ISLANDS OF HORROR: NAZI MAD SCIENCE AND THE OCCULT IN SHOCK WAVES (1977), HELLBOY (2004), AND THE DEVIL'S ROCK (2011).
This article looks at the representation of the island within the Nazi-themed films Shock Waves (1977), Hellboy (2004) and The Devil's Rock (2011). These films all feature the island as a site of creation or containment, where the Nazis use the occult or scientific experimentation as a means of building or concealing secret weapons. The range of genres presented in these films covers comic book adaptations, science fiction and horror. Both Hellboy and The Devil's Rock are set during the latter stages of the war, while Shock Waves exhibits a contemporary setting. The films depend on the isolation provided by islands and here they use a wild, untameable terrain to underscore the barbarism of the demons and zombies conjured up by the Nazis. The structures present on the islands--an abandoned hotel, a ruined Gothic abbey, and a fortress--create a contrast with the mine-strewn beaches, thick undergrowth and primordial jungles encircling the islands. In the discussion that follows the representation of the island will be considered through the use and design of the narrative spaces, the choice of the island as a site of occult power or scientific transgression and the importance of the island's separation/ isolation.
A raft of Nazi-themed fantasy films and thrillers either imagine a desperate Third Reich attempting to turn the tide of war back in their favor, or the planned emergence of a Fourth Reich in the years after the war through scientific experimentation and the supernatural. The Oscar nominated film The Boys from Brazil (1978) follows the attempts of Dr Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) to create an army of new Adolf Hitlers through cloning. Meanwhile, in a range of adventure films, the Nazis seek Biblical relics such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Spear of Destiny or the Holy Grail to give them immense power. The locations of such plots vary, from isolated mountain fortresses and remote desert outposts to far-flung South American locales. Yet only a few of the narratives exploit the possibilities specifically offered by islands as a base of operations. It is my contention that the idea of containment found within the 'mad science' branch of horror is within these narratives a desperate contradiction within the quest for expansion demonstrated by the Nazis. Isolated, often untamed, yet ultimately confined, the use of islands within Nazi-themed horror films will form the focus of this discussion.
THE LURE OF ISLANDS
From the fabled Arthurian island of Avalon to the imposing penitentiary of Alcatraz, islands hold the power to both enchant and entrap. As a place to hide or escape from society, or to conceal treasured or dangerous objects, islands can often conjure a sense of intrigue and exotic thrills. Such distant islands are not always as remote as they sometimes appear. Island people have voyaged across borders by sea and long before the advent of commercial air travel. In such narratives of trade these "markets for exchange" (Beer 33) became "ports of call where fresh water might be obtained and rest, relaxation and perhaps refuge might be sought" (Royle 7). As the world has become more global the commercial exchanges have broadened, most noticeably through contemporary tourism, with many islands offering a luxury travel destination built on a promotion of exclusivity and isolation. This is the image that appears to have dominated western thought but it ignores the darker aspects of islands that can be found, for instance, in the plague islands of Makogai in Fiji, or Molokai in Hawai'i, where lepers were removed, quarantined away from communities of the healthy and uninfected. Rottnest Island in Western Australia has been variously a prison for the Aboriginal people, a penal colony, boys reformatory and internment camp, as well as latter day a holiday resort and nature reserve. Alcatraz, the famous 'rock' in the middle of shark-infested waters, has of course served as a lighthouse, military fortress, and a maximum security federal prison. The Scottish island of Gruinard was used to test anthrax as a weapon during World War II, chosen "because its sea boundary would limit the extent of the contamination to the island itself" (Royle 79). The use of the sea as a 'moat' served its purpose, and the island's quarantine only ended in 1990 (Royle 80). It is this shadow side of the island, its promise of removal, concealment and secrecy and its site of contained annihilation, that lends the space towards narratives of horror, fear and apocalypse.
