Zombie Island Massacre Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by John N. Carter
Written by Logan O’Neill and Willian Stoddard
1983, 88 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 25th, 2020
David Broadnax as Paul
Rita Jenrette as Sandy
Tom Cantrell as Steve
Diane Clayre-Holub as Connie
George Peters as Whitney
Ian McMillian as Joe
Debbie Ewing as Helen
The island of Saint Marie is a beautiful tropical vacation spot popular with people of all ages. There’s plenty of sun and fun and organized tours to check out some of the local customs. Sandy and Joe are deeply in love, newly engaged and eager to fill their days with all the sights to see. They join a dozen tourists on a boat and attend a voodoo ceremony where a priest sacrifices a goat to reanimate a corpse. The group is shocked and decides it’s time to go back to the hotel, but their bus won’t start. When their guide goes for help and never returns, they take it upon themselves to navigate the jungle path to shelter. They are not alone on their journey, as something evil is following them and begins killing them off one by one. Unable to get a good look at their attacker, the group seeks sanctuary in a remote house. It is here that they become aware that not everything is as it seems and they find themselves no closer to safety.
Zombie Island Massacre is a lot of things, but it is not a movie about a zombie uprising; in fact, it appears the only ghoul featured is immediately dispatched within minutes of resurrection. More than likely the film was retitled by the distributor upon release to attract a wider audience. This is a different kind of horror movie than advertised, one that pulls elements from a variety of subgenres, primarily the slasher. Our protagonists are tracked within the jungle and stabbed, strangled, drowned and decapitated by an unseen assailant. When they reach the house, we are introduced to a new character, Ely Whitney, a man who claims to be hunting the creature. It is during this third act that new information is revealed and the film radically switches tone and becomes more akin to an episode of Miami Vice. This is an unexpected twist that kind of works, but comes a little late and feels rushed.
This is the first and only film for many participants on both sides of the camera, starting with director John N. Carter and writers Logan O’Neill and William Stoddard. They have a great island location and the early introduction of a voodoo ceremony sets the tone for the horrors to come. From there the picture becomes more of a “Ten Little Indians” story with members of the tour being picked off one by one. While the characters are not well-defined, there are a few surprises thrown in to keep audiences guessing who will survive and what their motivations are. Unfortunately, the script is something of a mess, requiring the group to make some really poor decisions along the way. The reveal of what’s really going on is a nice idea, but is delivered in a clumsy manner that is ultimately disappointing.
Carter does a decent job with the material given and musters up a few scares, but just as this is his first time on a movie, many of his actors are novices too. While there are no all-out stinkers in the bunch, many of the characters are one-dimensional archetypes. The standout performer is David Broadnax as Paul, the leader of the group determined to get everyone out alive. In addition to playing one of the main roles, Broadnax came up with the film’s original story. The pseudo-celebrity name talent in the cast is Rita Jenrette, who was famous at the time for her congressman husband’s involvement in the Abscam scandal of the 1980s.
Released during the Golden Age of the slasher movie, Zombie Island Massacre gets points for trying something different. It features a beautiful location, a healthy body count, gratuitous nudity and some passable special effects. The biggest coup for this production is landing genre favorite Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) to provide the score – although much of it sounds like recycled tracks from his more popular works. While this remains undeniably a bad movie, it is entertaining and better than the title would suggest. Forget the zombie pitch and you’ll likely have a better viewing experience, one improved if joined by a group of friends.
Video and Audio:
The original camera negative receives a 2K scan and restoration delivering a gorgeous new transfer presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is light years ahead of the previous Troma DVD release, featuring stronger colors and greater detail.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track preserves the original audio recording and offers a clean mix of dialogue, music and sound effects. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
A promotional ‘sizzle’ reel (14 minutes) edits many highlights of the picture together set to Manfredini’s driving music in an attempt to make it look sufficiently scary to distributors.
The original trailer is paired with two TV spots.
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