The Island (1980)

screenshot from The Island

Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Screenwriter(s): Peter Benchley
Starring: Michael Caine, David Warner, Angela Punch McGregor, Frank Middlemass, Dudley Sutton, Zakes Mokae
Genre: Horror / Action
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 48m
Rating: 0 out of 10

After the disastrous trio of The SwarmAshanti and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, Caine made The Island, the story of journalist Blair Maynard (Caine) who, with bratty son in tow, sets off to the Caribbean to investigate the disappearances of over sixty tourists in a year.

After an eventful journey which includes buying his teenage son a gun (great parenting skills), his plane crashing and a run-in with the stereotypical British colonial policeman (Zakes Mokae, whose career has apparently been built on monopolising that role), Caine takes a break to go fishing with his son. And this is where it all gets a bit shaky. Maynard and son are captured by pirates. Not any pirates, but a race of buccaneers who have been living in isolation for 300 years and who talk and act as if it’s still 1680, not 1980.

Unfortunately, interbreeding has led to a very depleted gene pool and they see Caine’s son as the answer to their problems. Their leader (David Warner) wants to adopt the boy and his initiation into this society will be to kill his father.

The script is by Peter Benchley, based on his own novel. Benchley also wrote Jaws, which was turned into one of the greatest action films ever made, the first real summer blockbuster and an enduring staple of holiday programming. Of course, it also spawned one okay and two dreadful sequels, one of which stars Caine himself. What may have worked as a novel, where the imagination can conjure worse horrors than even Wes Craven could produce, makes for an outstandingly bad movie.

For a start, you have to hear the buccaneers speak – a dreadful, almost unintelligible mush of Benchley’s idea of 17th century English. There are plot holes you could sail a galleon through: why, for example, do they pick Caine’s son as their farm stud when there’s only one woman on show (Angela Punch McGregor)? Just before kidnapping the Maynard brat, they attack a drug running boat full of nubile young women; surely, stealing those women would have been the better genetic choice here?

There are some of the worst special effects ever committed to film; the opening scene of pirates axing rubber heads is so bad it’s not even laughable. And to cap it all, Caine’s son, who has a clearly pivotal role, is played by one of the least appealling child actors ever to grace any screen.

Everybody looks embarrassed by appearing in this film, and so they should.