Zombie Island Massacre

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos

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Zombie Island Massacre  (1984, dir: John T. Carter; cast: David Broadnax, Tom Cantrell, Rita Jenrette)

 

 

 

No flesh-eating zombies here. Zombie Island Massacre isn't even a horror film, not really. It's structured as a horror film in the first hour, then reveals itself to be a crime thriller in a "surprise twist" that comes out of nowhere.

As horror, Zombie Island Massacre belongs to the "wandering victims" subgenre. You've seen it often. A group of nondescript people enter a closed or deserted locale, usually at night. The woods, the beach, a desert, ghetto, ghost town, department store, mall, school, mansion, shack, mine... Anyway, they wander around this locale while some unseen killer picks them off. Occasionally a couple sneaks off for sex ... and are picked off. So the survivors resolve to do some really determined wandering, to find the missing couple ... and are picked off.

Dialogue is usually limited to debating, and re-debating, two options: stay put or move on.

 

"We gotta get to that [house, phone, highway, gas station]!"

"I'm not moving! Let's just wait until [morning, somebody finds us, they open the store, Joe returns]!"

"I'm not staying here, waiting for him to get us!"

"Don't leave me here alone!"

 

And so on, in round robin fashion.

Zombie Island Massacre begins in a Caribbean luxury hotel. From there, a boat transports some Western tourists to Zombie Island, to view an authentic voodoo dance ritual. During the show, two lovers wander into the woods ... and the body count mounts!

After the show, the remaining tourists return to the bus, and discover the driver is missing. Odd.  Then the tour guide can't start the bus, so he leaves to find the driver. But the tour guide doesn't return. Strange. Then one tourist, Paul (David Broadnax), goes in search of the missing tour guide...

When Paul returns without news, everyone debates whether to stay on the bus, or walk to a house they'd passed "a few miles back." Might have a phone. They could call the hotel for help. They resolve to head for the house. Everyone. (Minus the two lovers, who are mysteriously missing.)  So the tourists enter the dark island woods -- and are picked off by unseen killer(s). The tourists cross a river, and more must die. Still more die in a jungle trap. A few reach the house, but still, the body count mounts.

As in similar horror films, the big question is: Who will survive and what will be left of them?

 

 

Zombie Island Massacre was photographed night-for-night, which is aesthetically appropriate, but annoyingly murky. The pitch-black night conceals the menace; the lighting exposes the victims. However, the nighttime darkness also conceals the gore. We don't always discern what horrors befall the victims; we only know that they're injured by hearing their screams.

Still, considering the shabby "special" effects, perhaps it's best we don't see it. Much of the gore occurs offscreen, and the onscreen gore is of hobbyist quality. One decapitation looks like a plaster head knocked off a dummy. Yet director John T. Carter seems proud of this marvel. The plaster head reappears in a later scene, stuck on a pike. It's supposed to be shocking but, apart from looking like a plaster head, it doesn't even resemble the victim it's supposed to be. Not even a plaster head of the victim.

"Characters" are sketchy and stereotypical. There's the retired couple still in love, the wife doting on her husband because he has a "bad ticker." There's the hippie pothead, looking wasted, eyes sleepy, giggling and simpering that everyone should mellow out and not worry.  Other characters are less well defined.

Because both a hero (David Broadnax; Cotton Comes to Harlem) and villain (Trevor Reid) are black, the film avoids some traditional stereotyping without falling into political correctness. Broadnax does a decent job looking resolute and brave, but Reid breaks new ground in bad acting. His voodoo priest is hammy, bug-eyed, and stiff -- all reminiscent of Mal Arnold in Blood Feast.

"Actress" Rita Jenrette is the film's most notable element, the big selling point for whatever scant attention it drew when first released. She was wife to Democratic South Carolina Congressman John Jenrette, whose infamy from the Abscam scandal launched Rita on her fifteen minutes. They divorced, she posed nude in the April 1981 Playboy, then attempted an acting career. After some B projects and a second Playboy spread, she returned to near obscurity.

In Zombie Island Massacre, Rita goes topless in two brief scenes. And once we see her ass through a shower glass door. That's all she bares. Not much, but as it's doubtless why she was cast (still coasting on her Playboy publicity) we should keep score. Yes, her breasts are very firm. But her acting only looks good compared to Reid's. (Is that why he was cast?)

Zombie Island Massacre flopped upon release, perhaps because mainstream audiences avoided what they thought were flesh-eating zombies -- and zombie fans felt cheated upon discovering there were no flesh-eating zombies.

 

 

 

Horror critics have not been kind to Zombie Island Massacre. In Deep Red, Chas Balum writes: "There are no zombies in this picture. The real walking dead are behind the cameras this time. Ugly, cowlike Rita Jenrette, who's claim to fame is having a disgraced politico ex-husband and posing for a Playboy spread, is simply ... uh ... ugly, cowlike and bereft of any shred of acting talent whatsoever. Sure, her breasts defy gravity and the filmmakers get her naked as often as reason allows; but shit, Francis the Talking Mule could've done a better job and, perhaps, even brought more sensuality to the role. ... alas, no zombies, just Z-Z-Z-Z-Z's."

In his Creature Features guide, John Stanley writes: "A Caribbean island is the setting for this tale of vacationers being slaughtered by what appears to be a killer zombie tree. Huh?"

Well yes, I said the photography was murky, and some events difficult to discern. But overall, I'm inclined to forgive. The film is pleasantly diverting, and mildly entertaining. A critic at Amazon described Zombie Island Massacre as "cheesy fun" -- and it is that. A generous body count, hammy acting by a pothead and a voodoo priest, and Rita's breasts. It may not be art, but it's enough for a movie.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos

 

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