Islands have provided many dramatic locations in popular fiction from the lair of a Bond villain in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), or Sky fall (2012) to the secret base of International Rescue in the Thunderbirds television show (1965-66). Perhaps the most familiar of the island tropes is that of the 'castaway', popularized by novels such as Robinson Crusoe (1719), The Swiss Family Robinson (1812), and Treasure Island (1883). Rebecca Weaver-Hightower contends that "the island, with its natural geographic borders, becomes the perfect imaginary space for an individual person to inhabit and solely command--to, in short, colonize" (xx). For her, the nineteenth-century castaway narratives depicted the process of colonization as both "unavoidable" and "legitimate" since the islands in question were devoid of an indigenous population willing to challenge a claim to ownership (xiv). In these narratives, the castaway civilizes the island, domesticating animals or collecting building material to recreate their lost home. There is a notable tendency in such stories for castaways to rush "to salvage what they can from the wrecked craft, symbol of their old world, before it vanishes," with the narratives focusing upon the "transition from survivor to colonist," a process during which the protagonist 'claims' the space by climbing a mountain to survey the extent of the land (Weaver-Hightower 1). Within these colonial literary narratives, where occupants already exist, the island is found to be the home of pirates or cannibals--savage local tribes without the benefits of the Enlightenment--functioning in primitive, lawless and disordered spaces.
This discussion is concerned with screen narratives that are set on islands of horror. In the horror film, isolation compounds the terror and fear of abandonment presented by the island. Such fears emerge in Isle of the Dead (1945), in which an island is placed into quarantine following an outbreak of plague, forcing the healthy into coexistence with the sick. The exploitation film Humongous (1982) further addressed the island as a place to abandon the unwanted, with a remote island a substitute home for the monstrous offspring of a brutal rape. Such an island contains a dark family secret as well as affording privacy as can be seen in The Woman in Black (2012), in which an ominous house cut off by the tide becomes a forbidden place. Privacy also lends itself to the island's role as a means of containment in H.G. Wells's novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). Here, a doctor conducts illicit experiments in his efforts to create hybrid species by splicing together humans and animals. The remote island both preserves Dr. Moreau's work from outside scrutiny and prevents his experiments from escaping his control. The genetic splicing conducted in Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park (1990) is an updating of Wells's story and turns the Steven Spielberg family-friendly film adaptation (1993) into a variation of the 'mad science' branch of horror fiction. Yet where Dr. Moreau continues his experiments in isolation, the dinosaur theme park invites the outside world onto the island with dramatic consequences when the containment system fails. In King Kong (1933), such a form of containment is actively overcome by Kong's forced removal from Skull Island, and his exhibition in the urban arena of the New York metropolis.
An urban island, that of London's Isle of Dogs, becomes an oasis amid the backdrop of the zombie-ridden metropolis in 28 Weeks Later (2007). The horror in this film presents dual images of the island, as an isolated quarantine station, and as a safe haven, defensible against threats from the outside. The uninfected humans on the Isle of Dogs become Weaver-Hightower's castaway colonists, removed from their former existence and forced into a new colony by the zombie plague. In fact, islands have become easy locations for zombie narratives, in films such as Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979) and The Rezort (2015), where the opportunities for escape are limited or completely removed and the impure prey on the as-yet un-contaminated. In contrast, the rogue inhabitants of the Scottish island of Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973), use their isolation to lure an unsuspecting victim for the sake of their pagan practices and to encourage the future fertility of their agriculture. The victim, a virgin, is to arrive of his own free will, and is destined to never leave, sacrificed for the needs of the 'monstrous' island community. On the other side of the British Isles, supernatural thriller The Others (2001) uses the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis during World War II as a backdrop for its horrors. While the Nazis never appear on screen during the film, their shadowy presence lingers around the rambling house like the enveloping fog that pervades the narrative.
NAZIS AND THE OCCULT
Since the early years of World War II, many dark rumors have circulated of Nazi attempts to build or discover weapons to hasten the end of the war in their favor. In popular culture, narratives tend towards either an occult explanation or a variation on the 'mad science' motif. For many commentators, the occult connection dates to the 1930s, when Heinrich Himmler dedicated an SS department, the Ahnenerbe, to a research project exploring "the supposed prehistoric origins of the Aryan and Nordic peoples" (Staudenmaier 89). As Julian Strube writes, "[t]he 'research' of the Ahnenerbe was conducted for ideological and propaganda reasons in order to establish an SS influence on the German academic landscape" (341). This focus upon ideology created an imprint of the occult for historians and the wider public imagination, fueled by earlier books that had explored a dark link. By the 1960s, popular books such as Le Matin des magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians, 1960) had built on the accounts that were present in the texts Occult Causes of the Present War (1943) and Le tyran nazi et les forces occultes (The Nazi tyrant and the occult forces, 1945). Eric Kurlander views deeper roots, noting the occult origins of Nazism lie within the esoteric interests of the Thule Society, an "apolitical" organization founded in January 1918 (39), and he argues that without the Thule Society, "the Nazi Party would almost certainly not have been born" (46). Kurlander also suggests the use of the term "supernatural" rather than "occult" to characterize the eclectic beliefs and practices of early twentieth-century Germany (xiv). Such a broadening of scope allows scholars to include "important 'border sciences' [... and] the Nazi search for 'miracle technologies'" (xv). The latter characterizing some of the narratives present in Nazi horror cinema, and which can be seen in a film such as Shock Waves.
