ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) Reviews and Blu-ray news

 

Isle of the Dead will soon be released on Blu-ray as part of the Warner Archive series. The new 1080p high-definition master has been sourced from a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative and will be released on March 30th, 2021. Special features include:

Commentary by Screenwriter/Film Historian Doctor Steve Haberman
Original Theatrical Trailer with Spanish Subtitles

Here is our previous coverage of this horror classic:

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‘Will keep you screaming!’

Isle of the Dead is a 1945 American horror film and one of producer Val Lewton’s horror films made for RKO Radio Pictures. The movie had a script inspired by the painting Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, which appears behind the title credits, though the film was originally titled “Camilla” during production.

Another of Lewton’s films, I Walked With a Zombie, has the painting hung in the main room of the movie. It was written by frequent Lewton collaborator Ardel Wray; directed by Mark Robson, the fourth of five pictures he directed for Lewton; and stars Boris Karloff, the first of three pictures he made with Lewton.

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On a lonely Greek island, a disparate group of people are in fear. The plague has come to the island making them virtual prisoners and then there is talk of the vorvolakas, a vampire-like creature that preys on the living.

Among those trapped, there is General Nikolas Pherides (Karloff), nicknamed the Watchdog, who is taken aback when he visits his wife’s mausoleum only to find her grave empty. As several of the quarantined die from the plague, paranoia sets in creating a tense, fear-filled atmosphere…

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Filming began for about two weeks in July 1944 until production was suspended when Karloff required a back operation. It was completed in December 1944. In the interim, after Karloff had recovered from the surgery but before the cast of Isle of the Dead could be reassembled, he and Lewton made The Body Snatcher. The film had a troubled production, and the central female character of the original script (named “Catherine”) was deleted entirely from the tale.

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“Karloff gives a fine performance, despite questionable casting as a curly-topped, white-haired, sadistic Greek officer. As with most of Lewton’s films, Isle of the Dead is awash in literary symbology. However, in lacking Tounerur’s organic, poetic philter, Robson’s handling of the material is pronouncedly drier.” 366 Weird Movies

” …it’s in the final third that the film really delivers on the promise of its build-up, as Mary’s catalepsy and terror of being buried alive collide with Pherides’ conviction that she has been infected by Thea, providing a couple of spectacularly effective sound-driven jolts and the single biggest fright I’ve had from a movie all year. It’s the handling of these scenes that prompted Martin Scorsese to select Isle of the Dead as one of the eleven scariest horror films he’s ever seen.” Cine Outsider

“In the end, I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be scared of boogiemen or appalled at humanity. I didn’t know whether the film was creating a surrealistic fantasy world or was firmly set in reality. As it stands, Isle of the Dead is an ill-formed slog through a garden of little seeds that might have blossomed into horror had they been nurtured.” DVD Verdict

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“Karloff excels in a rather more multi-faceted role than he often had to deal with, and while the combination of the gothic and the realist doesn’t always blend as well as it should, there is a lot to admire here, and the film is at its best when working as a study of how war can drive a person to madness rather than playing with Poe-inspired fantasy.” The Reprobate

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Arnold Böcklin’s painting ‘Isle of the Dead’

“The movie is pretty low on chills until the final reel when the Poe-esque subplot about a woman being buried alive kicks in. Then Isle of the Dead sort of resembles a prototype of an 80’s slasher movie. Up until then, the film is mostly about the distrust that breeds between a group of strangers when they are confronted with a fatal menace in an isolated place […] Karloff is excellent here.” The Video Vacuum

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Cast and characters:

Boris Karloff … General Nikolas Pherides
Ellen Drew … Thea
Marc Cramer … Oliver Davis
Katherine Emery … Mrs Mary St. Aubyn
Helene Thimig … Madame Kyra
Alan Napier … St. Aubyn
Jason Robards Sr. … Albrecht (as Jason Robards)
Ernst Deutsch … Doctor Drossos (as Ernst Dorian)
Sherry Hall … Col. Kobestes (uncredited)
Erick Hanson … Officer (uncredited)
Rose Hobart … Mrs Mary St. Aubyn (in long shot) (uncredited)
Skelton Knaggs … Andrew Robbins (uncredited)

Technical details:

71 minutes
Black and White
Aspect ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono (RCA Sound System)