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Ominous October: Horror Island (1941)

It's that time of year when people seek out their favorite scary movies to give themselves a chill. We will be reviewing spine-tinglers from the classic movie era. Today Rodney and Samantha discuss Horror Island.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: Horror Island is the story of a good-for-nothing shop owner (Dick Foran) who stumbles upon an eccentric peg-legged sailor (Leo Carrillo). He claims he has part of a treasure map. The shop owner is avoiding his creditors and the IRS, so he cooks up a scheme to bring paying suckers to an old spooky castle he inherited from his uncle to search for hidden treasure.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Okay, so Foran seems to be in hock up to his eyeballs with everyone in town, but that begs the question “Why does a guy who owns an actual island with a castle that he inherited from his uncle not pay his bills?” Let’s not let this sort of thing get in the way. Best that we not give it too much thought.

SG: Who was this eccentric uncle who arranged Carrillo’s treasure hunt in the first place? When and why was the 400 year old castle wired with a PA system? If you ask too many questions, you won’t have any fun.

RB: Naturally, Leo Carrillo has half of a treasure map, that supposedly shows that ol’ Cap’n Morgan’s treasure happens to be hidden in the castle that Foran just happens to own. So, yeah, why not throw together a bogus treasure hunt with a bunch of characters (and character actors) to go look for it and get scared. Add in a mysterious “Phantom” who seems to have no purpose in life except to kill and steal treasures and you have a pretty good hour as far as I’m concerned.

CARRILLO: “There is treasure here. I can feel it in my bones.” HOWARD: “That is your rheumatism.”

SG: The scenario, a treasure hunt in a spooky old abandoned building, is one that has been used again and again with varying degrees of excitement, but it is one I want to see every time. Carrillo, John Eldredge and Lewis Howard all look alike which adds to the confusion and suspicion.

RB: In addition to the (great) names that you mentioned, add in additional makings for a good time like Walter Catlett, Fuzzy Knight (for comic relief), an uncredited Walter Tetley and Hobart Cavanaugh and you have a ship load of great B level movie stars that I’d like to hang out with for a dinner or two. This is the kind of cast that film fans like me go ga-ga for. I knew I was going to enjoy this at some level as soon as I saw the cast list.

SG: I am less familiar with these players, but the roster is gold if you're a fan of character actors. In Jordan Young's Reel Characters, Iris Adrian spoke about her work during this period. “I worked all the time, but I never paid much attention. When I was through I got paid and beat it.”

RB: We go a full 25 minutes into this hour long feature before there is any horror or any island, but, man, once the bodies start dropping, there’s no stopping. I’m pretty sure that 5 or 6 people die within 10 minutes, often inexplicably. Again, don’t think too much about it and have a good time. In spite of the unusual pacing, the movie never feels padded and never feels boring.

SG: The reactions to the multiple deaths are incredibly casual. We know in these types of movies that characters are expendable but the characters seem to be in on that trope too. The dialogue is peppered with quips that fly by so quickly that if you aren't paying attention they'll get past you. This movie zips by in a tidy little hour. I give it a slick 3 stars.

RB: When we were discussing spooky movies to watch in October, I knew we had to include a film from the beloved Shock Theater TV package, and this one was definitely a good choice. While dismissed as largely for kids upon its original theatrical release (maybe because it was a co-feature usually with the superior Man Made Monster), Horror Island found new life among the budding monster kids of the late-50’s and early 60’s. It was a hot ticket among 16mm collectors as well, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a lot of good fun with a little bit of spooky atmosphere. I’ll always love this kind of movie, and while I’ll give it 3 stars in terms of how good a movie it is, I probably enjoyed it more than that. It was released on DVD back in 2007 and more recently on blu-ray by the good people at Shout Factory, so you can, and should seek it out. Just a good time.

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