Well, I was in the mood for some silly comedy horror, so I thought that I’d take a look at an animated film from 1998 called “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Although I rediscovered “Scooby-Doo” a year or so ago – thanks to both seeing a few episodes of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and reading an excellent Lovecraftian dark comedy parody novel called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero – this film completely passed me by at the time. In fact, it also passed me by during my childhood in the 1990s too for some bizarre reason.
In fact, I only ended up finding this film after watching a couple of 1990s nostalgia-based videos by the horror movie critic Ryan Hollinger and being intrigued enough to get a second-hand DVD of it, even though I already knew quite a bit about the film’s story from the reviews.
Note: The 2003 UK DVD edition of “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island” is actually a double-sided disc that allows you to choose between watching the film in 4:3 or 1:33 (?). I ended up choosing 4:3 for this review, mostly because this side of the disc seemed to be less scratched/smudged.
Anyway, lets take a look at “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS. The film itself contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS (lightning effects mostly), although I don’t know whether they are intense enough to be an issue or not.
The film begins with a dramatic scene set in a creepy old mansion, where the Scooby gang are being chased by a monster. In a twist that will surprise absolutely no-one, the “monster” actually turns out to be a man in a costume who is trying to scare the “meddling kids” away from his counterfeit money factory in the mansion’s basement.
Sometime later, the Scooby gang grow up and go their separate ways. Scooby and Shaggy end up working (incompetently) for US customs and Velma opens a bookshop. Fred and Daphne stay in the paranormal investigation business, albeit for a TV show hosted by Daphne. During a chat show interview to promote the next series of the show, Fred has the idea to get the old gang together to join in with the production.
Needless to say, their next few cases all involve people dressed in silly costumes. Daphne is disappointed that they haven’t found any real evidence of the paranormal. But, whilst visiting New Orleans, a local woman called Lena happens to overhear their complaints and suggests a visit to her employer’s chilli farm on a haunted island on the bayou called Moonscar Island….
One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s a rather amusing comedy horror film, which also has some rather cool-looking artwork too. Although some elements of it are a bit like an extended episode of the TV show, this film actually does a few innovative things with both the show itself and the zombie, werewolf and vampire genres too. Plus, some early parts of the film also reminded me a little of a much more light-hearted version of Edgar Cantero’s excellent 2018 parody novel “Meddling Kids” too 🙂
In terms of the film’s comedy elements, they’re reasonably good. Although some of the show’s trademark food-based jokes do seem a little bit over-used in this film (and there’s a slightly random running joke about Scooby not realising that he’s a dog), the film’s comedy elements still work really well. The scenes involving ghosts, monsters and zombies are played in a hilariously melodramatic way that is just fun to watch, plus the film also has a wonderfully self-referential sense of humour too.
Not only does the film include a montage scene showing the Scooby gang unmasking numerous villains but, throughout the film, Velma and Fred keep trying to think of classic-style theories about what could be behind the strange events on Moonscar Island. Still, this film relies a lot on slapstick comedy and food-based humour. Quite a lot of this is actually really funny but, as I said earlier, it sometimes feels a little over-used and the film would have probably been even better if there was a bit more variety in the humour. Still, this is a reasonably small criticism.
The film also makes excellent use of character-based humour too – with the scenes showing what the Scooby gang get up to after they “retire” from solving mysteries being some of the film’s funniest moments. Whether it is Scooby and Shaggy working as customs agents trying to stop food smuggling or the fact that Velma has opened a horror-themed detective novel bookshop, these amusing details really help to add a little bit of extra depth to the characters whilst also emphasising their wonderful weirdness (and how they only really seem to thrive when investigating the paranormal).
In terms of the film’s horror elements, they’re surprisingly good. Although this film will only actually scare younger viewers who have less experience of the horror genre, the film’s horror elements are actually handled in a vaguely “serious” way that is more dramatic than the original TV show.
Not only are there a few brilliantly dramatic set pieces (such as ghostly writing appearing on a wall in a way that might remind you of the Overlook Hotel from “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“) and a relatively grim and creepy backstory, but the film’s plot also allows for some wonderfully random plot twists that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in an old-school 1950s horror comic too 🙂
Yet, despite the gleeful silliness of the film’s plot twists, the film’s story is actually quite well-structured. Not only is there some clever visual foreshadowing of a later plot twist, but the fact that only Scooby and Shaggy actually see anything paranormal for part of the film also adds a tiny amount of tension and drama to the story. Plus, as wonderfully bizarre as the plot is (seriously, think 1950s horror comic 🙂 ), everything in the film actually makes sense in context.
The film’s backstory is fairly dramatic too – with random cat-worship, evil pirates and alligator-related deaths portrayed in a reasonably “serious” way. Still, although the film touches on some of the historical context of 19th century Louisiana, this is very airbrushed (eg: the film presents the sides of the US civil war in a “neutral” way and, despite being set on a plantation – albeit a “pepper plantation” started by spice traders- the film doesn’t mention slavery). Yes, the film was aimed at kids but – even in the 1990s – things like “Horrible Histories” were able to explain the grim parts of history in a way that was accessible to younger audiences. So, the airbrushed history here is more than a little bit odd.
As mentioned earlier, this film actually does something innovative with the zombie, vampire and werewolf genres. Although the zombies are initially presented as frightening (and can also turn into ghosts too), they actually turn out to be trying to protect the Scooby gang by warning them away from the island. Plus, although the film includes a few Voodoo doll based scenes, the zombies aren’t actually traditional Voodoo zombies, but are the victims of werewolf-like cat monsters who have survived for centuries by draining people’s life-force in a vampiric kind of way. And, yes, it’s also awesome to see a “Scooby-Doo” story where the monsters are actually real for once.
Plus, I have to praise the design of the zombies too. If you’re a fan of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden (and you should be – they’re amazing), one of the really cool things about this film is that the zombies seem to be at least slightly inspired by the band’s famous mascot too 🙂
Talking of designs, I cannot praise the artwork in this film highly enough 🙂 This film is made using traditional animation and this allows for all sorts of cool painted backdrops that look absolutely spectacular, not to mention that the slightly larger budget (compared to the TV show) means that the animation also looks a bit smoother and more seamless than the old cartoons from the 1960s/70s, whilst still being very reminiscent of them too. Seriously, like with other TV shows like “Cowboy Bebop“, 1990s animation has a wonderfully distinctive look to it that is always awesome to see 🙂
Musically, this film is very ’90s too 🙂 In addition to a few pieces of classic-style “creepy” music, the film includes a couple of rock/pop-punk style songs that are wonderfully ’90s in the best way possible and even come vaguely close to the lighter and more melodic edge of the heavy metal genre at times too 🙂 Seriously, I really miss the days when this type of music was a lot more popular. The 1990s were awesome.
All in all, this is a really fun and amusing comedy horror film that is definitely worth watching. Not only does it have a reasonably well-structured, if gloriously silly, plot that also does some innovative things with familiar horror monsters but it’s also a really cool-looking piece of visual art too. If you enjoy old-school 1950s horror comics, have read Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and/or just miss the 1990s, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.