Isle of the Dead (1945)

Isle of the Deadisle of the dead poster
Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Ardel Wray
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental


Thea: Laws can be wrong, and laws can be cruel, and the people who live only by the law are both wrong and cruel.

Auteur producer Val Lewton takes this title to ask the question:  Who is the scarier, the vampire or those who believe in him?  A little too scattered to rank with the best of his work but graced by a rare fairly sympathetic role for Boris Karloff.

Gen. Nikolas Pherides is a strict taskmaster, nicknamed The Watchdog.  His first task is to execute one of his friends for a lapse by his troops.  An American journalist questions the good general’s methods but not so as to not accept an offer to visit the island graveyard of the general’s dead wife.

When they arrive, Pherides discovers all the caskets in the tomb of his wife have been emptied.  The two come upon a house where a superstitious local woman tells them the bodies were burned because one of them was evil.  This woman strongly believes in the legend of the Vorvolaka, a sort of female vampire.  Furthermore, she believes that Thea, a young woman caring for the invalid wife of the British Consul, is one.

isle of the dead 2

To make matters worse, one of the guests in the house drops dead of plague and everybody is quarantined on the island.  The Watchdog runs a very tight ship.  He begins to believe in the Vorvolaka story as people continue to die.  In the meantime, we find out that the Consul’s wife is subject to cataleptic fits and is terrified of being buried alive.


This is a bit too all over the place to be really good.  I never was quite sure what exactly was meant to be happening.  I might need to listen to the commentary to find out.  The ending is also anti-climatic.  I can imagine this being made as an anti-McArthy allegory to great effect.  Karloff is great as always in a rare role where he gets to play a real human who has his faults but is not really such a bad guy.


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