Inspired by the painting Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin, this movie was written by frequent Lewton collaborator Ardel Wray and was the second of three movies that Lewton would make with Boris Karloff. It’s directed by Mark Robson, the fourth of five movies he would director for the producer.
Karloff needed back surgery during the making of this movie. While the film got back on schedule, he made The Body Snatcher with Lewton and then went right back to work on this movie.
During the Balkan Wars of 1912, General Pherides (Karloff) and American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) visit the Isle of the Dead as his soldiers bury their newly dead friends. As the General finds the crypt of his long-gone wife, he finds it open and hears her voice singing on the abandoned island.
The central belief in the film is that a vorvolaka, a zombie-like vampire that feasts on human livers, is amongst the living. The small group on the island faces a plague and as they begin to die, one after the other, the General attempts to instill law and order in the face of insanity. Instead, he succumbs to the madness he sought to stop, believing that one of their number is the monster and even burying a woman alive.
This film barely made money for RKO due to its high budget. It was later re-released alongside Mighty Joe Young, a film that it feels like a strange partner for.