Vaguely recognisable faces flashed across the screen with an embarrassed grin. We’re here for the money, their eyes glazed over with such expressionless fear. Who can blame them? Island of the Fishmen isn’t a project anyone would willingly take on. Those who have bills to pay would feature in this sort of low-rate fodder. Sergio Martino may be a name cult fans out there are familiar with. Giallo horror, spaghetti westerns, and now monster movies are some of the charms within his belt of experience. None of them are handled with overwhelming confidence or perspective, but he often crafts a serviceable moment or two that are lost to muddled characters and rather dense storylines.
That is the exact problem Island of the Fishmen suffers from. Its ailments are terminal, its limbs are falling off and its rotting, shuffling corpse of an idea coughs and sweats its way through barely ninety minutes. It can’t hold together too long. Pieces begin to break. An arm here. An eye there. Nothing holds together like it should. For a film so focused and fascinated by aquatics, its story is not watertight. There are breaches everywhere, most are due to the inconsistencies of the cast and the lower-than-necessary budget. A strange surprise that is, though, considering Bond girl Barbara Bach and legend of Hollywood Joseph Cotton both make prominent appearances.
Troublingly enough for that stark double team is that they’re not given anything to do. Bach and Cotton are certainly admirable elsewhere, but Island of the Fishmen doesn’t throw them a line. Unremarkable at the best of times, their chemistry is limited, their actions and interactions with objects around them a completely dense example of how not to run a story. Martino doesn’t have what it takes to craft anything substantial with the tools given to him, which, frankly, are shoddy and not up to scratch. Not for a film where its monsters are the key draw, and considering how forgettable they are, maybe the problems are far clearer than first surmised.
Forgettable, but remarkably mediocre. It could’ve swayed either way, teetering on the fence of relative charm, inching its way ever closer to admirable, but poor. Island of the Fishmen is not a film that stays on the mind for long, but for a man as fearful as the ocean as I, it’ll linger for a little longer than most. The smell of tuna will knock you for a bit longer than anticipated, but it’s nothing to be worried about. Island of the Fishmen is far from reality, or at least I hope it is. Martino may have delivered a seething documentary of fish-like mammals stealing our villagers and beating our former stars. Thank God I live on the mainland.