Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Screamers (1979, Italian, aka Island of the Fishman, dir: Sergio Martino; cast: Richard Johnson, Claudio Cassinelli, Barbara Bach)





Screamers is a recut of the 1979 Italian film, l'isola degli uomini pesce (aka, Island of the Fishmen).

The Blu-Ray DVD of Screamers offers some excellent special features, including interviews with the people involved in the recut and its marketing, explaining the why of it.

Roger Corman was given the opportunity to distribute L'Isola degli uomini pesce, but the film, while horror, is a rubber-suit monster movie. Corman believed that American horror fans at the time were mostly interested in slasher films.

So Corman cut some 20 minutes out of the Italian film, and filmed an additional 15 minutes (mostly a prologue).

The additional scenes and some of the poster artwork (the monster's fingernail resembled a slasher's knife) allowed Corman to market the film, now retitled Something Waits in the Dark, as a slasher film. His trailers (included in the DVD) implied that Screamers is mostly about monsters that rape women.

Corman later re-remarketed the film as about "a man turned inside out," re-retitling it Screamers. The newly shot "inside out" footage used in that trailer was not used in the re-recut film, causing a riot at one Georgia drive-in. So Corman inserted that very brief footage (which makes no sense in any version of the film) to please audiences.

The special feature interviews include Corman, and people involved in directing, editing, and marketing the new scenes and film versions.

It's all very interesting from a historical perspective. Even so, I think Corman was wrong to recut the film. As a horror fan, while I enjoy Screamers, I prefer  l'isola degli uomini pesce.

I first saw Screamers over 30 years ago on broadcast TV. Later as an Embassy VHS cassette. Then I bought the Italian DVD (the NoShame PAL version), and now this Blu-Ray Screamers.

Corman's newly filmed prologue is okay, but unnecessary. It adds nothing to the film. Screamers is about 89 minutes long, L'Isola degli uomini pesce is 95 minutes. This means the Italian version has about 20 minutes you won't find on Screamers, which in turn has 15 minutes you won't find on L'Isola degli uomini pesce.

The core story remains the same. The year is 1891. Rackham (Richard Johnson) is a white land baron who owns an uncharted island. Primitive black natives obey his every whim. He's hired a well-intentioned mad scientist, Dr. Marvin (Joseph Cotten), to turn the natives into fishmen, so as to harvest undersea gold from the lost civilization of Atlantis. Amanda (Barbara Bach) is Dr. Marvin's beautiful daughter, who communicates with the fishmen, who love her.

The hunky Claude (Claudio Cassinelli), a doctor on a prison ship, crashes onto the island, along with several prisoners. He uncovers Rackham's evil scheme, even as the fishmen kill off various people.

If you've seen Screamers, you're missing a lot (20 minutes) from the original film. A few scenes are missing entirely, but mostly it's scenes that have been trimmed. Things that are implied in Screamers are explicitly stated in L'Isola degli uomini pesce.


Some of what's missing from Screamers:

* We sense that Rackham has the hots for Amanda, but it's never explicit in Screamers. But in L'Isola degli uomini pesce he speaks of his jealousy for her, calls her his wife, and later admits that she's "not yet" his wife.

* We sense that Dr. Marvin might be in trouble in Screamers, whereas in L'Isola degli uomini pesce, Rackham explicitly states that he keeps Amanda in line by threatening to kill Marvin.

* We sense that Shakira and Amanda are at odds in Screamers, but in L'Isola degli uomini pesce, Amanda explicitly accuses Shakira of spying on her.

* Quick action events (e.g., the killing of Francois; the attempted rape of Amanda by another prisoner) are drawn out in L'Isola degli uomini pesce, allowing for longer suspenseful buildup, or extended chase scenes.

* There's a voodoo ritual scene in Screamers, but two such scenes in L'Isola degli uomini pesce.

* During dinner, Claude accuses Rackham of misanthropy. In L'Isola degli uomini pesce, Claude also accuses Rackham of paranoia.

* Additional dialog between Claude and Amanda, and between other characters. The missing dialog is usually a line or two here and there. Trims from scenes rather than missing scenes.

* The final scene/credit roll of Screamers has a fishman swimming ominously underwater. In L'Isola degli uomini pesce, the credits roll over a shot of Claude and Amanda embracing on a raft, a beautiful pink sky behind them. Corman opted for horror, the Italians for romance.



* One of the big differences (allegedly) is the transformation of Jose into a fishman. Claude and Amanda are horrified to find Jose-as-fishman in a laboratory tank. Corman redid the fishman, replacing the Italian version (first photo above) with his version (second photo). Supposedly because, Corman thought, his version was more gruesome, and more like "a man turned inside out."

I disagree. Both fishmen are equally gruesome. It was an unnecessary bit of work on Corman's part, especially because both fishmen only occupy a few seconds of screen time before being killed while lying in the tank.

Some people, Corman included, think that L'Isola degli uomini pesce is too slow moving, and that the trimming, with the addition of the prologue, makes for a faster-paced, more gruesome film. I don't think so. I find that the original version is well-paced, and makes for a richer film, with the characters and their relationships more fully developed.

I like both versions, but I prefer the Italian.

Film students should enjoy watching and comparing both versions, studying how films can change by what's left in or taken out. Is anything substantive lost when those lines of dialog are deleted? It's a ripe topic for discussion and analysis.



A comparison of the visuals:

The Screamers Blu-Ray DVD has nice visuals. But my NoShame DVD of  l'Isola degli uomini pesce also has rich, sharp visuals in widescreen (2.35:1) format.

The NoShame DVD is significantly brighter than the Screamers Blu-Ray DVD. Barbara Bach is a strawberry blonde in the NoShame L'Isola degli uomini pesce DVD (above), but she's brunette in the Blu-Ray Screamers.

The NoShame DVD has both Italian and English language soundtracks, but only Italian subtitles. If you're a deaf English speaker, you're out of luck.

The NoShame DVD has great special features, including an hour documentary interviewing three of the people involved in the film, and trailers. However, these are all in Italian, without subtitles. So I couldn't understand what they were saying. The Screamers interviews are in English.

I look forward to a Blu-Ray version of L'Isola degli uomini pesce.


Director Sergio Martino, and actors Richard Johnson, Claudio Cassinelli, and Barbara Bach all collaborated on another Italian horror film that same year -- 1979 -- called The Big Alligator River (aka The Great Alligator). Coincidentally, Mel Ferrer appears in that film and in Screamers's Corman prologue (but not in the original Italian version).

So if you loved Screamers and/or L'Isola degli uomini pesce, you'll want to see The Big Alligator River.


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