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The Secret Of Seagull Island (1979)

Mixing a variety of horror film styles (I spotted a bit of Susperia, a sprinkling of Incense For The Damned, and an awful lot of bargain basement James Bond), this bizarre UK/Italian oddity is made even more way out by the fact that it wasn't even shot as a film. The Secret Of Seagull Island was originally "made for TV", and should have been considerably longer than its eventually running time. Why it was never released in its original format is baffling - it looks like it had quite a high budget, there's a good story there and it seems just the kind of thing the average 70s television audience would have lapped up.

Instead, Seagull Island was hacked to pieces and released theatrically in the form I saw - which, although sacrificing such things as a cohesive narrative structure (pah! Who needs that?), does mean that it qualifies as a bona fide (half) British horror film. It's just a shame the title's so rubbish. How about "The Secret Of Death Island", or "Eye Gougers From Beneath The Sea"? There's very little that's frightening about seagulls, unless, of course, they decide to unload half a hundredweight of steaming green shit over your head…

The film starts as it means to go on, by confusing everyone with a brief sub-aqua scene where a couple of anonymous amorous scuba divers are stopped mid-snog by an underwater earthquake.

Into the present, we see Barbara (Prunella Ransome) travelling to Rome to see her sister Marianne. But when she gets there - dunn dunn derrr! - she's told that Marianne left three weeks ago. Marianne's teacher at the musical academy is less than happy about this: "she has jeopardised the success of the whole concert…"

Babs goes to see Martin Foster of the British Consul (a fully bearded-up Nicky Henson, on fine form as a genuinely nice bloke), who in turn takes her to see a bloke he knows called Lombardi (gawd knows why - things like this just seem to happen throughout the proceedings) - an extremely angry Italian with a nice line in chest hair. "I am-a not-a responsible for your-a sister!" he shouts at her. "She-a went away with-a somebody!"

Further unexplained plot development takes us to the Police Inspector in charge of investigating Marianne's disappearance, who remembers a girl who was found weighed down beneath the sea with her eyes gouged out (cue horribly realistic flashback of the body). "It is possible fish did eat her eyes," he speculates, "but it is also possible she was blind…"

Next second another girl is found cast adrift in a dinghy. She also is not Marianne, but she is blind.

Barbara is convinced that shouty sweat factory Lombardi holds the key. She decides to search his boat but is discovered by the man himself, and nearly raped into the bargain. Luckily, Foster is on hand to save the day, joking afterwards: "I don't know what it is about you, but ever since we met, I've been behaving like James Bond!"

The hapless pair then find a clue which points them towards - dunn dunn derrr! - Seagull Island, a privately owned, erm, island run by David Malcom (Jeremy Brett, who makes a surprisingly good dapper baddie).

But before they can get to the island itself, things get very weird indeed. Barbara goes to see the girl who was found in the dinghy, who is recovering in hospital. But on walking into the room, she accidentally starts a tape playing the sound of seagulls. The girl wakes up, goes mental and dives headlong out of the window. Barbara then gets twatted on the head by a greasy-looking cove, and when she wakes up she's lost her sight as well (careless).

Well, it turns out that she hasn't actually - it's just a ruse to get her in with Mr Malcolm, who, it turns out, appears to have a thing for blind girls. Keeping up? Before you can say "eh?", she's been whisked off to his brown and orange pad in his brown and orange speedboat (hey - it was the 70s), where he tells our heroine that he only leases the island from "the ancients of the deep", and that he only goes back there every so often to renew his acquaintance with his second wife and son. Also on the island is Carol (Pamela "phwooarr" Salem), who seems less than happy with Malcolm's latest acquisition (ie Babs).

Barbara then gets stalked by a heavy breather, attacked by seagulls, and involved in a bit of peril on a rope bridge. It turns out that Malcolm's son Frederick is a disfigured maniac, and Dad is trying his best for the lad by bringing blind girls along to befriend him. But is all that it seems?

There's twist after twist in this frankly bizarre offering. If the above synopsis makes it sound like some kind of Island Of Death - style incoherent Euro-nasty, it sort of is, but without the overt gore (although there's a fair amount of violence and death). Plus you get Jeremy Brett in full-on "ham-it-up" mode, starting at seven and then rocketing up to 10 very quickly, before tweaking the deal round to 15 for a final flourish (it also sounds like he threw the script out of the window and is making it up as he goes along).

"You smiled and you smiled… but underneath, you wheedled… you crept right in… I know it… I know it… you couldn't rest until she was dead…"

All in all, Seagull Island is bizarre but watchable, the effective underwater scenes almost making up for the less-than effective above water ones. And special mention goes to Henson, that beard and some fantastic brown swimming trunks.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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Secret Of Seagull Island 1979

Secret Of Seagull Island 1979