I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not at all a fan of Troma-style “instant cult classics,” if you will, and prefer films that actually earn their “cult” status without the aid of a fully-laid-out blueprint, but I must admit that “Isle Of The Damned” the second feature from director Mark Colgrove and Dire Wit Films, is a refeshingly bizarre serving of intentional cinematic sewage that spoofs the excesses of the Italian cannibal film subgenre while not losing completely the sense of genuine unease that the best of these flicks, like Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust,” instill in their viewers. In other words, “Isle Of The Damned” does make you laugh and also makes you feel ashamed for doing so.
This is thanks in large part to a truly disturbing subplot involving Billy, the young teenage ward (played by a guy in his late 20s/early 30s, naturally) of lead character “Jack Steele” about which the less I reveal the better— suffice it to say that Billy’s travails are the source of much uneasy laughter during the course of the film, and while the typical cheesiness of fake moustaches, overtly lousy dubbing, over-the-top cheap gore effects and the like are easy enough to crack fun at without feeling guilty, laughing at the struggles of “poor little Billy” will give you the same feeling as watching the animal slaughter in “Cannibal Holocaust”—you don’t really want to see it, but you can’t turn away. In that sense, then, “Isle Of The Damned” succeeds because it not only mocks but also captures the spirit of the Italian cannibal subgenre, since it’s just as cringeworthy, albeit in a completely different way.
Sure, much of the humor is overly obvious (the supposed “director” of this “lost classic” is “Antonello Giallo,” for instance, and the film’s promo poster blares that it was “Banned In 492 Countries,”) but there is plenty of unexpected and more ambiguous ” humor” peppered throughout in addition to blatant absurdities like a “jungle locations” that look like upstate New York or southern rural New Jersey and a huge mansion located on a primitive, “uncivilized” island.
Does the entire film still have the overall subtlelty of a hammer blow to the skull? Of course, but that’s part of its—and I use this term loosely—charm. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone, but if you think that the “instant cult classic” genre has nothing to offer, I’d humbly suggest that you give “Isle Of The Damned,” warts and all, a chance. Shot for something like $20,000, this film delivers the warped and twisted goods and leaves you feeling guilty for having so much fun. Who can ask for more than that?