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John’s Horror Corner: Screamers (1979; aka Island of the Fishmen, Something Waits in the Dark and L’isola degli uomini pesce), an Italian creature feature with a sense of adventure.

May 10, 2020

MY CALL: I was expecting a cheap “rubber suited monster” movie with a few gory scenes. This, however, blew past my expectations as a creature feature and a somewhat fantasy-adventure movie. MORE MOVIES LIKE Screamers: For more fishmen and amphibious humanoid monsters, go for Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Croaked (1981), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Dagon (2001), Bad Blood (2016), Cold Skin (2017) and Underwater (2020).

A small treasure-hunting expedition (victim fodder for the opening scenes) to a remote island ventures to the misty Cave of the Dead filled with gross decayed skeletons and corpses. Slime-covered monstrous claws are all we see at first, but they look great for the 70s and they waste no time before brutally ripping off a man’s head, making bloody fleshy lacerations of a victim’s throat and slashing out a guy’s intestines! This all happens in the first ten minutes. So we’re off to a great start.

When we see the fishmen, they look great. I’d say better than Humanoids from the Deep (1980), especially in the opening shots, and maybe a bit less impressive in some subsequent shots as there is more than one creature/suit design. There are also some sort of animated corpse/zombies in the fishmen’s lair—and the corpses are gooey!

When the survivors of a prison ship wash ashore on the remote island, they encounter the island’s owner, his native servants led by Shakira (Beryl Cunningham; The Exterminators of the Year 3000, Tarzana the Wild Woman), and the lovely Amanda (Barbara Bach; The Humanoid, Caveman, The Unseen)—who seems to be more like a prisoner treated liked a houseguest.

After the opening scenes, this doesn’t feel much like a horror movie. An interesting plot unfolds more akin to an adventure movie than horror, and it relies on action perhaps more than “scares.” As if mixing The Island of Doctor Moreau (1977) with a treasure hunt action-mystery, the island’s owner has an elaborate plan to harvest the ancient treasures of the Lost City of Atlantis, and that plan involves Amanda and now his new guests.

The effects of the fishmen vary (because there are differently designed costumes). Single monster appearances are more often the better creature designs (as well as the laboratory experiment scene), and multiple monsters present often indicates the weaker creature design. But overall, it’s always cool seeing these things. There are many long shots of the fishmen swimming underwater, creating great visuals. Actually, this film was really ambitious. Lots of interesting sets, lots of monsters that we see very often, a good amount of gore, scenes in caverns and beaches and caves, probably expensive underwater scenes and lots of structure fires. This whole undertaking looks expensive.

But (maybe I missed something here) why is the American title release of this movie called Screamers? It turns out one of the title releases (for the USA, I think) carried that title along with the tagline: “They’re men turned inside out! And worse… they’re still alive!” But other than the skinned (maybe undead) thing in the early beach cave scene, there’s nothing of the sort. And, sure, the main bad guy does something to people. But this title and line is incredibly misleading, and probably generated by someone who just saw some screen shots out of context.

Director Sergio Martino (2019: After the Fall of New York, Hands of Steel, Torso) made a satisfying, entertaining film. It definitely was not what I expected. And although it’s not something I plan on revisiting, it’s something I’m glad I saw.

I was expecting a cheap rubber suited monster movie with a few gory scenes. This, however, blew past my expectations as a creature feature and a somewhat fantasy-adventure movie.

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