Screamers (The Island of the Fishmen) (Something Waits in the Dark) (1981)
Screamers (The Island of the Fishmen) (Something Waits in the Dark) (1981)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 21 min.

Release Date: June 26th, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Sergio Martino Actors: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson, Beryl Cunningham, Joseph Cotten, Mel Ferrer, Cameron Mitchell

 


 

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pening with the mutilated remains of a severed head’s bloated visage as it washes ashore, “Screamers” proceeds to tell a tale beginning in 1891 in the Caribbean Sea. At the Cave of the Dead, two treasure seekers (Eunice Bolt and James Alquist) and a salty tar (Cameron Mitchell) wander away from their rowboat, in search of a forbidden fortune. Onto this particular unnamed, uncharted island, not even the natives venture; stories abound of dangerous man-eating things lurking about. And indeed, it’s not long before they stumble upon additional corpses, crawling crustaceans, and slimy critters – which give rise to spontaneous screeches and characters disappearing down lightless corridors or amid the thick fog. “Legends and superstitions don’t scare me.”

The entirety of this introductory scene is essentially an add-on for U.S. markets to make this poorly received Sergio Martino-directed Italian picture gorier and scarier (it’s a re-release, in fact, for 1981, as the original unedited version, featuring a different language track, debuted in its home country in 1979). It doesn’t quite work, however, as the special effects are gruesome but hardly convincing; the makeup and props are clearly quite cheesy. Once the original story proper begins, it’s evident that dubbing and different cinematography is at play, with medical officer Lieutenant Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) commanding a tiny craft of prisoners to safety, away from their sinking frigate. But they have the great misfortune of landing on the same stretch of land where freakish, fishy humanoids attacked the treasure hunters previously, waiting once again for fresh victims.

“Alligators don’t rip a man up like that.” Also known as “Something Waits in the Dark,” “The Island of the Fishmen,” and “Island of Mutations,” this low-budget, Roger Corman-produced schlock can’t conceal its humble origins, but it’s still modest fun to see a monster movie with blood and guts in the vein of “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” as the unethical scientist Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson) – in conjunction with geneticist and biologist Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotten) – conducts unholy alliances and experiments with human and fish. It also boasts Barbara Bach as Amanda, a conspicuously beautiful young woman living on the island, lending to a handful of exploitation moments.

Unfortunately, despite the regular violence, the scaly creature costumes (which are rather comical when revealed in broad daylight), the mad scientist, and the otherworldly voodoo, the film isn’t creative enough to hold much interest. It’s all a touch too formulaic and predictable, while the editing is so mediocre that it’s difficult to sort out the timeline – the passing of hours and days are a jumble. Even the imprisonments and assaults are repetitive and uninspired. The slowness and uneventfulness ultimately ruin any chance of the picture being remarkable; there just isn’t enough happening to allow for the characters to be sympathetic or meaningful – or the gilled beasts to be frightening (making the eventual release of a loose sequel “The Fishmen and Their Queen” in the mid-’90s entirely shocking). Curiously, however, it does make a decent companion piece with “Humanoids from the Deep” (1980), another similarly-themed Corman monster flick featuring watery mutants with an appetite for human flesh.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10