Zombie Island Massacre – 1984

Submitted by: Rob Nelson


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In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to being a lifelong fan of the Troma Team of picture makers. I remember being a feisty 12 year old at the local video emporium, in the heyday of mom and pop VHS rental shops, eyeballing the gruesome covers of HG Lewis’ WIZARD OF GORE and BLOOD FEAST, the buxom beauties of the HARDBODIES series of wacky sexy comedy romps, and the muscular, spectacularly oily pecs of Lou Ferrigno in various HERCULES flicks. I know full well that the parents weren’t gonna let me watch the over the top violence of horror or sword ‘n sandal pics, and they were most certainly not going to aid and abet their son’s nascent interest in getting a boner by letting me alone with the pneumatically enhanced lovelies of soft-core skin flicks. My first ever “I got to choose it” rental was the TOXIC AVENGER. The title seemed lurid enough, but since the cover art was a cartoonish painting of a guy with a mop, how harmless could it be?

VERY. The tale of a vigilante former janitor/current nuclear mutant in a tutu set me on a life-spanning journey to see the most out-there, bizarre, extreme, goofy, violent entertainment I could find. I owe a love of EVIL DEAD, John Carpenter, RE-ANIMATOR, White Zombie, SALO, everything Glenn Danzig has ever done and pretty much everything in between and beyond to that movie.

I soon learned that the name Troma didn’t always equate with quality (CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH sounds like it couldn’t be anything but amazing, but in reality, Lloyd Kaufman is probably better at titling and marketing his movies than he is at making them.), but I can safely say that without Troma movies, I wouldn’t have been exposed to so many interesting and unique artistic voices. It very well may be utter crap, but it is at least crap with integrity. If I’m looking for a love story I can relate to, I’ll choose TROMEO & JULIET over TITANIC every damn time. I literally have never seen more than the trailer to that steamer trunk full of horseshit, and I never will. If I want to look at Kate Winslet’s boobs, I’ll find pictures of them on the internet. I know. I’ve sought, and I have found.

One thing you can’t accuse Kaufman and Co. of is risk aversion. Not only does he make his own damn movies, and help his friends and protégés make movies, he acts as producer and distributor for countless other independent underground filmmakers whose films otherwise might only have been seen by their horrified families, friends and neighbors. And possibly law enforcement. Where would the world be without SURF NAZIS MUST DIE and COMBAT SHOCK, not to mention REDNECK ZOMBIES, filmed right here in my adopted home of Maryland?

Well, I guess maybe risk aversion may have its advantages. It kept cavemen from trying to pet saber-toothed tigers on a regular basis, and me from ever having sex with a Kardashian. It might have helped Troma if they had “lost” the copy of ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE instead of slapping it onto an SLP VHS and selling it in the 80s/90s. I’d rather be caught in a Khloe/Kim sammich than sit through that again.

ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE was made in 1983, according to the IMDB, and looks every bit of it. Lots of feathered hair and shorty shorts—not to mention what the women are wearing. Other than EATEN ALIVE, this may very well be the worst lit movie I have ever viewed. This may have had something to do with the fact that the tape (yes I said TAPE, as in VHS—I have a whole goddamn bin of shitty movies on VHS) I watched was also an SLP—Super Long Play, meaning Troma saved money buy putting it on the lowest fidelity tape they possibly could. It’s the equivalent of trying to pass off a single cooked noodle as an Olive Garden Neverevergonnaend Pasta Bowl. Note to filmmakers—if you’re filming scenes at night, either make sure you use enough light to differentiate the characters, or make sure they are wearing all white. Nothing is more disconcerting than watching a talking head and hands floating in jungle vegetation because the director had the actor wearing a black t-shirt and lit the scene with a keychain flashlight. I’m 40, and my stupid eyes can’t take that shit anymore.

The plot, such as it is, involves a tourist group at some unspecified Caribbean resort and a day trip to a small island to see a “real live” voodoo ceremony. There are all the typical movie couple tropes on display—the newlyweds, the elderly couple, the stoners who just wanna party, maaaannn, another couple who isn’t newlywed but isn’t old either. There’s also the female artist who may or may not be involved with the photographer/journalist. I can’t remember if the plot didn’t tell me, or I blocked that tidbit out of my brain. If that’s the case, I’m suing my brain for blocking out that fact instead of the remainder of the movie. I almost forgot the lone black guy, who I imagine was supposed to act sorta like the black dude in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD—be a tough talking badass who gets shit done with the shit gets heavy. Mostly, due to his dialogue and a couple of dubious choices, just comes off like an incompetent dick that gets people killed. Did I mention this was also the guy who wrote the damn thing? If I wrote a movie with myself in mind as the nominal heroic lead, I woulda done a better job of not looking like an asshole onscreen.