Whatever the genesis of occult-based thought, links between Nazism and the supernatural and a preoccupation with occult relics, abound within contemporary cinema. The opening scenes of Constantine (2005) show a man discover the mythical Spear of Destiny, allegedly used to pierce the side of Christ on the cross, wrapped in a Nazi flag in the Mexican desert. Superhero film Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) explores the creation of a deformed supervillain, the head of a secret organization within the Nazis, intent upon winning the war using occult means. His discovery of the Tessaract, an artifact of immense power, within a carving of Yggdrasil, the 'world tree' of Norse mythology, extends the Nazi predilection for the occult into the party's obsession with their supposed Nordic past. Even the family-friendly Indiana Jones adventure films (1981-2008) depict the occult leanings of the Nazis as they seek to turn the tide of the war using religious artifacts. It is in The Keep (1983) where the Nazis are drawn towards isolation for their occult activities, and where subsequently they free a demon trapped long-ago in an old mountain fortress. Yet recent films such as Dod sno (Dead Snow, 2009), Frankenstein's Army (2013) and the Outpost series (2008-2013) turn away from the occult to engage with the extreme notion of Nazi zombies; the former deals with Nazi zombies preserved by the Norwegian permafrost, while Frankenstein's Army and the Outpost films explore the intentional creation of super-soldiers. Crucially, these fantasies incorporate elements of history, with the Nazis commandeering isolated locales for their nefarious purposes.
ISLANDS OF THE OCCULT
With a seemingly finite boundary, Jill Franks argues that islands "exert a unique appeal because they are contained spaces, and therefore, theoretically at least, controllable" (7). Even those islands connected to a mainland are subject to isolation at specific times of the day due to changing tides, which define any ease to which there is access in or out. Such firm borders allow for protection, both against invading forces from across the sea, and towards forces emanating from the island itself. This feature of islands as "controllable" spaces makes them ideal locations for special scientific experiments. The U.S. film Hellboy, based upon the Dark Horse comics of the same name, places such an island at the center of the titular character's origin story. Professor Bruttenholm (Kevin Trainor) explains in a voiceover that on October 9, 1944, he found himself on a "classified mission off the coast of Scotland" to disrupt an attempt by the Nazis to combine "science and black magic" to alter the course of the war. An island near Scotland for such an experiment is a bold move, placing the Nazi division close to the Allied forces of Great Britain. The isolation provided by the island is seemingly a reason for choosing the location, the means of containing whatever may be conjured, and a smokescreen to hide the occult activities taking place. Viewers further learn that Bruttenholm acts as a paranormal advisor to President Roosevelt, normalizing such concerns with the occult within the context of the diegetic world. Such occult tendencies have already been referenced in the film's opening title card, purporting to be an extract from De Vermis Mysteriis, a grimoire invented by horror writer Robert Bloch, and later referenced by H.P. Lovecraft and F. Paul Wilson. The extract foretells the return of the Ogdru Jahad, or Seven Gods of Chaos.
During a thunderstorm, Bruttenholm accompanies a detachment of U.S. soldiers across the remote island. One of the soldiers exclaims that "there's nothing on this island but sheep and rocks!" Bruttenholm corrects him since the "rocks" are in fact ruins, the remains of an abbey "built on the intersection of ley lines." For believers, ley lines act as mystical highways of energy that criss-cross the globe. The intersection of two or more lines becomes a place of immense power and, according to folklore, the boundaries between worlds appear much thinner in these spaces. An island is perhaps an obvious location for such an intersection; the liminality of the island already places it as a 'between' space, neither part of the mainland nor at one with the sea.
