Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day Three: Isle of the Dead (1945)

Day three brings us Isle of the Dead (1945), starring Boris Karloff (technical difficulties forced a scheduling switch, with The Zombie Diaries being moved to Thursday). And while there is sort of a resurrection in the film, it's really more of a psychological thriller.

Set on a Greek island during the 1912 War, we follow a group of people quarantined there due to an outbreak of the Plague. Or some form of plague anyway. One that makes you act drunk, stumble around, and then die quietly.

But all is not right. The superstitious old Greek lady in the group thinks that young Thea (Ellen Drew) is not just young and healthy, taking care of a sickly female friend. Instead, she believes that Thea is actually a vampiric demon known as a vorvolaka.

Thematically, this is a very nice little exploration of the conflicts between beliefs in science and superstition, particularly when people are confronted with a form of death that pays no heed to either ideology. Along with this, there's a very subtle and powerful condemnation of war as we open on a Greek battlefield.

As Karloff, as General Nikolas Pherides crosses a nighttime wasteland that is literally overflowing with corpses. Corpses that must be cleared away each night to avoid the spread of disease. Ironically, then, the General is then quarantined himself later.

All in all, this is a beautifully shot film. It is not, however, a zombie film.

Karloff's performance is suitably creepy as he slowly slips from being a science-minded military man into a superstitious, plague-infested zealot. His gradual obsession with proving that Thea is a monster and then his determination to kill her accordingly is all pretty horrific. Particularly his final scene, crawling slowly across a darkened floor, dying, yet still staring upwards at Thea, wishing only to kill her before he passes.

I just gave myself a chill. Ugh.

But what about that resurrection, you ask?

That's another pretty creepy part, particularly if you're claustrophobic (which, I imagine is why Martin Scorsese puts this film in his 11 Scariest of All Time list). I'm hesitant to spoil any more of the film, but I guess as soon as one character starts mentioning their overpowering fear of being buried alive, you kind of know what's coming.

So, overall, this is a pretty good film; it's just not a zombie film.

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