Sunday, July 2, 2023

Island Fury (1989)

... aka: Please Don't Eat the Babies

Directed by:
Henri Charr

Reportedly this began shooting in the early 80s (1982 or 1983 are the years usually given), but the production was shut down before completion. Someone then acquired that footage and shot new scenes in 1988 to complete the film and the finished product, which has an end credits copyright date of 1989, was being marketed soon after. I'm not sure where the 1983 release date that this is usually listed under came from nor am I sure if the same person was responsible for both the 1982-83 scenes and the 1988 scenes, or if it was two separate directors. Only Charr is credited. I've also run across a few sources that claim Bruce Geller directed the earlier scenes. Geller was known as the creator of the Mission Impossible TV series and had just a handful of directorial credits prior. However, I'm not sure what involvement Geller could have possibly had seeing how he passed away in 1978! I suppose there's the possibility it was an entirely different director named Bruce Geller who made this and nothing else, but who knows?

Born Henri Charbakshi in Iran, credited director Charr was a graduate of Columbia College and (according to his self-penned IMDb bio) had been named one of the most promising new directors by AFI. He made his film debut back in the mid-70s with something called The Last Affair. Affair was shot in Chicago and began life as a drama with hardcore sex scenes meant to cash in on the "porno chic" craze of the day. Charr did a reedit and shot additional scenes for an R-rated release. Though the full film was never released to home video and now appears to be missing, Roger Ebert actually saw it during its brief theatrical run and wrote a scathing review, calling it "appallingly bad," "an epic of boredom" and "the most godawful R-rated mess I've ever seen." He also claims that since the makers could not find a distributor for their film, they cut out the middle man entirely and just purchased a movie theater to show it in instead! I'm sure if Ebert considered Affair a inept mess, he would have been every bit as appalled by what goes down here.

Things open with what appears to be the late 80s scenes judging by both the fashions and hairstyles on display and the fact these scenes are used as a framing device to house the earlier footage. Roommates Sugar (Monet Elizabeth) and Bobbylee (Tanya Louise) are doing a bit of shopping (and shoplifting) in Chinatown. Two mulleted thugs - Repo (Michael Wayne) and Willie (Mike Jacobs Jr. - MURDER WEAPON) - start stalking them and then chase them through the busy streets. The girls make it back to their car but are then kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to an empty warehouse where Sid (Joe Lombardo) roughs them up a bit and demands to know how Sugar ended up with a Spanish doubloon necklace. Turns out she acquired it many years earlier during a vacation. We then jump to flashbacks (the older footage) that explain where the coin came from, which is cut with the present day footage of the thugs dragging the girls back to the island.

In the flashbacks, ten-year-old Sugar (Sheri Oliff) and Bobbylee (Robin Haden) head to a remote island located somewhere in "The Devil's Triangle" along with older teen divers Todd (Ed McClarty) and John (Jo Lucas), and their girlfriends Candy (also Sugar's sister) and Sylvia (Darcy Lee). Candy is played by Kristen Baker, who's the only recognizable performer in this group of fodder due to her previous unclothed appearance as the skinny-dipping victim in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). While she doesn't take her clothes off here (her nude corpse found later is an obvious dummy), she does spend the entirety of her screen time wearing a red bikini.

After docking, the group hear about a reputed lost treasure in a nearby cave from a young boy named Jimmer (Stanley Wells) who sells them oxygen for their tanks. The boy is one of the only residents of the entire island, along with his grandpa Jebediah (Hank Worden, who you'd never guess was a veteran actor with over 200 credits based on his performance here), granny (Mitzi Stollery) and their mentally retarded son Junior (Jonathan Gravish), who may or may not be Jimmer's father. None of these characters are the least bit developed.

The young travelers soon realize that they've stumbled across an entire family of psychos. Half the group are invited inside for some (drugged) herbal tea, pass out and then wake up locked inside separate sheds. One of the unconscious (or perhaps already dead) girls gets molested by Junior, while one of the guys locates some colorfully-lit catacombs (a boiler room actually!) through a hatch in the floor and is seduced by a topless woman who slashes him up with a razor. Bodies are stored in a "refrigerator shed" where, one can assume, they'll soon be eaten by the crazed family. Though no real cannibalism is shown, the grandpa character does make mention of wanting some "vittles."

The cobbled together scenes from the earlier shoot show that they almost had a movie back then... but not quite. There's a proper plot set-up and opening scene, as well as enough footage for an ending, but a lot of what goes down in the midsection is incomprehensible. Poor editing cuts and jumps are present throughout, as well as characters who just disappear and then turn up dead later on. It's also quite obvious that there was never enough plot to flesh out a full length feature to begin with, which results in boring and repetitive filler scenes of characters sitting around in the woods. Since two of these characters are little girls, that also means a LOT of whining and unconvincing crying, though the acting from most of the adults isn't any better. Some obviously flubbed lines are included in the finished cut and there's one head-scratching moment that seems to insinuate that the island is also populated with giant cockroaches (?!), which is yet another plot point left muddied.

Further adding to the film's lack of appeal is that it skimps on blood and gore, which was never going to sit well for something like this in the heyday of gory slasher flicks. Aside from a bloody cleaver to the face murder, nearly every other death takes place off-screen, as if they never got around to actually filming any of those scenes. The bit where Baker and her boyfriend are killed in the tunnels (which are never again seen in the film) by that random topless woman (who is also never again seen after this one scene) appear to have also been added later on. It would be interesting to hear from the director or one of the actors whether or not they were brought back later to shoot this particular scene or if it was part of the original shoot. My money's on the former.

After this mess, Charr would somewhat redeem himself, at least in my sleazy-movie-loving eyes, by making a troika of fun WIP exploitation movies; Caged Hearts, Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars and Under Lock and Key, which were all released in 1995 and used to play on cable TV all of the time. The executive producer was the Iraqi-born Mardi Rustam, who Charr had previously worked with as an editor on EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1984).

As for when this was first released, I'm not entirely sure. It may have played in a theater or two at some point but all that I could verify was a 1994 VHS release from A.I.P. under the Island Fury title as well as a Japanese VHS release from Prism Entertainment using the Please Don't Eat the Babies title, though I'm not sure of the date of that particular release. Dark Sky Films / BPI released a full screen version on DVD in 2008, pairing it with the Jaws cash-in Barracuda (1978).

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