The soldiers navigate the unforgiving landscape of the island, fighting driving rain, undulating terrain and twisted, half-dead trees. This is no rural idyll, and the landscape and the weather work to hold back the detachment. The island should be deserted, and its geography suggests an inability to maintain civilization. In fact, it functions in this film's opening as an embellished set, where the "production stresses values that are highly determining, verisimilitudinous yet unfamiliar, and intentionally striking" (Affron 38). The design is elevated beyond a setting that merely establishes time and location; it draws attention to itself to create an atmosphere conducive to an occult experiment. Moments later, the soldiers encounter the forbidding, Gothic ruins of the abbey, which draws on iconic images from the horror genre and from films such as Dracula (1931), to connect the built environment with the arcane work conducted inside. Such ruined abbeys exist, preventing the design from moving toward the Set as Artifice, grounding the narrative in a sense of heightened reality common to 'mad science' films (Affron 39). Within the abbey, broken walls rear from the cloying ground, churned into mud by jack boots and machinery. The empty windows are devoid of stained glass, creating an absence of religious imagery in a once spiritual space. Instead, the swastika, an icon with ancient origins, hangs from its rain-swept walls. The machinery standing in the center of its former nave further represents the conversion of a once active religious space into an occult laboratory.
Hellboy borrows from occult history to legitimize its narrative. Nazi assassin Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) is labelled as the head of the Thule Occult Society, though the status or purpose of the Society, or indeed its true place within history, is never established within the Hellboy universe. Elsewhere in the sequence, Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) leads the operation to punch a hole in the universe and grant access to our world to the Seven Gods of Chaos. Somehow still alive, Rasputin, Russia's infamous "Mad Monk"--he is de scribed by Bruttenholm as the "occult advisor to the Romanovs,"--facilitates the intersection between the occult and science. As he dons a mechanical glove to direct the machinery, Rasputin opens the portal. The Americans intervene and, during the ensuing chaos, a scientist is thrown into its energy field, his body instantly disintegrating upon contact. Hellboy, a baby creature from the other side, manages to cross the boundary into our world, whereupon he is adopted by Bruttenholm. With the crisis temporarily averted, the menacing dark blue of the previous night gives way to the warm tones of early morning. The existence of the interdimensional portal enables the island to break free of its status as a 'controllable' space, which leaves it vulnerable. For Franks, "[i]slands are extremely vulnerable to attack; once island defenders lose control [...] they have to fall back on their own resources and defenses, which are usually insufficient to match the onslaught of larger powers" (8). With the allies having breached the Nazis' experimental space, the opened then closed portal renders the island vulnerable having been exposed to cosmic threats, since this island can now be extended into multiple dimensions, stretching it beyond its natural borders.
Gillian Beer disagrees as to the "controllable" borders of the island. For her, the boundaries of an island are not so easily defined, since "the shore and the sea coexist in a shifting liminality as the tide recedes and reclaims the land" (33). The temporary nature of the beach gives way to fluctuating demarcations of the island's boundary. Christena E. Nippert-Eng further notes that "[t]he beach is so fascinating because here is where individuals' different expectations about the edges of the land and the water--where they are and where they should be--come together" (4). The beach/ boundary of the Scottish island in Hellboy is never shown, but The Devil's Rock uses the beach of Forau Island to highlight the unwelcoming nature of the island. Tank traps are scattered across the sand, a visible means of repelling invaders and a sign for visitors that this space is controlled. Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater), two New Zealand army commandos who are sent to the island to disable a large gun battery within a bunker/fort, realize they have landed on the wrong beach. Circumstances force them to take a slow, painstaking approach to the sandy terrain, which is riddled with explosive mines. Yet once across, their arduous ordeal is far from over since the pair must also traverse a forest to reach the battery.
The emplacement itself clings to a cliff above the beach, and it looms across the landscape. The camera is angled up towards the bunker, enabling it to dominate the scene whilst emphasizing the insignificance of the two soldiers in the face of its defensive might. A German Range Finding and Observation Tower in Guernsey provided the visual inspiration for the design of the emplacement in this New Zealand-made movie, although the film was shot using New Zealand locations, including the tunnels of a hilltop fort, Wrights Hill Fortress, in Wellington. On approaching the fort, Grogan and Tane hear hideous screams from within, whilst ominous red lighting bathes the entry staircase in scarlet. Since no obvious red light source exists inside, the choice to use red becomes a production design decision of the film to underscore the version of hell that lies below; a charnel house of terror, in the claws of a succubus (see figure 2) conjured up by a Nazi commander, awaits the commandos who decide to venture down. This detour from their mission, already derailed by their landing on the wrong beach, is prompted by knowledge of the inhumanity displayed by the Nazis.
