Scorpion Releasing tackles SCREAMERS, Roger Corman’s re-edited, beefed-up and preferable U.S. cut of Sergio Martino’s 1979 Italian production ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN in glorious HD and available for the first time on Blu-ray.
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 MONSTER CLUB). 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 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, human-altering experimentations by the imprisoned biologist (Joseph Cotten, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) who happens to be Amanda’s father, and the lost city of Atlantis.
Between shooting MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD and BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER, Sergio Martino helmed an ambitious, Lovecraft-tinged (with a somewhat Jules Verne feel) tale that contains enough fanciful elements to fill three separate pictures. Mingling THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP, SCREAMERS 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, SCREAMERS is ideal entertainment for an adventurous Saturday matinee.
There’s no nudity, very little gore connected to the original Italian version (as you’ll see, the American inserts found in this presentation ups that quotient significantly) and the title Fishmen look like they were put together mere minutes before filming began, but damn it all if SCREAMERS 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 this film, he again cast Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli and Richard Johnson in BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER. The film remains 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’s New World Pictures, the film subsequently went through several overhauls and titles (ISLAND OF MUTATIONS, SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK) before finally finding peace under the title SCREAMERS, representing the version of the film presented here. In an attempt to punch up a movie 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 rousing 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 (including Hollywood veteran Mel Ferrer, Eunice Bolt and Tom J, Delaney) are made quick work by the monstrous Fishmen, adding additional blood and guts, thus fulfilling its desired goal (and adding some marquee “names” to the American ads). Additional changes can be spotted here and there (including a bit where a wayward convict gets mutilated by a Fishman), 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. The added/changed make-up and effects (as well as the design of the Gillman) are far more impressive, but doesn’t exactly back up the film's American ad campaign, which promised viewers the chance at seeing “men turned inside out! And worse... they're still alive!” (you’ll get the full scoop on that legend when you get through the disc’s extras).
Scorpion has acquired the U.S. version directly from Roger Corman, so those wanting to own or spot check the alternate Italian cut should seek out Mya Communication’s DVD of ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, released a few years ago. Scorpion’s Blu-ray release (which is also available on standard DVD), transferred in HD from original interpostive, is of course far superior to the Mya release (which looks like a bootleg in comparison), presenting the film in 1080p and in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For those who have only seen the Embassy Home Entertainment VHS release of SCREAMERS, you'll witness quite a revelation in the blood-soaked first 12 minutes, which looked so murky before. The original source element is pristine, with no signs of any significant debris, with textures being smooth and detail being significantly sharp throughout. Colors are well saturated, and the impressive amount of clarity helps one better to appreciate the handsome production values of the original Italian production, as well as the on-the-cheap American inserts (which look a tad more vibrant, making them easier to single out). The DTS-HD mono track is fine, with clear English dialog and the score by Luciano Michelini sounding well balanced throughout the presentation.
There’s a number of excellent video interviews here, conducted with some of the gentlemen who worked on the American release of the film. “The Sword of the Fishmen: Joe Dante” (4:08) has Dante discussing “how little” he had to do with the film, but that he suggested Miller Drake to shoot the new scenes (at Bronson Canyon) and that some of the effects shots were actually shot in his garage and backyard! “The Killer Fishman: Jim Wynorski” (10:54), features Wynorski, who was the trailer maker and advertising director on the film. Wynorski was originally hired to work on the promotional campaign when it was to be titled SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK, and tells how the film totally bombed when it was released under that title. Coming up with the new title as inspired by the recent success of SCANNERS, Wynorski cut together a trailer without a lick of footage from the actual film but with new material he shot on recycled sets. “The King of the Fishmen: Roger Corman” (3:24), has Corman talking about how the film came to his attention, shooting the footage and how the advertising campaign was remodeled several times. Clark Henderson talks about being at the editorial department at New World Pictures in the 1980s and organizing the re-shoots and doing post production on SCREAMERS. “Knight of the Fishmen: Miller Drake (12:02) has Drake stating that American producers Harry Rybnick and Richard Kay who bought the rights to ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, hired him to shoot the new scenes and beef up the scenes, which he shot in a matter of days. During the interview, Drake shows an actual Fishmen creature head that Chris Walas created for the inserts, and he shares some anecdotes about working with Mitchell and Ferrer. Drake also mentions that he wanted to shoot some nudity, but the producers were concerned about the TV version and wouldn’t have it. The original SCREAMERS and SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK trailers (the latter which contains nude bits from HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) are included, as is a still gallery made up of behind-the-scenes shots from the opening sequence from Drake’s personal collection. The cover is reversible, with the very different SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK art on the other side. (George R. Reis and Jason McElreath)
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