31 Days of Horror: Tower of Evil

Day Three takes us to a craggy island (but not Craggy Island) off the coast of England, the site of a derelict lighthouse and horrible murders. The film is Tower of Evil (1972) and it contains a ton of stuff that’s right in my wheelhouse.

“It’s just a model.”

The story begins with the discovery of a triple murder on the island, the so-called Snape Island, which is going to elicit chuckles from Harry Potter fans. The three dead are touring Americans, and the sole survivor has been driven mad by what she witnessed. She kills one of her rescuers in her insane state, which gets her committed to a mental hospital while the police decide what to do with the case.

Curiously, one of the murdered Americans was slain with a ceremonial spear made of solid gold, a type of spear found only at Phoenician burial sites (although closed captioning kept render this as “Venetian,” so I was wondering why he wasn’t strangled by a set of blinds). This piques the interest of a British museum—maybe the British Museum, but it’s unclear—who puts together a team of professional archeologists to explore the island and find evidence of Phoenician visitors to England in the dim past. It goes without saying that these professional archeologists are all in their mid-to-late-twenties, are engaged in adulterous affairs with one another, and don’t seem particularly good at what they do. You know: movie archeologists. Coming along for the ride is an American private investigator hired by the insane girl’s family to clear her of the three murders. The team picks up some additional future body count—I mean help—in the guise of a local fisherman and his nephew, who looks like he’s at least Mick Jagger’s second cousin.

Once on the island, it’s clear that just about everyone has something to hide and soon everyone is up to something shady. Some vanish for a time, while others are just trying to get another team member into the sack. Strange flute playing and ghastly laughter suggest that the group may not be alone on Snape Island, a fact that’s confirmed when the first murder happens. There’s somebody out there in the dark, and that somebody has sharp implements.

Tower of Evil crept onto my Amazon watchlist and I frankly have no idea how it got there. I’m nevertheless grateful it did as I found it surprisingly entertaining. The movie ticked off a number of my “Yes, please” boxes, including but not limited to: maritime themes, ancient cults, Baal worship, C-grade British film studios, Chekov’s paraffin tank, and many, many dubbed actors for a movie filmed in English. All that was missing was some good ol’ Sawney Bean cannibalism and the film would have hit all the sweet spots. It does though feature the goofiest demonic idol I’ve ever seen. I’m truly not sure if it’s just being friendly or flipping me off.

“How many fingers am I holding up?”

For a movie I had no memory of choosing and no reason to expect anything good of, Tower of Evil was a pleasant surprise and is the best film I’ve seen so far this month (he says on Day Three). It even begins with a credit sequence filmed over an old school miniature model as a practical effect, and I love me a good movie model. The movie appears to have gained an underground following and the plot would make for a good role-playing game scenario if you’re into investigative horror. Likely, your players will be unfamiliar with is so you can use it “as is” just as easily as inspiration for another story. All this means I’m giving Tower of Evil a solid four out of five skulls. Deduct ½ a skull if you’re not into model lighthouses.

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