Navigational difficulties also beset a party of tourists in Shock Waves. Following a strange weather anomaly and a vicious storm, the group are forced to decamp from their sinking diving boat to a nearby island. The wreck of a ship dominates the horizon in the near distance, a vessel deemed to be the 'ghost ship' that almost ran them aground the night before. A galley hand ominously intones that the "sea spits up what it can't keep down." Such a personification of the sea, the vast open space surrounding their stricken boat, reinforces the capricious whims of nature, while underlining the group's isolation. The nearby tropical island stands in contrast to the rotting hull of the ship, and the tourists reach it using the glass-bottomed dinghy used by the crew to lead sightseeing trips in the area. The shoreline is not littered with tank traps like that of Forau Island, yet the marshy land along the beach and its half dead trees at the water's edge contradict the palm trees and white sand so typical of images of glamorous tropical islands. In this, the island better recalls that of Treasure Island (1883), in which "[t]he island itself is a dreadful place of disease, death, pestilence and want, far from the Edenic norms of an island paradise" (Royle 121). While an island paradise would have provided a greater juxtaposition between a luxury getaway and the presence of Nazi soldiers, it could be argued that it is the presence of the Nazis, and the failed experiment to create super-soldiers, that remakes the island in their image, turning the space from a luxury hotel resort into a primordial jungle space overcome by death.
One of the tourists climbs a tree for a better view and spots a structure further inland. The Italian-esque building among the trees provides little hope of refuge. Ferns lie across the stairs and outside walkways, a sign of nature's reclamation of the once civilized space. Signs of creeping plant life appear all throughout the dilapidated former hotel, a building which functions as the Set as Punctuation (Affron 38). Here, the thick vegetation outside serves to establish a location, but the unfamiliar hotel, unexpected in this overgrown jungle, punctuates the design to draw attention to a place that once was alive. This serves to further underscore isolation of the island. James J. Ward explains that the film's exterior scenes were shot in Matheson Hammock Park in Miami, "a location that concurrently looked like an inviting vacation resort and a place of menace and dread. The park afforded Caribbean island-like ocean vistas, beachfronts and lush vegetation on the one hand, viscous pools, thick, oily mud and sand, and dense tangles of mangrove roots on the other" (105).
Such an environment, simultaneously inviting and terrifying, tropical and elemental, prefigures the group's gruesome discovery: an SS Commander (Peter Cushing) lives in the former hotel, having arrived on the island before the end of World War II. His former vessel is the rotting wreck viewed on the horizon. Underwater footage details the journey of the still-active soldiers to the island. Close-up shots depict knee-high black leather boots stepping out of the wreck to walk along the sea bed. The framing introduces the soldiers using familiar Nazi iconography, to the extent that these figures are turned into caricatures. Denying them personality or individual expression, the film draws on the notion of the Nazis as "the preferred cinematic embodiment of evil" (Bridges 75). These super-Nazis do not float as a living human would, buoyed by the air in the lungs, instead walking on the sea bed in a fashion reminiscent of the dead pirates of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). The soldiers, or 'zombies' are able to cross the distance between the ship and the island irrespective of the water (see figure 3). Later, they use the waterways to travel across the island, remaining unseen within the landscape, emerging only to either observe their prey, or attack. Significantly these aquatic residents are not bound by the normal constraints of an island.
On an island, an individual can only travel so far in a single direction until reaching water again. Like the maze whose twists and turns deposit the explorer back where they started, the island conjures feelings of deja vu, as time and again the wanderer reaches the sea, a sensation that veers towards Sigmund Freud's uncanny compulsion to repeat certain actions or find patterns in seemingly innocuous places (359). The sense of isolation becomes one of being continually surrounded; the seemingly boundless expanse of the ocean beyond the beach becomes a source of confinement, a "largely untameable" expanse of sea which unlike an expanse of land cannot be "moulded and reconfigured [...] through human intervention" (Sedgwick 46). Without transportation, the sea cannot be crossed by humankind. Yet islands are not entirely disconnected. Their land mass links to other land masses through the sea bed. While the sea bed is not always visible, it remains present as the island's foundation. The nature of the island as a discrete parcel of land is only temporary, subject to the raising or lowering of the sea level to flood the land or reconnect islands to a nearby mainland (Royle 26). The Nazi soldiers possess the ability to navigate these hidden landscapes to move between connected lands in a way that is denied to the living.
