Isle of the Dead (1945)

35mm film, black and white, 1.37:1
mono, English

An American horror film directed by Mark Robson.

Plot Summary

During the war of 1912, a group of people are trapped on a Greek island quarantine because of an outbreak of plague. They come to suspect that the plague has been spread by a vampire-like demon called a vorvolaka.


Directed by: Mark Robson
Copyright MCMXLV [1945] RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. present
Executive Producer: Jack J. Gross
Produced by: Val Lewton
Written by: Ardel Wray
Assistant Director: Harry Scott
Director of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Edited by: Lyle Boyer
Music by: Leigh Harline
Musical Director: C. Bakaleinikoff
Recorded by: Jean L. Speak
Rerecording by: James G. Stewart
RCA Sound System
Gowns by: Edward Stevenson
Art Directors: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Set Decorations: Darrell Silvera, Al Greenwood

Boris Karloff (General Nikolas Pherides)
Ellen Drew (Thea)
Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis)
Katherine Emery (Mrs Mary St Aubyn)
Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra)
Alan Napier (St Aubyn)
Jason Robards (Albrecht)
Ernest Dorian (Dr Drossos)
Sherry Hall [Colonel Kobestes – uncredited]
Erick Hanson [officer – uncredited]
Skelton Knaggs [Andrew Robbins – uncredited]

Alternative Titles

La isla de la muerte – Spanish title
La isla de los muertos – Spanish title
Die Todesinsel – Austrian title
Il vampiro dell'isola – Italian title


Initially, critics seemed slightly baffled by what they were seeing. Alton Cook cautioned that “you have to grow mighty fond of weird lighting effects before you will go around recommending this picture to a friend” 1New York World-Telegram 7 September 1945, Wanda Hale thought it lay “halfway between a horror film and a thriller” 2New York Daily News 8 September 1945 and John T.McManus though that “there are two ways of looking at Isle of the Dead: (1) as another Karloff chiller; or (2) and another exquisite exercise in mystery moods by the Cagliostro of The Cat People, The Body Snatcher, etc, producer Val Lewton. 3New York PM 8 September 1945

Others were turned off by its “ghastly attention to yawning graves and one instance of a burial alive 4“O.L.G. Jr” in New York Herald Tribune 8 September 1945 and its “murky photography – the kind which is so dark and the characters upon the screen are mostly just shadowy forms – and a lot of hocus-pocus about supernatural powers and 5“T.M.P.” in New York Times 8 September 1945. Rose Pelswick of the New York Journal-American was more direct, calling it “pretty tedious in a gruesome sort of way” 6New York Journal-American 8 September 1945.

Archer Winsten, writing in the New York Post, was more impressed. Although he felt that it had a “somewhat confused and confusing story”, he noted that “Messrs. Lewton and Robson are adept in achieving maximum horror with minimum gore.” 7New York Post 8 September 1945


New York Daily News 8 September 1945 – review (by Wanda Hale)
New York Herald Tribune 8 September 1945 – review (by O.L.G. Jr)
New York Journal-American 8 September 1945 – review (by Rose Pelswick)
New York PM 8 September 1945 – review (by John T.McManus)
New York Post 8 September 1945 – review (by Archer Winsten)
New York Times 8 September 1945 – review (by T.M.P.)
New York World -Telegram 7 September 1945 – review (by Alton Cook)

Daily Film Renter no.7000 (15 November 1955) p.7 – review
Filmfax no.44 (April/May 1994) pp.50-56 – illustrated article (The films of Val Lewton and Boris Karloff by Stephen T. Vivona)
Filmviews vol.30 no.125 (Spring 1985) p.30 – review
Journal of Popular Film and Television, The vol.10 no.3 (Autumn 1982) pp.119-129 – illustrated article (The Horror Mythos and Val Lewton's Isle of the Dead by J. P. Telotte)
Kine Weekly no.2525 (17 November 1955) p.18 – review
The Listener vol.120 no.3092 (8 December 1988) p.47 – review
Midnight Marquee no.41 (Fall 1990 ) pp.4-16 – illustrated article Fearing the dark by Ed Bansak)
Midnight Marquee no.46 (Winter 1996) p.90 – review (by Gary J. Svehla)
Midnight Marquee no.52 (Fall 1996) pp.49-52 – review (by Gary J. Svehla)
Monthly Film Review vol.48 no.569 (June 1981) pp.122-123 – credits, synopsis, review (by Steve Jenkins)
Monthly Film Bulletin vol.23 no.264 (January 1956) p.8 – credits, review
Motion Picture Herald vol.160 no.10 (8 September 1945) – review
New York Motion Picture Critics Reviews vol.2 no.31 (10 September 1945) pp.222-223 – reprinted reviews
Radio Times vol.232 no.3008 (4-10 July 1981) pp.6-7 – illustrated article (Tasteful terror, elegant unease by Geoff Brown)
Today's Cinema vol.85 no.7396 (15 November 1955) p.6 – review

by Walt Lee p.224 – credits