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Tanya's Island

1980, Starring Vanity, Richard Sargent, Mariette Lévesque, Don McLeod. Directed by Alfred Sole (International Film Exchange).

Guest Review by Allan Mott

The reason why King Kong is such a sad, heartbreaking film is because it’s a clear allegory about the heartbreaking pain of impossible, unrequited love. Not only are Kong and Jessica Lange (Note: Whenever I refer to King Kong in anything I write, I am actually talking about the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake, because I enjoy infuriating people, and constantly having to look up how to spell De Laurentiis is as close to good exercise as I get) separated by the inescapable realities of nature (she’s a blonde, he’s Rick Baker in a gorilla suit), but also size.

Even if consummating their relationship wasn’t a disgusting act of revolting bestiality, there’s no getting around the fact that Kong’s schlonger has to be at least as big as Lange is, if not bigger. And while online pornography has proven that the human body is capable of some pretty wild shenanigans, you just can’t beat the simple laws of physics.

Pierre Brousseau, the writer/producer of Tanya’s Island, seems to have realized this discrepancy and decided to rectify it by telling a tale in which a hairy primate falls in love with a woman, but is actually capable of doin’ sumthin’ ‘bout it—if you get what I mean (and I think you do).

Does this mean that Tanya’s Island is a movie where a woman makes love with an apeman? No. It’s a movie about a woman who is eventually raped by an apeman, and we all know that rape is an act of violence, not love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film begins on a commercial set, where our titular heroine, Tanya (Vanity), is an out-of-sorts model, who arrives late and distracted to the shoot. She’s upset because she’s been dumped by her artist boyfriend Lobo (Richard Sargent), who—when she tries to beg to take him back after the shoot is over—angrily tells her that she wants to control him and turn him into her slave.

The scene then rather inexplicably and randomly cuts to a b&w shot of the two of them having violent sex in the shower, covered in either blood or paint or both. But before we even have time to absorb this, we cut back to Tanya, who appears to be packing scarves (or something), when she’s distracted by the sound of animalistic panting coming from upstairs. She follows the sound into a room filled with kerosene lanterns and we jump to the credits, which consist of our star performing kindergarten-level pantomime fully nude, while mouthing suggestive sweet-nothings towards the gentlemen energetically “appreciating” her form in the audience.

Rather than back in the room, we find ourselves at the end of the credits on the titular island, where Tanya and a much more loving Lobo appear to be the only two inhabitants. Apparently it’s very warm on the island, since Tanya very frequently chooses to walk around without clothes, and those she does wear on occasion offer little in the way of protection from any potential cold.

Bored with their current location, Tanya and Lobo decide to move to the other side of the island, where she discovers they are not alone. In a hidden cave she meets a seemingly gentle primate/monkey/dude in a furry suit, who she dubs “Blue” due to his unusually blue eyes. The two form a quick bond, which drives Lobo crazy with jealousy when he eventually finds out about it.

Tanya makes Lobo promise that he won’t kill Blue, so Lobo captures him in a bamboo cage instead. Tanya frees Blue, so Lobo decides to imprison her instead, building both another cage and a large bamboo fort to keep Blue from returning the favour.

In a dramatic and artistic irony, Lobo’s jealousy turns him into as much of a savage animal as his rival, which is hilariously shown by his rapidly chowing down on a bunch of bananas—just like a monkey would! Eventually Blue and Tanya are able to turn the tables on him, though, and he ends up in the cage, while they are free to do as they wish on the island.

Problem is the whole kerfuffle has soured Tanya on men, both human and otherwise, and she tells Blue to leave her alone. That’s when she discovers that his name refers just as much to the colour of his testicles as his eyes and he makes it clear that they’re gettin’ down whether she’s into it or not.

Fortunately for us more sensitive viewers, his violation is interrupted when Tanya, the model, wakes up in an empty bedroom and realizes she’s been dreaming all along! What a shocking and completely unexpected development!

So, yeah, Tanya’s Island is not what you would call a normal movie. Based on the above synopsis and the amount of gratuitous Vanity on display you could be forgiven for assuming it’s a bizarre exploitation movie, but having just watched it I have to say that it actually comes closer to being a completely wrongheaded and unsuccessful attempt at something much more ambitious.

You get the sense that the filmmakers (including director Alfred Sole, who also made the cult Catholic thriller Alice Sweet Alice, and the amusing 1980s slasher parody Pandemonium) were actually going for something here beyond mere titillation. They felt they were making a point, and the result is the best kind of camp classic—a failed, histrionic wannabe-“art” film.

But as absurd as the premise is, one could see it succeeding in the hands of more subtle, talented filmmakers. Ones who, unlike Brousseau and Sole, didn’t feel compelled to accentuate their allegory with gigantic exclamation points at each and every turn. It also doesn’t help that virtually the entire film is in the hands of their lead actress, and she’s terrible.

I admit that I already went into the movie with a bias against its star. When I made my list of all-time favourite female Prince associates years ago, Vanity came in dead last behind Sheena Easton, Sheila E., Apollonia Kotero, Candy Dulfer, and Carmen Electra. Even the fairest observer would admit, though, that the film proves she had no right appearing in any scene in which words were allowed to come out of her mouth (and she’s not even really that impressive in her constant array of nude scenes).

That said, not everything here is as dire as it could be. The sound design is effective, even as it calls attention to itself, and the impressive costume effects work by Rick Baker and Rob Bottin make Blue a sympathetic (until he does you-know-what to you-know-who) and believable character throughout the film.

Still, these achievements can’t overcome the fact that Tanya’s Island is an absurdly overwrought, self-serious film about a love triangle between a naked chick, a bearded artist and an apeman! And that’s kinda why I love it.

If you’ll allow me the indulgence of a sports metaphor, Tanya’s Island is the kind of strikeout that can only be achieved by someone swinging as hard as they possibly can. It’s clear the filmmakers here were trying to hit a homerun and create a unique film they could call their own, and I can’t begrudge them the fact that they only managed to achieve the second of their two goals.

If a movie is going to fail, it should at least try and fail this big.

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