio.  “Dance Fever,” “Dracula,” and “Josie and the Pussycats” were serious influences on pre-school-age Me.

Amanda By Night
12 years ago

My father took me to see this and the Black Hole when I was a kid. Oh yeah, and the In Laws. One of the reasons I love him so much is because of this. I mean, what was he thinking? My parents were pretty free reign on my viewing pleasures, even though my dad was not as happy as I was that horror became a passion. Still, he supported it. My dad was cool.

This brought back some nice memories for me. I guess being traumatized was pleasant for me! Thanks for the post!

Amanda By Night
12 years ago

I actually like the Apple Dumpling Gang. I do.

mickster
mickster
12 years ago

Oh boy! I needed a good laugh today. Is this awesome specimen available on DVD? I will check Netflix immediately. That dude with the shirt tied at the waist and hot pants is too cool for words! He definitely would have been a better host than Adrian Zmed for the outfit alone.

mickster
mickster
12 years ago

Unkle, I also found it on ioffer.com. I don’t know if you have looked there before, but I have found a few hard to find titles there that were of decent quality. Too bad you aren’t in Alabama because it is going to be a Love Boat and Fantasy Island double feature at my house Saturday night!

FilmFather
12 years ago

Oh man, that girl with the creepy smile! I totally forgot about her (and much of THE ISLAND, I must admit).

What makes her smile extra-creepy is that in the film, it’s intercut with shots of the pirates hacking up the people she tricked!

mickster
mickster
12 years ago

Unkle L, You missed out tonight! Christopher George played a race-car driver in the episode of Fantasy Island we watched. He was wearing some super groovy leisure suits. Oh, and Alan “The Skipper” Hale was in the episode too. Were you able to find The Island on ioffer?

sbd
sbd
12 years ago

I’m curious about an exploration of the concept of the “big budget exploitation flick”.  I think you’ll find there are tons of examples out there.  All of Peter Benchley’s movie adaptations should fall into this class for one thing – JAWS certainly, and how could you not count THE DEEP in this class?  With pirates, murder, creepy critters and Jacquie Bisset as a one-woman wet t-shirt contest, this movie is tops on this list, IMHO (unfortunately I haven’t seen THE ISLAND so I can’t say this definitively).  Like JAWS, any movie that preys on any relatively universal phobia should be included as well: EARTHQUAKE, AIRPORT, TOWERING INFERNO – basically all the (usually) low-on-substance, big-on-mayhem disaster movies can be considered exploitative.  Need I go on?  I’m certain Aunt & Unkle and the rest of the Bloggers can rape this subject more thoroughly than I ever could 🙂

sbd
sbd
12 years ago

Unkle,
I certainly bow before your much vaster knowledge of the genre – if THE ISLAND is as over-the-top as you say, then I stand corrected.  Even though EARTHQUAKE had gratuitous shots of folks with glass sticking out of their faces, TOWERING INFERNO had people running around on fire for no other reason than to deliver the message “FIRE, BAD!!”, and AIRPORT ’75 had Karen Black, they must all be at the far low end of the exploitation spectrum.