The Best Island Horror Films

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This weekend Kong: Skull Island opened in theaters. The film starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brie Larson follows “a team of scientists [who] explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.” While the film might have been a “shrug-worthy meal of reheated leftovers,” the island horror category is not lacking for good films. We recommend ten movies that take you to a land far away where the tropics are not what they seem.

The Wicker Man

Devout Christian and Police Sergeant Neil Howie has his faith tested in Robin Hardy’s 1973 film The Wicker Man. From RogerEbert.com:

Howie receives the anonymous letter that draws him to the small island of Summerisle in search of the missing girl, Rowan Morrison, setting the film’s bizarre chain of events in motion. To give Hardy the benefit of the doubt though, Howie does quote from this letter when interrogating townspeople on the island, but “The Wicker Man” is a film that can easily slide into near incoherence at the slightest disruption. The refreshers definitely help you come to an a-ha moment in the movie’s final reel.

Hour of the Wolf

Remote Scandanavia becomes a place of madness and surreal scenes. From the New York Times:

The story concerns an artist, Max von Sydow, who goes with his pregnant wife to a hut on an island—where he goes mad and vanishes, leaving his diary. The wife, played by Liv Ullmann, remains on the island and—in a very long monologue spoken directly to the audience—continues the story where the titles leave off. Then, the movie of their time together begins.

Island of Lost Souls

This is the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau. Wells disliked the movie’s horror vibe. From the AV Club:

Island Of Lost Souls is a horror film based on the premise that the divide between humanity and the animal world is one that should never be crossed, but also one that’s impossible to determine. Working in what his creations come to call the House Of Pain, Laughton evolves beasts into almost-men, then places himself above them as a god, wearing the white suit of a Western imperialist and expertly cracking a whip, like an animal trainer or a slave driver.

The Most Dangerous Game

Humans are the big game for hunters on an island off the western coast of South America. From Classic Film Guide:

Joel McCrea stars as the hunter’s most capable challenger Bob Rainsford an adventurer author who’s also a hunter himself. After a shipwreck and shark attacks which kill everyone else that was aboard Bob swims to a remote uncharted island which is owned by a mad Russian Count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Eve Trowbridge (Wray) and brother Martin (Armstrong) had already been stranded on the island earlier and as Bob comes to learn are effectively Zaroff’s prisoners. When Bob learns the Russian’s game he understands why Martin drinks excessively especially after he sees the macabre trophy room. Of course much like Lon Chaney’s character in The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Zaroff loves classical music and plays the piano (Banks overplays it a bit as he mugs for the camera a sinister expression on his evil character’s face). The most suspenseful part of the film is the hunt and chase through the island’s thick (and what should be familiar) foliage. Zaroff gives Bob a knife and a head start but also saddles him with Eve and uses dogs to pursue them. The outcome is pure Hollywood.

5 Dolls for an August Moon

Giallo cinema is a horror/thriller subgenre of Italian film that focused on lurid storylines, sexy crimes, and stunning visuals. Mario Bava, the godfather of giallo, features Edwige Fenech, the queen of the gialli, in this 1970 tale of murder during a weekend getaway. From critic Brett Gallman:

Its setup recalls the likes of an “old dark house” movie, only, in this case, it’s an old dark island, I suppose, where a group of friends have gathered for a retreat. Among them are a scientist (William Berger) who has unlocked some kind of formula that’s of value to a few businessmen that have joined him; he insists that his motives are altruistic and refuses to sell. This doesn’t stop Nick Chaney (Maurice Poli) from hammering Professor Farrell, even going so far as to offer outrageous sums and the services of his wife (Edwige Fenech). All of this is interrupted, however, when someone begins murdering the party-goers.

The Killer Shrews

If Mystery Science Theater 3000 made fun of it, then you know it’s going to be so bad it’s good. From BadMovies.org:

This is an excellent piece of vintage schlock for fans of classic b-movies. Genetic fiddling accidentally creates a few hundred DOGS WEARING CARPET REMNANTS that get loose on a private island! Okay, so the creatures are supposed to be giant shrews. It does not matter what they are supposed to be, because any rational person can easily recognize them for what they are: dogs with scary masks (getting the canines to wear those without tearing them off must have been a feat) and ratty clumps of carpet on them. To this day, if my wife and I are driving down the highway and see an old rug or piece of carpet on the shoulder, we remark how sad it is that a killer shrew was run over while trying to cross the road.

I Walked with a Zombie

Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton, two titans of classic horror, joined forces for an atmospheric chiller. From Classic-Horror:

Nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) accepts a position caring for the invalid wife of Caribbean plantation owner Paul Holland (Tom Conway, always a welcome sight). Jessica Holland isn’t dead, but she might as well be. She eats and breathes, but her willpower is completely gone and her eyes are fixed in an eternal trance. Connell becomes determined to cure Jessica, partially because she sees it as her duty, but also because she loves Paul and wants to express that love as selflessly as possible. When medicine fails, she begins to think that maybe the voodoo faith of the islanders may hold the answers. It does, but not the way that she thinks.

Long Weekend

A camping couple at a remote beach piss off Mother Nature. Australian horror at its finest. From the Guardian:

Long Weekend’s villain is mother nature, who toys with her prey as playfully and maniacally as a villain in a slasher movie. In the way elements combine to work against the characters, the film is like a proto Final Destination, but far more diligently configured and with a mounting psychological intensity that eventually hits fever pitch.

Who Can Kill a Child?

Kids go wild on an island, trapping English tourists. From Electric Sheep Magazine:

Young biologist Tom and his heavily pregnant wife Evelyn (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) are on holiday in Spain. They decide to visit Almanzora, a small island off the coast. It isn’t necessarily the best place to go – there’s no doctor, no telephone and it takes four hours in a boat to get there – but they want to get away from the tourists. When they arrive, the island appears to be deserted, except for a handful of children. . . . As Tom struggles to imagine what has happened on the island, he and Evelyn encounter one of the locals, hidden upstairs in the hotel. He tells them that the previous night the children took to the streets, laughing and playing, going from one house to another. Screams of pain and horror followed, as the children began killing every adult they could find. It’s time for Tom and Evelyn to leave, but will the children let them escape?

Zombie

Lucio Fulci, the “godfather of gore,” gives us a missing man, a tropical island, and a zombie versus shark battle you have to see to believe. From DVD Talk: “Fulci uses a basic plot (a couple of scientists on a tropical island get in Dutch with the natives and voodoo fu ensues) to adorn and drape his classically offensive set pieces upon, and then pushes everything up a couple of corrupt notches further.”