Friday, February 03, 2006

a serious critique of Alfred Sole's 1980 film, Tanya's Island

In those plentiful days when Amoeba Records in Hollywood was new in town and their used VHS section was absolutely massive, I had a rule that I lived by stating that I would pay no more than four dollars for a tape. The section was stocked so frequently that I could bring home small bags of videos twice a day and spend less than $20. I had more rules at that time. The movies were supposed to either come from respected horror directors, foreign directors, be Poe or Lovecraft based, or be exceptionally gory to have been banned at one point. Before I let these rules go, I turned down a number of tapes, some of which I regret passing up to this day. Tanya's Island was one of those tapes. It was going for a pricey $14.99, but after I read about it on the imdb when I got home, I started to fiend for it. Of course it was gone the next day at Amoeba.

Well now it's on DVD from the sketchy Substance label, who probably do not pay any royalties to anybody who made the film, but that does make it a cheaper purchase. The quality of the DVD is ok, not good enough to please most dvd-philes, but at least it does not cost the big bucks. Mostly with these low quality DVDs it's the dark night scenes that suffer, which is a bad thing for horror fans, but Tanya's Island is filled with mostly day time action. Full-frontal nudity in broad daylight.

I was pretty disappointed, but I did have very high expectations based on the general premises of a story where a naked women becomes the object of a rivalry between a man and a gorilla. I had heard that the man becomes more ape like and the gorilla becomes more human as the film progresses. Fascinating, I thought, but in the movie the transformations are extremely blatant, fast, and obvious. The man is named Lobo, which really sounds like an ape name to me - Bobo. Shortly after he discovers his ape nemesis, we see him scarf down a banana in a less than refined way. Before you know it, he is aping, no pun intended, the gorilla's every move.

On the other hand, I was not as sympathetic to Blue, the gorilla, as I should have been. Blue is gentle with Tanya, but he kills Lobo's pet pig. I do not think that Lobo loved the pig, I think he was just showing it affection in order to win favor with Tanya, yet the killing was wrong in that it hurt the pig. What's more, their are the ethical issue of killing a real pig in order to make this movie. No, there is not an on-screen killing, but I assume the pig's head was real - not a prosthetic, and it could have been the real head of the pig that acted in earlier scenes. I do not know if this is true or not, but my position is that killing a pig to make a movie is not worth it, nor is killing a pig to make a sandwich worth it. Animal life has value to me and I will continue to explore the use of dead animals and slaughter house byproducts for special effects in horror movies. Perhaps times have changed and these effects are less prevalent today. As I get more familiar with the industry I aim to find out. The issue is complex. Is it any more wrong to use pig's blood on camera than it is to have ham sandwiches at the craft services on the set? There probably has never been a movie made that did not have meat on set. These are issues that I, as a vegan, think about.

Back to my faults with this movie. Believability is not a huge issue with me since this is the horror genre after all, but in Tanya's island there were scenes that left me shaking my head. For one, Lobo builds a huge fortress by himself in seemingly no time. Blue's assault on the fortress, by throwing coconuts over the walls, only lasts a couple of minutes, but after the assault is over, the number of coconuts on the ground is so many that Lobo cannot open a door from within a cage in the fortress' courtyard, due to coconut buildup that is waist deep. There are so many coconuts there, that it would take a Blue with ten arms to throw some many over the wall in such a short time.

Blue then traps Lobo with his own fortress door, that Lobo can no longer move, but he must have been able to move it, when he put it in place as he built this fortress single handedly.

Tanya's behavior is a mystery to me. I see why she kept Blue a secret, as Lobo is an insanely jealous man and wants to shoot Blue with his crossbow from the get go. I see why she is disgusted with Lobo, as he rapes her, hits her, and imprisons her in a cage as bait to kill Blue, but I do not see (Spoiler Alert) why she suddenly turns against Blue except for the reason that it facilitates the twist in the plot where Blue then rapes Tanya.

- Ultimate Spoiler Alert - Then Tanya wakes up. It was all a dream, but what is this gorilla scratch above her breast? Endings like that can just kill a movie. Tanya's Island has what it takes to catch attention, but mistakes like these have left it in obscurity.

Directory Alfred Sole made the excellent Alice, Sweet Alice in 1976. I can find no interviews with him online except for
one regarding Veronica Mars, the UPN TV series that he is the production designer for.

Blue looks real and was made by special effects genius Rick Baker. With out Blue looking convincing, this movie would have fell flat on its face about twice as quickly as it did. I had assumed that he would be a white ape (I'd read that he has blue eyes), maybe a mythical creature or an anomaly. I think I also got this idea from the box cover where he is translucent and actually saw him as gray throughout the movie until Cub pointed out that he is brown and sure enough she was right. I have heard than there are black supremacists who believe that the white man is inferior due to his resemblance to the gorilla in the sense that whites have straight hair as do the great apes.

Those seeking the ultimate indecency in a movie of beasts are advised to seek out La BĂȘte (1975), aka, The Beast, from Walerian Borowczyk. It has been available on DVD for some time and within the last year a 3 Disc version was released. The opening scene where two horses have sex will probably be enough for some of you, but that's just the appetizer and just sort of sets the mood. I don't want to give anything away, but there is stuff in that movie that will make your jaw drop. Don't think you've seen it all. You have not.


Blogger John said...

Horses having sex?hmm,sounds like something.Im kinda curious about Tanya's Island,maybe one day I'll pick it up.Despite whether some movies are bad or not, I still like to check them out.Man, I wish I had a really great place to get dvds,or videos that are somewhat rare,or having to do with the horror genre.All I have is the crappy Best buy,and Suncoast,and then the wal-marts and targets.Pssh.They never got anything.This movie sounds interesting though, I want to check out that Rick Baker ape.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Stacie Ponder said...

Does that cover say "Vanity"? As in...Vanity 6? Awesome.

And that coconuts scene sounds absolutely brilliant, although it's probably more fun just to read the way you've described it than to actually watch it.

6:34 PM  

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