aka SOMETHING WAITS IN THE DARK
(Italy/US - 1981)
Directed by Sergio Martino and Miller Drake. Written by Sergio Donati, Cesare Frugoni, Sergio Martino, Miller Drake. Cast: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson, Beryl Cunningham, Joseph Cotten, Mel Ferrer, Cameron Mitchell, Franco Javarone, Roberto Posse, Giuseppe Castellano, Francesco Mazzieri, Eunice Bolt, Tom J. Delaney, James Alquist, Bobby Rhodes. (R, 90 mins)
The story of how the 1979 Italian fantasy adventure ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN became the 1981 Roger Corman drive-in splatter movie SCREAMERS is one of the more entertaining examples of hucksterism in the annals of exploitation cinema. Just out on Blu-ray and DVD in its SCREAMERS incarnation courtesy of Scorpion Releasing, the circumstances surrounding the metamorphosis of ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN into SCREAMERS are covered in great detail in the set's bonus features. Contrary to popular belief, Roger Corman didn't have anything to do with the changes despite SCREAMERS being released by his New World Pictures. It came to him with the changes already in place. Richard Kay and Harry Rybnick were two veteran B-movie producers of such titles as 1956's CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON, and both had a hand in bringing Ishiro Honda's GOJIRA (1954) to the US and its restructuring into GODZILLA in 1956. By 1980, Kay and Rybnick were still eking out a living on the fringes of Hollywood, with their company United Producers picking up foreign exploitation fare and frequently retitling them for their second and third runs through American drive-ins and grindhouses (for instance, Pete Walker's 1974 imprisoned-fashion-models thriller HOUSE OF WHIPCORD was twice relaunched via United Producers, first as PHOTOGRAPHER'S MODELS and then as the even more lurid STAG MODEL SLAUGHTER). Kay and Rybnick acquired Sergio Martino's ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, a bizarre aquatic Italian ripoff of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU that blended elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft, and approached PIRANHA director Joe Dante about beefing it up with some American actors and gory killings. Dante was busy with THE HOWLING at the time and sent the guys to his buddy Miller Drake, a trailer editor at New World who had been wanting to branch out into directing. Drake took the job, recruited cinematographer Gary Graver, a longtime exploitation fixture whose main claim to fame among his friends was working on Orson Welles' shelved and never-released THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND in 1972, and assembled a crew comprised mainly of moonlighting New World staffers looking for some quick cash and some additional experience (future TERMINATOR producer and eventual James Cameron ex-wife Gale Anne Hurd is credited on SCREAMERS as "Maui location manager," even though no scenes were shot on Maui). Drake wrote and directed a prologue to be added to the beginning of FISHMEN with Mel Ferrer and Cameron Mitchell, aging warhorses who had been in the business long enough to remember the glory days of Hollywood but were now taking any job that came along if it paid enough, being stalked and killed by slimy creatures that didn't really look like the ones in FISHMEN. Drake was supplied with a $50,000 budget for the prologue and the additional footage was shot in four nights at the caves at Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, a favorite location of Corman's going back to the 1950s.
|Original 1979 Italian ISLAND OF
THE FISHMEN poster art.
|"Look, do you understand that I was
in CITIZEN KANE?"
|This is the original fishman-in-progress creature discovered
in a tank in Prof. Martin's laboratory in ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN, but
Richard Kay and Harry Rybnick didn't like the design, so
it was replaced with...
|...this creature, designed by Chris Walas, for an insert shot
done by Miller Drake in a makeshift tank in Joe Dante's garage
CAVEMAN, which hit theaters a couple months before SCREAMERS. Bach's potential breakout role as a Bond girl in 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME got her the global notoriety that came with being a Bond girl, but like many of her predecessors, it evaporated quickly, and by 1979, she was back doing the same European B-movies she was prior to her time with 007, starting with back-to-back aquatic horrors with Martino, first FISHMEN and then THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER, which debuted in America on CBS in 1982 as THE GREAT ALLIGATOR. At the ripe old age of 37, Bach retired from acting after she and Starr appeared in Paul McCartney's 1984 vanity project GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET. In the early 1990s, she enrolled in UCLA to get a Master's in Psychology, and in the years since, the now 66-year-old Bach has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous charities, generally staying out of the public eye but almost always seen accompanying Starr at red carpet events. Most of FISHMEN's main cast returned in ALLIGATOR, including Bach, Cassinelli (whose tragic 1985 death on the set of another Martino film is discussed here), Johnson, and Bobby Rhodes, who appeared in FISHMEN as a servant and would later go on to cult movie glory for his roles in Lamberto Bava's DEMONS and DEMONS 2. ALLIGATOR also featured Mel Ferrer, who had no idea he'd inadvertently be part of the FISHMEN reunion in a roundabout way thanks to the SCREAMERS additions. Johnson and Cotten were both busy hamming it up in Eurotrash at the time, with Johnson also starring in Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE the same year as the Martino films. Cotten, who appears to have been granted the privilege of live-on-set sound, really dives into his mad scientist role with the utmost enthusiasm--he only has two or three scenes, but judging from his work here, you'd think he was as invested in this as he was CITIZEN KANE, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and THE THIRD MAN decades earlier. That's a pro.
|Mel Ferrer collecting an easy
$10,000 for his work on SCREAMERS