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Tower of Evil (1972)
[aka Horror Of Snape Island aka Horror On Snape Island aka Beyond The Fog]

"The island has a bad name, Mr Brent. Always has,
always will."
"Especially after the death of your father and those three American kids."

Director: Jim O’Connolly

Starring: Bryant Halliday, Jill Haworth, Anna Palk, Mark Edwards, Derek Fowlds, Jack Watson, Candace Glendenning, George Coulouris, Gary Hamilton

Screenplay: Jim O’Connolly, based upon a story by George Baxt

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Synopsis: On a foggy night, two fishermen, Hamp Gurney (Jack Watson) and his father, John (George Coulouris), sail towards Snape Island. Searching the rocky ground, the two are horrified to find the dead body of a young man. Inside the island’s abandoned lighthouse, the decapitated body of a woman is discovered. As John searches further, a naked young woman bursts from her hiding place and stabs him to death. She then attacks Hamp, who strikes her down. Taken to hospital, the girl, Penelope Reed (Candace Glendenning), lapses into catatonia. Assumed guilty of the murders of her companions, Penelope is given drug therapy in order to bring her out of her trance. Slowly, she begins to recall the events on the island, but starts screaming hysterically as she relives the deaths of her friends. Meanwhile, the discovery that one of the murder victims was impaled with an ancient gold spear has attracted the attention of archaeologists. Believing that the tomb of a Phoenician chief is concealed somewhere on the island, experts Ben and Nora Winthrop (Derek Fowlds, Anna Palk), Rose Mason (Jill Haworth) and Adam Martin (Mark Edwards) form an expedition party. They are joined by a private investigator, Brent (Bryant Halliday), hired by Penelope Reed’s parents to prove her innocence. The party is taken to Snape Island by Hamp Gurney and a young relative of his, Brom (Gary Hamilton). Brent tries to get Hamp to talk about the island and the killings, but without success. The party sets up camp within the lighthouse. Brent points out the sites of the killings to the others. Adam agrees with Brent’s belief that Penelope couldn’t possibly have impaled a grown man, but Ben argues that insanity may have given her sufficient strength. The group tries to determine whether anyone else could have been on the island, but Hamp avoids their questions. Back at the hospital, Penelope is given further treatment. As her memory begins to return, she is able to recount the truth about how her friends died….

Comments: Tower Of Evil is a particularly ugly example of early seventies horror. In fact, you’d go a long way before you found a better example of cinematic hypocrisy. With censorship restrictions lifted, screenwriter-director Jim O’Connolly leapt at the chance to send a parade of sex and nudity in front of his cameras. But, as we all know, sex is wrong. And so the characters who have so obligingly shown all are almost without exception brutally punished for their behaviour shortly afterwards.

The scenes of the discovery of the first two bodies are particularly distasteful. When the dead boy is found, he is naked but - naturally – face down. The dead girl, however, is naked but – even more naturally – face up. She’s been decapitated, so we don’t get a look at her face – not that anyone was interested in that; her breasts are in full view; and her right leg is bent awkwardly across her body to obscure the bits that even with loosened censorship you weren’t allowed to show.

The plot of Tower Of Evil, such as it is, involves two parallel stories, the flashbacks of the sexual misconduct and subsequent slaughter of the teenagers being intercut with the sexual misconduct and subsequent slaughter of the archaeologists. Both sets of characters are without exception unpleasant and irritating, as is so often the case in this type of film. Having been introduced to the teenagers, we soon understand why Penelope Reed was spared a horrible death. Stigmatised by her new boyfriend as "the only woman in Europe who doesn’t want to get laid", she is quick to assure him that, even so, "I know how to take care of a man" and proceeds to do so. Now since, as recent events have demonstrated, this doesn’t technically constitute having sex, Penelope doesn’t die: she gets to watch her friends butchered, kills someone herself, and ends up in a mental hospital instead. (It’s a great pity that she never gets to go to trial. I can just hear her testimony: "I did not have a sexual relationship with that man!")

As for the archaeologists, they’re even more fun than the kids are. Rose and Adam were once engaged, but Rose broke it off after catching Adam in bed with Nora, after which Ben started an affair with Rose. Got that? With this kind of back story, it’s kind of hard to pick the possible survivors, but by the time Nora Winthrop has smoked three joints, seduced Brom, and justified her marital infidelities by arguing, "Well, masturbation’s so boring!" it isn’t hard to guess who’ll be the first to die.

The group stays together in the dilapidated lighthouse until it is established that there is indeed a psychotic killer loose on the island, after which they all start wandering around by themselves in the dark. As you would. At this stage the story breaks into two parts, the hunt for the Phoenician tomb, and the hunt for the killer. It’s difficult to judge which plotline is sillier. Perhaps I shouldn’t even consider the business about the tomb as a "plot". If I didn’t have so much respect for Hitchcock, I’d call it a MacGuffin. Its only purpose it to provide an excuse for people to come to the island, to split Hamp and Brom away from the main group, and to provide some exotic killing utensils.

The underground set is totally unconvincing, yet still not as unconvincing as the alleged experts sent to look for it. Dressed like total professionals – skin-tight flares, mini-skirts, knee boots, go-go pants – and carrying all the tools of their profession – marijuana, red wine – these people are about as close to being archaeologists as they are to being likeable human beings. Spending time with these individuals makes you long for the killer to hurry up and get on with it, which he eventually does, but only after some extremely confusing business involving his identity and how long he’s been on the island, and a particularly stupid explanation for why he was there in the first place. (If anyone out there watching this film can actually work out the time-line of the history of the Gurney family, please let me know! I’ve watched it twice, and I can’t make head or tail of it.)

Anyway, finally there are a few bloody murders, a supposed twist to the story, a fire and an explosion, and it’s all over. I can usually find something positive to say about a film, but (as you may have noticed) I’m having a tough time with this one. Bryant Halliday as Brent escapes with his dignity intact, while Jill Haworth isn’t too annoying as Rose Mason, but probably only because her character has less to say than any of the others. Still, she does show a bit of nous towards the end, disposing of mad Michael and rescuing herself from the burning lighthouse. Otherwise, the only notable points are the icky use of crabs, seen clambering over corpses, and the single sad glimpse of the deranged Saul sobbing by his wife’s rotting corpse. Beyond that, I can’t really recommend this film to anyone other than connoisseurs of appalling seventies fashion. For them, Tower Of Evil is a veritable goldmine.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB