Director – Nick Lyon, Screenplay – Jacob Cooney & Brandon Trenz, Producer – David Michael Latt, Photography – Laura Beth Love, Music – Chris Cano & Chris Ridenhour, Visual Effects Supervisor – Joseph J. Lawson, Production Design – Kalise Walace. Production Company – The Asylum.
Joey Lawrence (Lieutenant Paul Gibson), Maryse Oullet Mizanin (Dr Mikaela Usylvich), D.C. Douglas (Colonel Adrien Wexler), Todd Cattell (Captain Chuck Caesar), Kyle Butenhoff (Pugh), John Crotty (Kurtis), Paige Lauren Billiot (Cheryl)
Experiments at a US Army bacteriological warfare laboratory on an island in the South Pacific go wrong, creating a horde of zombies. Ten years later, a unit of US Special Forces soldiers arrive on the island to assess the situation. If they do not report back within a few hours, the island will be bombed. The team quickly comes under attack by zombies but are given shelter in the laboratory complex by Colonel Adrien Wexler, the head of the original experiments. They also learn that the team’s scientist Mikaela Usylvich is Wexler’s daughter. Wexler shows them that he has created a formula that allows the zombies to regain some of their mental faculties. However, as the team set out to obtain samples and get to the extraction point before the deadline, they discover that Wexler wants to use them in his experiments. Meanwhile, the zombies overrun the facility.
The zombie film has become legion throughout the 2000s. (For a more detailed overview of the genre see Zombie Films). It is something that has only sporadically been touched by the low-budget production company The Asylum, better known for their line of Mockbusters, which imitate the titles of other high-profile releases in the hope people will not look too closely. The Asylum have not delved into the zombie film as much as they have other fields like the gonzo killer shark film, most famously with Sharknado (2013). Of their handful of zombie films, three of these came from director Nick Lyon who previously made Zombie Apocalypse (2011) and Rise of the Zombies (2012).
Isle of the Dead was purportedly made as a homage to the Resident Evil videogames. Its genesis came out of a pitch made by D.C. Douglas who since 2007 has voiced the role of Albert Wesker, one of the principal protagonists in the games. In this film, the character’s name has been changed sufficiently – from Wesker to Wexler – to avoid copyright infringement issues. That said, you could easily see Isle of the Dead with its plot about a military team venturing into a complex made as one of The Asylum’s low-budget mockbuster versions of the Resident Evil games/films.
The main problem that Isle of the Dead faces is that since the zombie film’s revival in the mid-2000s filmmakers have churned through what feels like every possible permutation on the theme. When the zombie apocalypse has been served up on a weekly basis for over a decade in a tv show like The Walking Dead (2010-22), all creative possibilities soon get used up. This is why many of the zombie films from 2010 onwards start turning to comedic and deliberately ridiculous possibilities.
The problem that Isle of the Dead faces as it starts is the question of what can it add to an overly mined out genre. Not even appropriating the name of the classic Val Lewton work of psychological horror Isle of the Dead (1945) or for that matter Arnold Bocklin’s series of paintings seems to offer much enthusiasm over the promise of yet another zombie. And as it starts, Isle of the Dead seems in all regards just a regular B-budget zombie film filled with familiar scenes with soldiers fighting off hordes of the undead, the venture through a factory complex and so on.
On the other hand, with the introduction of D.C. Douglas’s scientist character, Isle of the Dead becomes somewhat more interesting. The script introduces a bunch of new ideas to the mix – experiments to return the dead to normal resulting in a lab full of zombies that are semi-aware and asking when they can go home. The ventures through the complex to get the antidote and make it out to the extraction point are conducted with a reasonable vigour on the part of Nick Lyon. Which at least makes the overly familiar material seems passably watchable.
Director Nick Lyon has become a specialist in low-budget genre fare, having also made the likes of Grendel (2007), Species: The Awakening (2007), Annihilation Earth (2009), Zombie Apocalypse (2011), Rise of the Zombies (2012), Foreclosed (2013), Bermuda Tentacles (2014), Hercules Reborn (2014), Stormageddon (2015), They Found Hell (2015), Earthtastrophe (2016), Shockwave (2017) and Titanic 666 (2022).