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Isle Of The Dead (Blu-ray Review)

At the end of the month, Warner Archive Collection will debut the Val Lewton produced Boris Karloff horror classic Isle Of The Dead. This was almost released by Scream Factory not too long ago, but the release wound up abandoned with no real clear explanation. Perhaps restoration was too costly, or maybe Warner Bros wanted to do it on their own. Nonetheless, here it is finally. And its had a glorious 4K restoration done to it. There are even a couple of bonus features here as well. Many are excited about this release and they likely won’t be leaving or purchasing it with any disappointment. You can pre-order it now to lock yourself in for a copy when it arrives on March 30th. There is a paid Amazon Associates link below you can use, should you want to help out the site a tad.

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Film

Once you visit the Isle of the Dead, there’s no hope of returning to the land of the living. A small island off the coast of Greece holds a secret so dreadful that once you step onto its soil you must remain there forever. General Pherides (master of horror Boris Karloff) is one such a visitor. Going to the island to honor the grave of his late wife, Pherides discovers that it’s held in the grip of a terrifying plague – a sickness that enters the victim’s mind and drives them insane! Pherides leads the fight against the plague, but then falls prey to it himself. In his delirium, he believes that a woman named Thea (Ellen Drew) is a vorvolaka – a vampire responsible for the deaths. Insanity runs rampant, and grave robbery, premature burial and ghastly vampires are the unspeakable horrors that await on the Isle of the Dead.

Black and white classic horror films can sometimes deliver some of the spookiest aesthetic unmatched through the test of time. Isle of the Dead is one of those pictures. The use of shadow, settings and framing culminate in a very unsettling film. Add to that, the reliance on wind and other ambient sounds to compliment the visual dread, and you have a classic on visuals alone. There’s more to Isle of the Dead, but just looking at it with such wonder is a great start.

Boris Karloff is known for his more monstrous acting gigs, but he also tried to use that clout his damndest to give him more “normal” people kind of roles. This film offers him such and its quite an excellent and complicated performance from him. He brings a calm intensity and anger to his role as the general. Many scenes hinge on him and you see him giving the rest of the cast so much to bounce off of. I’d wager to say this is one of his best roles and performances in his career.

Isle of the Dead draws upon the classic Agatha Christie And Then There Were None formula, but does it in such a nonchalant kind of way that you may only slightly realize it when watching. It gathers a group of strangers in secluded area and then begins to off them one by one as some are suspected of it and others try and solve a mystery. Its quite intriguing and the aforementioned aesthetic really gives it such a ripe flavor to enhance this cherished formulaic plot structure.

The film is also incredibly short, too. It runs at barely over 70 minutes, but really packs enough and a lot in that little bit of time. Karloff (as well as others) is terrific and from a technical standpoint the film is absolutely brilliant. Martin Scorsese has mentioned Isle of the Dead as one of the scariest films ever made. And while I’m not sure anyone is going to have trouble sleeping after watching it in 2021, but I don’t think he’s wrong either.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Isle of the Dead debuts on Blu-ray with a new 4K restoration from the original nitrate camera negative. This movie looks absolutely fresh and gorgeous. There is a great bit of detail on everything from clothing, to monuments to just the surfaces in the house. Its a clean image with a healthy grain structure. It looks much younger than the film actually is. Like much everything from the Warner Archive catalog, its going to be more than pleasing for people picking it up.

Depth:  Depth of field is very good and the spacing and pushback in all the interiors gives a lot of loose area and freedom for the actor movements. Said movements are smooth and natural with no issues regarding any sort of distortive blurs or jitter.

Black Levels: Blacks are absolutely deep and gorgeous here. Some of the best accenting and shadow work you’re going to see while maintaining textures and not hiding any information. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are grey/white/black and consistent from start to finish. Admirably, facial features and textures are pretty well apparent from any reasonable distance in the frame. Its even impressive what you can make out from distant actors in the image.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

DynamicsIsle of the Dead brings along a beautiful sounding mono track with a nice, faint analog his underlying as its base. Its spacious and free with good balance of music/effects/vocals. Ambiance is quite strong and effective with great touches on wind and leaves bristling in many sequences.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with good range and diction.

Extras

Audio Commentary

  • By Dr. Steve Haberman

Theatrical Trailer with Spanish Subtitles (HD , 1:29)

Summary

Isle of the Dead is a pretty spooky movie and features a delicious role for one of horror’s most iconic performers, Boris Karloff. The video transfer and audio on this Blu-ray are masterful and magnificent as well. Add in a nice commentary and a trailer and you’ve got a pretty nicely put together release for this 1945 haunted Val Lewton film.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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