Julian Petley believes Shock Waves to be relatively low in gore "but high on mood and atmosphere," where its "repeated shots of the zombies looming out of the water and advancing with seemingly unstoppable momentum are actually extremely effective in communicating the brutally invincible quality so often conjured in war films and documentaries by images of the Nazi Blitzkrieg" (207). Meanwhile, Shawn McIntosh points to Revenge of the Zombies (1943) as an earlier film involving the use of Nazi zombies (6). Yet it can be argued that the invincible soldiers of Shock Waves are not strictly zombies--the corps demonstrates an ability to think and act as a group beyond the usual capacity of cinematic zombies. Moreover, the method of their creation is not described in detail but there is no indication that they are the revived dead; rather, they were transmuted into their death-defying forms from a range of criminals. The tagline describes them as "[b]eneath the living ... Beyond the dead ...," while exclaiming that "[o]nce they were almost human!" Their existence as social misfits prior to transmutation places them into a liminal existence from which they never fully escape, even following their lengthy spell at the bottom of the sea. Yet this still does not place them into the ranks of the zombie. Rose (Brooke Adams) kills one by pulling off his goggles; the exposure of his eyes to sunlight causes the soldier to writhe in pain, equating the soldier more closely with the vampire. Perhaps there is more to their creation than mad science but their failure to behave as intended underscores the lack of success inherent within the Nazi searches for 'perfect weapons.' These Totenkorps must ultimately be removed from service while the succubus of The Devil's Rock kills more German soldiers than the Allies. It is in these moments of horror that the island serves as a containment zone for the abject failures.
Such is their isolation, none of the islands depicted in Shock Waves, Hellboy, or The Devil's Rock feature any supporting structures for transport. There are no jetties or harbors, no ports or landing stages, and no air strips. Only They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968) breaks with this pattern. Originally released in 1963 as Madmen of Mandoras, the film was extended and re-released in 1968 for television as They Saved Hitler's Brain. In both versions, Nazi officials preserve the head of Adolf Hitler to preside over a future incarnation of the Third Reich. Mandoras refers to the fictional South American country in which they hide the head. It is an island nation with an air strip and tiny airport which appears very Americanized, and is largely devoid of any discernible South American style. The size of this island is underscored by the police chief's description of the Hotel Mandoras as being "the only one we have." And in a brief nod to its South American setting, its rough stucco walls recall the typical adobe houses found in Mexico. The stronger sense of civilization reflects the clinical science at the heart of the endeavor to preserve Hitler's brain, compared with the animalistic demon and the uncontrollable zombie soldiers.
The hotel of Shock Waves sees no such science conducted within its walls. Instead, its faded grandeur plays host to the exiled SS Commander. Like the soldiers, still 'alive' some thirty years after the war, the building is a contradiction in terms. A gramophone plays Beethoven, its antiquated musical stylings at odds with both the Italian design of the hotel and the tropical location of the island. The Commander informs the beleaguered tourists that they "have entered uninvited." While the thick vegetation and myriad of waterways around the hotel act to deter visitors, a hotel implies hospitality and welcome. No invitation should be required for these tourists, yet with no obvious landing point or harbor, and no signs of habitation visible from the shoreline, it begs the question as to how guests ever arrived at the hotel. During their exploration of the premises, the tourists also find no obvious way to contact the mainland, such as a radio or telegraph.
The film relies upon its design to communicate the predicament of the tourists. With the hotel in such a sorry state of repair, and beset by wandering Totenkorps, the visitors have little hope of refuge or shelter. Curiously, the building appears as an anomaly, as almost a folly built to mimic a hotel without performing its intended functions, like a movie set with no fourth wall or working plumbing. In this regard, the interior elevates the hotel to the Embellished Set, where "the viewer cannot fail to read the design as a specific necessity of the narrative" (Affron 38). The hotel needs to offer a sliver of hope, achieved through the luxury of the downstairs areas, but the juxtaposition with the dilapidated nature of the neglected upper floors punctures the tourists' initial hopes of rescue. The bedrooms are barely furnished, yet the kitchen seems oddly well equipped. The abundance of new crockery and kitchen equipment contrasts with the poor state of repair displayed in the rest of the building, highlighting the general sense of isolation and disuse of the hotel.
