“Snape Island never brought anything but unhappiness and tragedy for anyone”
Lighthouses are creepy, I’ve always felt that. Maybe it’s the loneliness of it all, or maybe it’s the towering above the angry sea, guiding the way of passersby but never knowing if one of them is going to crash into you and bring death with them. Lighthouses are the haunted mansions of the sea side community.
I don’t know. What I do know is that Tower of Evil only feeds that fear. Released in 1972 by Grenadier Films, I find it a remarkable little film that deserves some mainstream notice. Written by George Baxt and directed by Jim O’connolly, It follows the horror film formula to a tee, before there was a formula. It’s a teen slasher/have sex and die film six years before Halloween “created” the genre.
The film opens on fog shrouded waters. A small fisher boat, “Sea Ghost”, is sailing to Snape Island. The ship is manned by two sailors, a middle aged man, Hamp, who wants to wait till the fog lifts before setting foot on the island, and his Elder sea dog father, John, who insists that there are things to do and it’s been too long already. Foreshadowing or a bit of throw away dialogue…you decide.
On the beach, they come across a naked man lying face first in a puddle, his severed hand nearby. They enter the decrepit lighthouse and climb its old cobwebbed stairs. At the top of the stairs, they find a second naked body, female, her head, apparently, completely turned around. As they go to move her hair so they can see her face, the head falls off and rolls down the spiral staircase.
They split up, to search. The third victim found is a fully dressed young man impaled by a golden spear. The older man continues to explore until a crazed naked brunette attacks, screaming from the darkness, knife in hand. She stabs the old man repeatedly and runs screaming out into the fog. She runs straight for a younger fisherman who knocks her out with a club.
We soon find the young woman in an examination. Penny Read is her name, played with damaged innocence by Candace Glenenning. She is put under hypnosis and she recounts the story of what happened to her and her friends. Four kids went to the island to hang out and party. Penny, her boyfriend Gary, Des and Mae. For a while they have a good time until late that night when things get bloody, someone else is on Snape Island!
Soon the movie switches gears as an expedition is on course to the island. Apparently the golden spear that poor Des was impaled with is a Phoenecian artifact. Enter the new kids or adults rather, led by Dan Winthrop (Derek Fowlds ) and Adam Martin (Mark Edwards ) along with their women archeologists Nora Winthrop (sex bomb Anna Palk )and Rose Mason (stunning Jill Haworth) . The four have a sorted history that I won’t spoil but let’s just say that everyone has been naked with everyone and when it comes to Nora I mean everyone in Britain! They are joined by a privet investigator hired by the Read family to prove her innocence, who seems to have his own agenda.
They are taken to Snape Island by surprise, surprise, the Sea Ghost, now Captained by Hamp. Along as Hamp’s first mate is his nephew Brom, a swinging twenty something who proves that, while 70’s women’s Mod fashion is ultra hot, 70’s men’s Mod fashion just looks like a bad superhero outfit every time (and to think my mother used to dress me like that)! He wastes no time hitting on Nora, who lets him know that she may be “open” to the idea (like I said, Nora is SLUTASTIC)! He also tries his bad moves on Rose but she keeps her adultery focused. One out of two isn’t bad.
So that’s the set up. What follows is the best Island horror film I have ever seen. There are family secrets, lost treasure, drug laced sexcounters, stabbings, red herrings and a fiery and explosive climax! The atmosphere is a mix of gothic horror and Ghost and Mrs. Muir esthetics with a 70’s slant. Every woman is hot and the ladies will probably enjoy Brom (if they can get passed his outfit).
11 total deaths, three characters are attacked and bloodied while naked. Two sex scenes, two naked crumpets (Nora is not one of them but plays every scene as if she is about to be and it is strangely satisfying), some dismemberment and a sprinkle of out and out sleaze. This film has a little of everything and adds up to more than the sum of its parts. I highly recommend picking up the out of print Elite DVD on Amazon. It’s a rollercoaster ride to the extreme which hits all the right buttons and touches on many different genres without ever forgetting it is a horror film and that is a rare and difficult thing.