Lonely Islands: 10 Films Set on Dangerous Islands

Your feet sink into the soft, white sand as ocean waves gently lap across the shore and a hazy sun glows across the clear, blue sky.  Meanwhile a reanimated corpse attempts to remove your throat with it’s teeth. As much as islands can represent our desire to escape to a new place and shed the worries of our everyday life, they can also be a place where isolation is intensified and a feeling of being trapped becomes all-consuming. We look at 10 films that suggest an island is a place of no escape.

Matango (1963)

From Ishirō Honda, the man behind Godzilla, seven young people end up shipwrecked on a deserted island in the South Pacific and struggle to survive with the lack of food. With hesitation, they entertain the notion of eating a strange mushroom found on the island known as Matango which they later discover slowly turns whoever eats them into a giant mushroom themselves! Following on from Honda’s other horror films where humans turn into strange creatures (The H-Man (1958) and The Human Vapor (1960)), Matango has itself turned into a beloved cult classic and hailed as a forerunner of later Japanese body horror films of the cyberpunk variety.

The Wicker Man (1973)

A jewel in the crown of British cinema, The Wicker Man sees the upright and conscientious policeman Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) head for the island of Summerisle on the hunt for a missing girl. When he arrives, he is met by an unhelpful population who insist the girl doesn’t exist and things get even weirder when Howie meets the enigmatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), the island’s pagan leader. The island setting is perfect for Howie’s confusion to take root and his attempts to return to the sanity of the mainland are thwarted. His frustration turns to anger and then fear, climaxing in one of the most iconic endings of all time. You can keep the 2006 remake and those infamous bees.

Island of Death (1976)

Legendary Greek film director/producer extraordinaire Nico Mastorakis made his debut in 1976 with Island of Death, the story of two psychopaths masquerading as newlyweds on honeymoon to carry out a vicious massacre. One of the original Video Nasties, this is a controversy ridden title that adds a refreshing twist to the others on this list as the ones coming to the island are the threat to the people already there. Bloody, perverse and makes picturesque Mykonos look like one of Dante’s circles of Hell.

Zombie Flesh Eaters (1978)

Another search for a missing family member this time leads to a Caribbean island, Matul, where as luck would have it, the place is overridden with zombies. They’re not the most welcoming bunch either and soon the humans find themselves attacked and mutilated by an army of the undead. Another Video Nasty filled with disturbing scenes and extremely grisly deaths, Lucio Fulci’s horror is regarded by some as the ultimate zombie film. He would follow-up a year later with the similarly themed and equally memorable City of the Living Dead.

The Slayer (1982)

And the Video Nasties keep on coming with notorious slasher The Slayer. Two couples are trapped on a small island off the coast of Georgia after visiting for a short holiday. One of them begins to sense an evil presence and is unsure if it’s her mind playing tricks or a real demonic force. Another island with no escape with this time a hurricane forcing the victims to stay, this independent horror plays on two main fears. The first being isolation and no-one being around to hear your screams while the second is the dread of our worst nightmares coming true.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996)

There have been a few interpretations of H.G. Wells’ famous novel but John Frankenheimer’s 1996 version is perhaps the most notable. A plane crash leads a UN negotiator to end up on the island of Doctor Moreau, a place where bizarre experiments result in human-animal hybrids being bred. With a fraught and fractious production involving cast drop-outs, directorial changes and outrageous behaviour from stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, the claustrophobic concept of the island bled into real-life. A film where it’s “making of” is more interesting than the film itself.

Battle Royale (2000)

We couldn’t have made this list without J-Horror classic Battle Royale from the legendary Kinji Fukasaku. Japan attempts to tackle juvenile delinquency by pitting schoolmates against each other in a brutal fight to the death. The island setting is crucial to maintaining the film’s tension along with the bombs strapped to their bodies set to explode after a certain amount of time. There is no escape for the teenagers unless they do the unthinkable and kill their fellow students. A stone-cold classic which has inspired a slew of imitators but nothing beats the original.

The Vanishing (2018)

Set on an uninhabited Scottish island, three lighthouse keepers discover a box of gold but when men appear asking for it back, it leads to paranoia and greed. An atmospheric thriller with one of Gerard Butler’s best performances to date. The barren and cut-off island is the ideal location for negative behaviours to thrive as the moral and social etiquettes of the mainland feel increasingly distant for our characters.

The Lighthouse (2019)

Let’s continue the theme with Robert Eggers’ tale of two wickies (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who slowly lose their minds while maintaining a lighthouse on a New England island. With arresting imagery and shot with luscious photography, The Lighthouse is an unforgettable study of claustrophobia and the lengths to which people will go when finding themselves under severe pressure. A hypnotic and engrossing film worthy of many a re-watch.

The Menu (2022)

A young couple attend an exclusive restaurant on a private island where a strange evening becomes even stranger when the chef reveals shocking truths and his behaviour becomes increasingly unhinged. At first the island setting reinforces the exclusive nature of the restaurant but as events unfold it becomes apparent that it also functions as a trap and a perfect power play by Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) to keep his patrons right where he wants them.

Dom Walker

Dom Walker

Writer and expert

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