And that is pretty much all we learn about any of the characters—no real back-story, no tension, no real reason to root for or against any of them. I guess the writer just assumed the viewer, having seen all of these cinematic types before, would just mentally fill in the blanks. Personally, I was expending brainpower to figure out if I would miss anything if I went to go take a dump without pausing the movie. In the interest of critical integrity, I paused.

Since we all know that in this type of movie, characters exist to be killed, let’s get to the killing. The dopes all get to the island, see the voodoo show—which actually was kinda creepy, if a little longer than necessary—the newlyweds get creeped out at the “zombie resurrection” and go for a walk in the woods, where they start getting down to hanky panky, where they are of course killed by an unseen menace. We’re supposed to assume it’s the zombie, but because the shots are all poorly framed and the cuts so frantic, it comes off looking like a stalk of poison oak strapped to the back of a guy in a blue Dickies jumpsuit. Yeah, exactly.

The rest of the group gets freaked out, heads to the tour bus to leave, and realize the bus has been tampered with, the bus is accosted by more unseen forces, they all decide to walk a mile to the deserted mansion because there’s a payphone outside(!) Because all deserted mansions on weird voodoo islands (sorry, ZOMBIE islands) have working payphones by the front gate. Of course the payphone doesn’t work, so they make their way to a different mansion that appears to be occupied. Along the way, they are picked off one by one, seemingly by voodoo minions or zombies. Or rather, two by two, since every couple in this movie dies together, except one. But not the photog/journalist and artist, because remember, it isn’t clear that they are in fact together. And the black guy—cuz he’s flying solo. And this one girl, whose husband dies, but she doesn’t. OK, I lied about some of the couple deaths. You watch this horseshit and see if you can keep any of it straight.

They finally make it to the mansion, secure themselves inside, and find all these occult books on voodoo, cannibalism, etc. and it freaks em all out. So, maybe we ARE dealing with supernatural stuff. Maybe. Then an old grizzled dude with a rifle shows up, and wants to help them escape. He lives on the island and seems to know a way out. But naturally they get ambushed, and the black guy, who we thought was the hero, buys the farm. So the journalist, the artist, the old dude and the other lady go back to the mansion, we learn that the artist and the old guy are part of some sort of high stakes drug running double-cross involving exactly two ZipLoc sandwich bags of Tide powdered laundry soap—I mean, cocaine—and that the whole zombie trip was some sort of diversion to get them and the money off the island. Because, if there’s ever a time to kill a shitload of innocent people and risk possible detection by the fuzz, it’s when you piss off other drug dealers by stealing their stash and loot and want to make a clean unfettered getaway.

At least I think that’s what happens—I’m not sure whom the artist and old guy were double-crossing. Was it the island dudes, since they were the ones attacking the party? Was it someone else we don’t ever encounter in this movie? I have no idea. Either I’m dense as a brick of lead, the story doesn’t really explain it, or I just stopped trying to iron out the lapses in logic, shitty story, and insanely inane characters.

Ultimately, the one lady whose husband died and the photographer/journalist/whatever make it out alive after the old guy gets killed (I don’t remember how, sorry) and the artist takes a flying machete to the dome. Reread the last sentence. OK, you’re back. Yes. Flying machete to the dome. I shit you not.

I almost forgot the effects. It would be an injustice to call them special. Decapitated heads are clearly mannequin heads. The blood is most assuredly red tempera paint (ahhhh, 2nd grade. Memories….) The multiple insert shots of spears penetrating victims’ skin—and yes, there are multiple spearings, because we are after all talking about 1983, when spear technology was at its apex—are completely mismatched. When a guy in a red shirt gets speared, the effects insert is of a blue shirt, which confused the shit outta me, since in the VERY NEXT SHOT the guy in the blue shirt walks away unscathed, while Red Shirt dies in the bush. That’s some crazy Sith Force wound shove-age. Props to that guy. Better’n voodoo, that’s what I say.

Lastly, this had one of the most bizarrely mismatched soundtracks ever. When I saw the name Harry Manfredini in the credits, I got mildly stoked. This is the guy responsible for the “ch-ch-ch kill-kill-kill” whisper track on FRIDAY THE 13TH! Ho-lee shit! I’m in for a penny, in for a pound, B! Well, let’s just say the Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters style jazz funk doesn’t work so hot in a horror movie. And maybe add the music AFTER the film is edited, so that the music cues don’t get cut short because of film edits, with entirely different music popping up immediately in the next cut.

Final word? There is an island. It’s a stretch to say it was a massacre, since I didn’t experience any TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE style grueling terror. And zombies? Only one, if you count the fake voodoo ceremony. This is less a horror movie, than a poorly executed extended segment of FANTASY ISLAND, but without suave-ass Mr. Roarke and his creepy minion Tattoo. Will I watch it again? Only if I’m tired and need a nap. Although I usually reserve Bob Ross for that. But Bob Ross doesn’t ever show any 80s style pancake areola boob, which ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE does have going for it….

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