Our Daily Trailer: TANYA’S ISLAND (NSFW)

Phil takes our nice Monkey Week theme and drives it straight into the gutter.

When we think about cinematic apes in the golden age of practical FX, Rick Baker is the artist that most likely comes to mind. His work on Schlock and The Kentucky Fried Movie, as well as the more effective moments of 1976’s King Kong, made him the go-to guy for ape suits, and helped launch his groundbreaking career in creature design. His work for 2001’s Planet of the Apes remains, in my opinion, the last word in prosthetic simian drag. But Baker wasn't the only guy making monkeys back in the day. His peer Rob Bottin, best known for his game-changing work in The Thing, The Howling and Robocop, has an obscure yet remarkable ape in his closet. That ape's name is Blue, and he’s the unlikely romantic lead of Tanya’s Island.

Tanya’s Island was co-written by the film's director Alfred Sole (Alice, Sweet Alice) and an uncredited Mick Garris (SleepwalkersThe Stand). On Trailers From Hell Garris claims that the final film bears little resemblance to the script he helped pen. That’s not surprising, because you just can’t plan for the kind of crazy on display in Tanya’s Island. DD Winters is the titular (just gonna leave that there for you) Tanya, a beautiful model in a relationship with a fiery painter named Lobo (Richard Sargent). It may or may not surprise you to learn that a guy named Lobo is a violent misogynist, but he totally is. Poor Tanya is on the receiving end of his sexually abusive behavior more than once, and she finally flees to an island. To Tanya’s Island. There she encounters Blue (Don McLeod), the beastly yet compassionate missing link between man and ape.

And then she fucks him.

Trigger warnings all day long, but from there the film becomes a vicious, viscous, clothing-optional love triangle. Lobo, positively livid at being cuckolded by a Bigfoot, sets out to hunt down and trap ol’ Blue, leading to a jungle showdown between the three lovers. It’s all very naked and sweaty and right out of a romance novel, if heroines in romance novels banged Sasquatch.

 

The madness of Tanya’s Island was first teased to me in the Summer 1980 issue of Cinefantastique, where the magazine gave the steamy film equal coverage alongside John Carpenter’s The Fog. Seeing the glossy color photos of Bottin’s ape getting it on with a fully nude DD Winters (who would later become Vanity, one of the most beautiful pop stars my teen eyes had ever seen) - well, it made an impression. If memory serves, the magazine's actual review wasn't particularly kind to the film, but that was the great thing about Cinefantastique, and what set them apart from the other sci-fi and horror rags of the day. They’d cover the living shit out of just about any genre entry - cover stories, double spread photographs, interviews - but if they didn't like the film, all that coverage wasn't going to hold back their critical slings and arrows, and they’d savage your film in three paragraphs after detailing its production for ten or fifteen pages in the same issue.

Maybe that's why Cinefantastique's ink didn't always translate into asses in seats. Whatever the reason, Tanya’s Island disappeared - much, I'm guessing, to Vanity’s relief. Don McLeod, sort of the Andy Serkis of his day (he played the American Tourister gorilla), turned up the following year in The Howling (he's the feral werewolf colonist who loses an arm). Director Alfred Sole moved on to a successful career as a production designer, working on shows like Veronica Mars and Castle. Vanity had a brief, Prince-assisted pop career (who can forget “Nasty Girl”?), was hot as hell in The Last Dragon and Action Jackson, became addicted to drugs, found Jesus, went back to her birth name of Denise Matthews and is now a born again Christian evangelist. And those erotic photos in CFQ were all I ever saw of Tanya’s Island - until a bootleg DVD turned up at a horror convention more than 20 years later. What happened after that is between me and the movie.

With respectful apologies to Ms. Matthews, Tanya’s Island is now available to stream on Amazon.

 

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