Reel Classics

Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection (1945) - Blu-ray Review

Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection

A psychological thriller in which Boris Karloff does NOT play a creature of the night?  Say it ain’t so?!  But it’s true.  Isle of the Dead, produced by the legendary Val Lewton, concerns itself with that which haunts Greek nightmares: the Vrykolakas and this female vampire is certainly NOT Karloff!

"Isle of the Dead - full of long shadows - begins its monstrous haunt on what otherwise should have been a sunny Greek island"


Set during the Balkan War in 1912 on a small island just off the coast of Greece, Isle of the Dead is the story of the stern General Pherides (Karloff) and the quarantine which almost certainly drives him MAD.  If the opening scene doesn’t stir emotions - as Pherides nudges a revolver toward a failed commander, hinting that his career is over and that he should just kill himself - then nothing else about this grave robbing, supernatural effort will either.  

Inspired in large part by the allegorical painting by Arnold Böcklin, this sinister and claustrophobic thriller runs circles around contemporary thrillers as Karloff, a self-appointed WATCHDOG of the island, and an American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) visit an isolated island to pay their respects to Pherides’ long dead wife.  

But the crypt has been DISTURBED.  Strange indeed for an island that is supposed to be uninhabited.  Suddenly, a voice cuts through the atmosphere.  It is that of a singing woman.  They follow the sound and discover that this island, which is supposed to have only a cemetery on it, also hosts a parade of people.  Discovered here is a Swiss archeologist Dr. Aubrecht (Jason Robards) who offers apologies for the disturbance of the grave, his Greek housekeeper Madame Kyra (Helen Thimig), a British diplomat (Alan Napier) and his pale and sickly wife (Katherine Emery), her youthful Greek companion Thea (Ellen Drew), and English tinsmith Andrew Robbins (Skelton Knaggs). It is indeed a strange gathering of guests, but there is more weirdness to come.

Because the PLAGUE is also with them.Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection

One dies and then another.  Suddenly, Pherides takes charge and puts them all in quarantine.  No one may leave the island.  Not now.  Not for the rest of their lives.  Suddenly, evil spirits are whispered about and those stuck on the island fear they are being cursed due to a Vrykolakas which is rumored to be among them.  What follows is a SLOW BURN as the rational falls like dominoes the longer the plague remains among them.  

Isle of the Dead, directed by Mark Robson (Valley of the Dolls, Von Ryan’s Express), is a FACE-MASKED thriller for our times and it works in superior ways as Karloff mourns the loss of his wife and his own sanity in the lingering days of the plague as it ravages the island.  With no escape from their fates, Isle of the Dead - full of long shadows - begins its monstrous haunt on what otherwise should have been a sunny Greek island.

Isle of the Dead is now on blu-ray thanks to the 4K restoration from the Warner Archive Collection.  Feed the fire! The paranoia is painted on with thick strokes in this under-appreciated REEL CLASSIC.

5/5 stars

 

Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Warner Archive Collection
Available on Blu-ray
- March 30, 2021.
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Once you visit the Isle of the Dead, there is no hope of returning to the land of the living. A small island off the coast of Greece holds a secret so dreadful that once you step onto its soil you must remain there forever. General Pherides (master of horror Boris Karloff) is one such a visitor. Going to the island to honor the grave of his late wife, Pherides discovers that it is held in the grip of a terrifying plague, a sickness that enters the victims mind and drives them insane! Pherides leads the fight against the plague, but then falls prey to it himself. In his delirium, he believes that a woman named Thea (Ellen Drew) is a vrykolaka, a vampire responsible for the deaths. Insanity runs rampant, and grave robbery, premature burial and ghastly vampires are the unspeakable horrors that await on the Isle of the Dead

Video:

The 4K restoration is AMAZING.  With an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, this 1080p offering is delicious and clear and ripe with vivid details that only a striking technicolor process could offer.  The depth in the picture and in the shadows is amazing.  Focus is strong and so, too, are the crisp interiors as early horror is on display thanks to cool sequences.  The color transfer might be a bit primary, but it is solid.  That goes the same for the black-and-white offering.

Audio:

Let the shrieking begin!  A wonderfully restored English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA completes the restoration perfectly as dialogue is front and center and screams are clear!

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is a fascinating feature-length track by screenwriter/film Historian Dr. Steve Haberman.

Special Features:

Appreciate the new 4K scan from the original nitrite source, as there is but a theatrical trailer also included here.

  • Audio Commentary
  • Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 4/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars


Film Details

Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
71 mins
Director
: Mark Robson
Writer:
Ardel Wray
Cast:
Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer
Genre
: Horror | Drama
Tagline:
FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE!
Memorable Movie Quote: "I had no idea how small time I was until I met you."
Theatrical Distributor:
MGM
Official Site: https://www.thehustle.movie/
Release Date:
May 10, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 20, 2019.
Synopsis: Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.

Art

Isle of the Dead: Warner Archive Collection

 

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