At the heart of this decaying monument to opulence the group find the ornate study used by the SS Commander. A Nazi flag hangs above the fireplace, while tall windows let in plenty of light between the heavy drapes. The chamber recalls the Nazi castle base of Indiana /ones and the Last Crusade (1989), an anachronistic throwback to the glory of the Third Reich set against the desert island tranquility and groovy 1970s fashions of the unwelcome tourists. During this sequence, the SS Commander explains the creation of his Death Corps, harvested from the criminal element to create super-soldiers, capable of operating in any environment. The soldiers under his command are the water unit, and were removed from active service due to the discovery that they cannot be controlled, turning them into a liability in battle. The decision, however, to scuttle the transporting ship off the coast of a deserted island is somewhat questionable given their aquatic abilities.
While Shock Waves posits the decaying shell of a desert island hotel as its abandoned central structure, The Devil's Rock restricts its focus to the wartime space of the fort. Far from being abandoned, this building is wracked with the frustrated screams of the succubus. The underground tunnels belie the size of the structure above ground. The long corridors are lit from above, its tiled walls and concrete floor turning the complex into a maze where every route seems identical. Some of the tunnels extend into impenetrable darkness raising questions around the nature of time itself in this subterranean space. Combined with the lack of windows, the removal of temporality casts the space into a liminal hinterland between day and night. Such liminality reflects the tension between the English and German forces vying for control of the island, as well as the tension between the German commander and the infernal demon he has brought forth.
Elizabeth Bridges argues that "all narratives that deal with Nazism revive Hitler and his troops in order to vanquish them again" (77). Due to the open-ended nature of The Devil's Rock and Shock Waves, there is a case to be made that there are exceptions to such a supposition. The demonic succubus may destroy the Nazi commander in the Channel Islands, but she remains behind, awaiting the arrival of more fresh meat. No one vanquishes the Totenkorps of Shock Waves; escape is the only option, rather than outright defeat. Yet in neither case does the evil spread beyond the borders of the island. The soldiers remain close to their scuttled ship, while the succubus cannot cross water, and therefore remains on Forau Island. The promise of containment provided by the island enables this open-ended horror to occur. These occult or scientific experiments remain bound to the island space, and the isolation of the islands in these narratives enables the efforts of the Nazi commanders to initially contain the threat posed by their secret but malfunctioning weapons.
The island structures are chosen to ultimately subvert their meaning. The privacy of the luxury hotel turns it into an abandoned remote hideout, the abbey's promise of sanctuary acts as the site of an invitation to interdimensional beings intent on chaos, while the fortress, intended as a space of defense, becomes the site of a plot to create a new weapon. Yet, in each case, the location of the islands supports the Nazi decisions to utilize their isolation. The tropical island fulfills its role in the popular imagination as the perfect hideaway. The rocky outcrops of the British Isles draw upon national folklore to make them the ideal place to cross the boundaries into other worlds. The liminality of these latter islands enables them to act as portals; not only are they between land and sea, they are also between dimensions in both time and space. None of these narratives support Weaver-Hightower's "Monarch of all they survey" colonist moment (1); none of the characters, Nazi or otherwise, manage to successfully colonize these islands. While the non-Nazi characters attempt to survey the islands to find either their enemies or a source of help, they only see fragments, with the view obscured by the terrain. Here, the design and the topography combine to conceal the Nazi experiments from those who would thwart their work.
The set design remains at the level of the Embellished Set: sufficient to draw the attention of the viewer, but not to divert attention from the occult creations and scientific experiments. This underscores the isolation of the islands by adding to the narrative with their unfamiliarity. The unwelcoming and even forbidding built structures find their counterparts in the dangerous, natural environments that encircle each island. While the sea provides a primary moat, lending a modicum of safety to the occult experiments, the beaches, jungles, and rocky terrain further impede progress. Acting as a secondary moat, these primitive spaces hold back incursions from human visitors to the island, while curtailing the attempts of the occult visitors to journey beyond their island confines. The containment promised by the islands literally contradicts the Nazi desire for expansion by preventing the demons and zombies, representing their quest for victory, from reaching civilization. Islands represent the furthest extremity of isolation and, in these narratives, the furthest extremity of human behavior.
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Caption: Fig. 1: In the middle of an occult laboratory, the Nazis stand ready to usher in a new world of chaos.
Caption: Fig. 2: Conjured up by a Nazi commander, the succubus of The Devil's Rock.
Caption: Fig. 3: The aquatic Totenkorps emerge on the island using their waterways.
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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