Get ready for Shutter Island with Isle of the Dead.
Last autumn, when the first of several release dates for Shutter Island loomed, Martin Scorsese unveiled a list of his favourite 11 horror films. It’s an eccentric collection but, oddly, quite a few entries — the British ones for starters …
Last autumn, when the first of several release dates for Shutter Island loomed, Martin Scorsese unveiled a list of his favourite 11 horror films. It’s an eccentric collection but, oddly, quite a few entries — the British ones for starters — might appear on my own list. Even Peter Medak’s undervalued The Changeling is worth rediscovering. The only real objection I have is to the inclusion of Psycho. I’m not saying the Hitchcock classic is an unworthy enterprise (perish the thought), but I’m not sure it really counts as a horror movie. Note how all the rest have at least a hint of the supernatural to them.
A rare photo of Marty not talking.
Anyway, here’s the list…
1. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
2. Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson, 1945)
3. The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)
4. The Entity (Sidney J. Furie, 1981)
5. Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1945)
6. The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980)
7. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
8. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
9. Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
10. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
11. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Among the most interesting inclusions is Isle of the Dead way up at number two. Scorsese has, quite understandably, always been a fan of the superb B-pictures produced by Val Lewton’s unit at RKO during the 1940s. If you arrived late for the programme and missed support features such as Cat People or I Walked with a Zombie then you were a very silly person indeed.
Isle of the Dead is less well known than those two films, but it is every bit as interesting. Directed by one Mark Robson, who went on to helm big movies such as Peyton Place and Von Ryan’s Express, the picture details the experiences of a disparate group stranded on a plague-ridden island during (bet you didn’t see this coming) the Balkan War of 1913. Boris Karloff is unusually chatty as a ruthless Greek general who, at first, dismisses talk of vampires, but slowly comes to take the ancient superstitions seriously. Like most of Lewton’s pictures, the film subtly rations its shocks. Indeed, nothing properly weird happens until the last reel. The chances that the main feature exhibited anything like the restraint of the accompanying Lewton picture were slim indeed.
Clearly, Scorsese had Isle of the Dead in his head when he was preparing Shutter Island. Both concern two people who travel to an island and, for differently terrifying reasons, get stranded there for an uncomfortable few days. Indeed, Scorsese is so enamoured of Lewton that he has narrated a documentary on the great man’s work.
“Oh I would love to see this fine film,” I hear you say. “But I have no DVD player and, anyway, anticipation has been ramped up to such a degree that I want to see it now!”
Fret not, imaginary nutcase. The entire film is available on YouTube (entirely legally, I’m sure). Here is part one. Enjoy. And remember: there are such things. Shutter Island finally opens (probably) on March 12th.