Island of 1,000 Delights (1978)
Directed by Hubert Frank
Starring Olivia Pascal, Philippe Garnier
Release Date: April 28, 1978
Hubert Frank was the undisputed king of filmed softcore fumbling throughout the 1970’s. Mainly working out of Germany, the Czech-born director churned out T&A comedies, soapy sex dramas and erotically-charged thrillers like sausages, many landing on late night cable TV screens stateside.
These films titillated post-pubescent night owls via Cinemax and Showtime for a decade before being forgotten in the age of DVD. ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS was one of the most often screened, Frank’s attempt to mix T&A with danger and action. Does it work? Well, eventually.
Far away on the sun-baked Seychelles, vile sex trafficker Howard (Arthur Brauss) abducts local women to sell into slavery. His arch nemesis is the equally ruthless millionaire Lady Henriette (Lili Muráti) who has troubles of her own. Michael, her lout of a nephew (Philippe Garnier) has gambled away his part of the family fortune and is in deadly debt to the villainous Howard. His mistress Sylvia (Elisa Servier) cooks up a scheme to murder dear Auntie as wife Julia (Bea Fiedler) becomes an oddly willing pawn in the shenanigans. All the while a snoopy P.I. named Peggy (Olivia Pascal) investigates the slavers and uncovers 86 minutes worth of shifting loyalties, icky torture and sexual intrigue.
ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS certainly gets off to an odd start. The film opens on Howard and his henchman (Otto Retzer, who plays a similar role in Jess Franco’s SADOMANIA) herding a group of island women onto a boat, sending them into a life of sexual slavery. This grim picture cuts abruptly to a dreamy sex scene between two islanders on a picturesque beach. We are then introduced to all the characters in a big lump as director Frank tries to set up three films at once: sex fantasy, action drama and soap opera.
The problem isn’t so much that the tone shifts from scene to scene, it’s that the change often happens within the same scene. The first half of the film is a bit like three films being projected onto the same screen simultaneously. The viewer feels like they are stuck in traffic. Just when things start to be moving (action drama) you suddenly grind to a halt and wait (soap opera).
One glaring example is a rather nasty torture scene between star Olivia Pascal and Otto Retzer. Retzer menaces Pascal with a brutal beating and a hot light bulb, yet her escape from his clutches is played like a slapstick chase from a German sex comedy. It’s as jarring as someone switching channels on you mid-scene.
Fortunately, Frank discards the multi-strand approach for the film’s second half and it becomes a much more enjoyable experience. Not hampered by the inconveniences of logic and continuity, ISLAND begins to gel and genuine suspense begins to build. Now that we know what type of film we are watching, we can start to latch on to the characters and really appreciate the twists and turns the story tosses in our path. There are a few surprises to be had and the previously routine sex scenes are replaced by ones with a lot of heat that actually advance the plot…or throw red herrings our way.
While the English dubbing is dire and the plot ludicrous, those points illustrate how above-par Frank’s cast is. Lili Muráti, who plays the matriarch of this sordid affair, was a celebrated stage and screen actress whose career began in 1935. One of her smallest film roles was also one of her most notable. As the “train jumper” in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, the stunt went terribly wrong and her legs were seriously injured. The incident even made its way, albeit highly exaggerated, into the publicity of the film. Muráti recovered and spent several more decades on screen. Her talents are wasted here, but her presence is felt and her performance is solid.
While the film’s advertising gives Olivia Pascal star billing, her role is actually pretty small. She functions like a less central “Black Emanuelle” type who ends up observing the dirty machinations of her co-stars without actually getting particularly involved.
The center of the film is the icy mistress Sylvia played by French actress Elisa Servier. She quite surprised me with her ability to be absolutely believable in every scene as she adopts a different personality for each character she encounters. Servier’s Sylvia expertly twists her fellow characters around her little finger and bends them into the shape needed for her many schemes. It’s performance meant for a much better film.
While the direction is routine, the photography is clever and varied. The beauty of the Seychelles is well-served while the plot is advanced and enhanced by terrific lighting and sound design. The score is upbeat softporn-tastic and hum-worthy. On the technical side the film ticks all the boxes.
ISLAND shifts into high gear as it comes to a close with suspense, sexual heat and thrills a plenty. Fists fly, bombs blow and skin gets bared in an effective and entertaining way. It is involving enough to make the routine first half of the film forgivable.
ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS can be neatly summed up as: Beautiful people do ugly things in beautiful places. Naked.
Despite the film’s ubiquity on cable television in the 80’s and 90’s, it is a bit obscure these days. Finding it can be a challenge. In the US, TV tended to use the ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS title. On VHS it was released as both TRIANGLE OF VENUS and SAVAGE INMATES. There is a DVD (though how official it is, I don’t know) available in the US called SEX FEVER ON THE ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS, which I’m told is a cut version. It is available uncut on DVD under it’s original title, DIE INSEL DER TAUSEND FREUDEN, in Germany.
It may have taken a while to get rolling, but I would recommend ISLAND OF 1,000 DELIGHTS. No, it isn’t sexy enough for the raincoat folks or violent enough for the action crowd. However, the film will be a fond look back for anyone nostalgic for the days of dubbed 70’s skinflicks on cable TV that played out in front of our innocent teenage eyes.