Isle of the Dead (1945)

It is 1912 and Greece is deeply involved in the Balkan War. General Nikolas Pherides is in charge of a group of soldiers – driving them to breaking point in what some might call a cruel, twisted sense of patriotism. On a visit to the grave of his wife with visiting American Oliver Davis, Pherides finds the graves vandalised and demands answers from the local residents. He gets them but also accepts their offer of a bed for the night to save them making the long journey back to the troops. However during the night the plague is found on the small island and quarantine is declared to protect the troops. However they quickly find that the plague is not the only danger on the mysterious island.

Although the plot is unnecessarily busy considering the short running time, this is an effective enough drama although I would have liked more of the atmospheric horror to it. The plot involves the plague, suspicious characters, a driven man and possibly the undead; it builds well on the air of mystery and atmosphere although it never really gets close to some of the better Val Lewton films. Likewise the plot, although easy to follow, is not as simple and effective as it could have been and the various threads tend to slow down the film rather than compliment the atmosphere. The atmosphere is still good, although Robson has given it more of a melodramatic use of shadow at times rather than a tense use. That said, some moments are quite chilling and it’ll still work on that basis.

Cramer is the main character despite the lower billing; he is a fairly standard, square jawed actor and he isn’t that interesting as a result. Karloff is where the show is at and, although he is not playing a monster to the same degree as he often would, he is still very interesting and his performance is good. Support is so-so from the rest of the cast; Drew and Thimig are pretty good but Napier, Robards and Emery are not given the same chance to really shine.

Overall this is an enjoyable film but not the one to come to if you want to see the best that Lewton had to offer. The plot is more drama than atmospheric horror but it does still do this well at points. The cast are mostly good but they do tend to get in the way of Karloff, who is missed every time he goes off the screen.


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