Wednesday, April 25, 2012

REVIEW: Mystery on Monster Island

Mystery on Monster Island
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Year 1981
Mystery on Monster Island is a silly, yet highly enjoyable, adventure movie that isn’t afraid to throw a little bit of ridiculous fun at its audience. Based on an obscure Jules Verne novel titled, The School of Robinsons, the film depicts an uproarious adventure filled with perils and slapstick antics that surprisingly keep things interesting throughout its entire runtime. With a diverse cast of legendary actors and unknown thespians, Mystery on Monster Island is an unusual cinematic treat that will definitely bring a smile to your face, especially if you’ve enjoyed any of Jules Verne’s various movie adaptations.
The film centers on Jeff Morgan, a young and restless man who wants to travel the world and have himself an adventure before he is to be married to his beautiful fiancé Meg Hollaney. Jeff’s wealthy uncle William Kolderup, assembles a ship and crew to set sail around the world so Jeff can satisfy his tenacious urges and finally settle down in a quite life with Meg, but unexpectedly during their voyage their ship runs into some trouble and Jeff and his tutor Thomas Artelect are forced to abandon ship. Thrown about by the sea, they wake up on a mysterious island that seems born out of the wildest of fantasies, with gargantuan sized creatures, savage cannibals, masked hunters, and all manner of ghastly things around every corner. Jeff has finally found his adventure, but is it more than he can handle? This imaginative tale, inspired by Jules Verne’s writings, is a blast and a half, so buckle up as our journey begins.

Ian Sera takes on the role of Jeff Morgan, the thrill seeking youth that yearns for a little bit of adventure in his life. Sera puts a lot of effort into making his character sympathetic and believable, even though in this whimsical tale he really didn’t need to. The real fun of the movie is to see all the outlandish creatures and to explore alongside the characters as they go from one encounter to the next, but Ian gives us a performance that is both heartfelt and genuine. I quickly became a fan of this interesting actor after seeing his performance in the Italian splatter flick Pieces, where he plays the role of Kendall, the know-it-all college student that, despite his nerdish looks, had all the ladies swooning over him. His character is just plain ridiculous in that film and with Mystery on Monster Island, it was nice to see that he could put together a more complete and believable character, one that allows us to care over whether he lives or dies through this strange and unusual ordeal. Jeff Morgan was a great character, but Ian Sera will always be Kendall to me.
David Hatton plays the character of Thomas Artelect, the accident prone professor who is scared of his own shadow. Most of the comedic moments of this film are provided by Hatton’s exceptionally frantic take on the role of Artelect. Hatton spends most of his screen time screaming and yelling like a maniac after spotting the many frightening creatures that inhabit the island. Hell, he even loses it when running into the not so frightening creatures, as we see when the Professor has a close encounter with a chimpanzee. It’s these wacky moments that really make the film a whole lot of fun and Hatton never lets up as the film progresses along. David Hatton, you so crazy.

Another interesting cast choice is the inclusion of two legendary actors in the form of Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp. Unfortunately both actors appear in only a fraction of the film, but when they do show up they bring a great deal of validity to the picture. Each of them approach the material with respect, with Cushing taking on the role of the millionaire William T. Kolderup and Stamp slithering into the role of Taskinar the treasure seeking opportunist with the blackest of hearts. I really enjoyed the inclusion of these big name stars and feel that their presence anchored the film, supplying a wholly satisfying and much needed beginning and end to this wild tale. It would have been nice if they were featured throughout the movie, but I’ll take what I can get.
Now on to the fun stuff and that would be the creatures. The monsters of this film vary from being exceptionally creepy, to absolutely hysterical, and everything in between. Director Juan Piquer Simon is no stranger to Jules Verne type fantasy seeing that he directed the equally enjoyable The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth, and you can see the echoes from that production as it infects the visual sensibilities of Mystery on Monster Island. What is most interesting about the overall look of the monsters of this film is that there is an obvious attempt at making the creatures in a tongue and cheek kind of way. The artificial appearance of some of these cinematic monsters is very apparent and there just seems to be something kind of off about them. After the film runs its course though you soon come to find out why not everything is as it seems on this island and you forgive the absurdity of some of the creatures looks and join in on the inside joke of it all. With all of this random wackiness and high energized tomfoolery, the overall strange look of the various monsters on the island just kind of seems to work.

Mystery on Monster Island is a highly entertaining adventure film that moves at the speed of light and handles like a runaway roller coaster. There are so many ups and downs to this movie and the cast and crew are constantly moving from one set piece to the next, that you really don’t get a chance to catch your breath. Ian Sera and David Hatton carry a good amount of the film on their backs as they react accordingly to witnessing some of the most outrageous movie monsters the cinema has ever seen. Hatton especially gives it his all as the out of control scaredy cat that overreacts to everything he sees.
It’s also especially nice to see that two accomplished actors like Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp can get down in the muck of this strange little film and class it up a bit with their professional acting chops. Though their caliber of acting and the overall breadth of their filmography is both exquisite, they treat the source material with respect and establish the tone of the film from the get go, sprinkling some validity to the production. With its whimsical nature and fantastically bizarre creatures, Mystery on Monster Island is another Jules Verne adaptation that showcases that certain spark of fantasy and ignites our imaginations with the wonders that it presents to us. If all of that doesn’t peak your interest on checking out this flick, then might I add that the film has a hysterical chimpanzee that is one hell of an actor in his own right. If that doesn’t sell you then you might already be dead. Mystery on Monster Island is a……

I thought I warned you about playing with my toy ship.

What the fuck did you say about my acting in Pieces?

Calm down! It's just a guy in a rubber suit you pansy.

Don't they make a beautiful couple?

Just give me all the bananas and nobody gets hurt!

Someone's about to lose their head.

I don't know if I should laugh or shit my pants.

Run you son of a bitch! RUN!

Quit monkeying around Sera.

Ewww! Bug breath is gross.

I can't believe I'm stuck on this island with this schmuck!

Parrot, are you trying to get crazy with the Professor? Don't you know he's loco.

Say hello to my little friend!

I don't like you.... you fling poop!

It's always a good day when Peter Cushing stops by.

Now tell me why you're slumming in this movie or I'll blow your head off!

What a happy ending.

What a SUPER happy ending!


  1. This one, along with Simon's other fantasy flick, used to get regular play on television in the 80s. A lot of fun and I particularly like the boisterous score here, even if it does get repetitive. Jay, did you notice Paul Naschy at the beginning? I reviewed this one, too, some time back, but have yet to do one for WHERE TIME BEGAN aka FABULOUS JOURNEY...

  2. I love both of Simon's fantasy entries, though they're both strangely the same and different at the same time. It's a quagmire, but they are both fun in their own personal ways.

    I did notice Naschy at the beginning of the film and I only wish that he had a bigger role in the movie. Every film could use a little more Naschy every now and then and it was a nice cameo at the least.

    I'd love to read your take on Where Time Began. I went into it not knowing too much and I was happily surprised after checking it out.

  3. I will get around to reviewing it eventually. Was supposed to have already done it, lol.