Guillermo del Toro often refers to Lucio Fulci as a director who “gets high on his own supply.” Me? I’d love to know whatever Sergio Martino started mainlining around 1979.
Starting with 1971’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Martino cut a bloody path through the giallo genre, aided and abetted by the ultra adorable Edwige Fenech and the glaring eyes of Ivan Rassimov, amongst others. Just the titles of them make me excited: All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Torso (also known as The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence), The Suspicious Death of a Minor…these are the movies that I adore.
Sergio then started jumping genres, making movies for whatever trend was hot. Sex comedies? Try Sex with a Smile with Fenech, Barbara Bouchet and Marty Feldman. Cannibal films? Sergio made The Mountain of the Cannibal God. Nature on the loose, kinda like Jaws? Here’s The Great Alligator. Post-apocalyptic film? 2019: After the Fall of New York does that.
But then, Sergio starts getting nuttier. His movies start to combine genres into things you had no idea you wanted to see. Comedy movies with tons of cameos from soccer players like L’allenatore Nel Pallone. Hands of Steel, which combines The Terminator, The Road Warrior and arm wrestling ala Over the Top into a truly baffling cocktail. Then there’s American Tiger, a movie where a gymnast battles the forces of televangelist/warthog Donald Pleasance when he’s not pulling a rickshaw or having sex in the shower with his jeans still on.
Whatever supply Sergio started getting high on around 1978 or so, I want some of it. And I want it now. Because he takes that same lunatic zeal into this movie, which combines movies about amphibians, Atlantis and cannibals into one confusing yet arresting mess. How did you do it, Sergio?
Originally released as Isle of the Fishmen in his native Italy, this movie was acquired in the U.S. by New World Pictures. Miller Drake was hired to create a new opening for the film, which features Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer looking for Atlantean treasure on an island before getting messily killed by fishmen. Retitled Something Waits in the Dark, the movie didn’t do well.
Then, Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall, Sorceress) recut and reedited the movie as Screamers, including a new scene where a man is turned inside out. Nearly half an hour of the Italian version of the film was chopped out to make room for the American footage in both movies.
Let’s get into it: In the year 1891, Lieutenant Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli, Zeus from Hercules, Murder Rock) survives two shipwrecks in a row to wash up on an uncharted island in he Caribbean. Soon, we meet the fishmen who start killing off anyone who comes near them, like the convicts Claude survived with. They run into the jungle, only to meet our villain, Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson, Dr. Menard from Zombi).
Rackham also has Professor Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotten!) and his daughter Amanda (Barbara Bach, future wife of Ringo Starr) captive, using the Professor’s scientific abilities to create more amphibious monsters that he can control. Turns out he’s told the Professor that these transformed humans can help save the world by creating people who can live off the ocean’s resources. Sure. Whatever.
The truth? They’ve found Atlantis and these creatures are being used to steal the treasures of that sunken continent. Also: Rackham has another army, all voodoo warriors and a priestess named Shakira who keeps reading from her prophecy of the island’s destruction.
Of course all hell is about to break loose. How couldn’t it? There are so many ingredients in this stew, it just had to boil over at some point.
This movie is completely ridiculous, which is shorthand for me saying that I loved it. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, which is exactly what I was hoping for. I came to this wanting to see underwater creatures kill people and I got that, plus voodoo, Atlantis and Barbara Back. Thanks Sergio!
Sergio Martino would come back to this story sixteen years later, making a sequel called The Fishmen and Their Queen. You better believe I’m tracking that down.