Screamers (1981)

AKA The Island of Fishmen (1979)
AKA Fish Men
AKA Something Waits in the Dark
AKA Island of Mutations

screamers1
WTF? Who are you? You weren’t in my movie. Also, your disclaimer is s*&#

In 1891, the survivors of a sunken prison ship find themselves marooned on an uncharted, volcanic island somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. The three that survive their second boat crash and the harsh trip across the island, find themselves in the company of the owner of the island, Edmond Rackham. Rackham considers himself the ‘Law’ of the island and quickly tells the men that won’t be with him long. He’s right. Soon, the only surviving officer of the shipwreck, Dr. Claude de Ross, is still alive. And that’s only because Rackkman has plans for him.

screamers2Never trust shifty-looking dudes who live alone on islands and wear cowboy hats. Nothing good can come from it.

Screamers has an interesting history. The original Italian version, released in 1978, was originally titled The Island of Fishmen, and was just a simple adventure/sci-fi/monster flick. But then it came to the United States and fell into the hands of one Roger Corman. Corman being…well, Corman, apparently took one look at it and decided to try to turn it into a horror movie. Because if your name is Roger Corman that’s just the kind of stuff you do. So a dark, bloody, 12-minute prologue was placed at the beginning of the film, adding just enough gory bits to up the films rating to an ‘R’. A few other scenes were added to give the film some more bloody bits and a couple more were added to tie into the added prologue, the latter of which, I can only assume, was an attempt for continuity’s sake. Of course, other bits were cut from the original. These deleted scenes had pieces that would have helped tie-in to other parts of the film, so their removal sort of borked the whole ‘continuity’ part. So now, instead of making sense, some parts of the film just feel like they’re just…there, for no discernable reason. 

But hey, I said they gave it an ‘attempt.’ I didn’t say they succeeded.

screamers3We all know Corman grades on a curve anyway.

The prologue portion is actually very well done as far as B-horror goes. Its atmosphere is dark, moody and tense. The added monster segment are nice and gooey, and the gore, what little you actually see of it, is bloody and gruesome. It doesn’t mesh particularly well with the rest of the film in any way, but in those few short minutes they do manage to add enough in the way of shock-value to make the one-time adventure film feel more like a horror flick. So, mission accomplished I guess.

screamers4Except for Guard Boat Guy. He failed his mission spectacularly.

The other major change comes when Claude stumbles upon a hidden laboratory. The ‘Monsters’ in the film are supposed to be naturally occuring, but there’s a scientist Rackham has working on the island who’s fascinated with human evolution and was kicked out of medical circles for his unethical human experiments. Naturally, the dude is obsessed with triggering this aquatic form of human evolution early, and a ship-full of stranded prisoners is as good a test subject as any. Originally Claude sees some fishtanks and an early-form of the professor’s good work. But the Corman-ized version is different. Instead of fish tanks we get aquatic puppet monsters and a brand-new, even slimier, fish man, who looks like it should have caused the producers some significant legal troubles.

screamers5No, seriously, how did you morons manage to not get sued?
screamers6Here’s the original Fish Man for comparison.

The rest of the film (the parts that weren’t added, anyway) is your typical B-movie adventure flick. The good doctor tries to save the damsel in distress from the rich, greedy Token Evil Guy who’s trying to use the doctor to help him con the Fish Men into plundering the riches of the lost continent of Atlantis. And he has to do this all while dealing with less than ideal cohorts, a voodoo priestess, angry Fish Men, an evil scientists and a volcano in the middle of the island that’s getting ready to erupt and kill them all. You know, normal Tuesday stuff. 

screamers7At this point, I’m sure Claude just wishes he’d gone down with the first boat.

The only thing in Screamers that doesn’t really work in ALL of that (cause good golly that’s a lot) is the voodoo aspect. The voodoo element was the part of the film that was mostly edited out of the Americanized version, and this may be one of the cases where that was a good call. In fact, they probably should have just edited all of it out entirely, because the voodoo stuff as a whole doesn’t really add anything to the film. It has little to nothing to do with what’s going on in the rest of the movie, even in the versions where it wasn’t heavily cut out. The only time it even comes into any kind of important play is when the Voodoo Priestess predicts that the volcano is about to erupt, but then the volcano erupts, like, one minute later, so by that point the prediction just feels less mystical and more like damned common sense.

screamers8

So is Screamers any good? Well, yes and no. As a horror film it’s kind of meh. Other than that bit at the beginning, there isn’t anything here that one could really call ‘horror.’ Sure, you’ve got the Fish Men running around, but considering they look like the unholy spawn of The Swamp Thing and a piranha, they come across more goofy than terrifying. As an action film, it fares a bit better. The plot tends to plod along in several parts, taking way too long to get the story moving, and that’s referring to the edited version I watched. I can only imagine what the pacing of the original was like, with an extra 30-minutes tacked on. It’s also one of those films that was re-dubbed in English, despite the characters already speaking English, but the sound is only really noticeably off in a couple instances. But the film does have a decent enough conclusion, and the production values are actually pretty impressive, considering the type of film this is. At the very least, it’s nice to look at, having been filmed in what looks to be some very beautiful locations. If you’re a fan of B-movies or Italian cinema you’ll probably find something to like here.

Screamers is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

It has also recently been given a Blu-ray release.

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