Imagine if there was a place—an island, let’s say—where your fondest wishes and your deepest desires might come true. A place where you might be reunited with lost loved ones. Where you might meet your soul mate. Where you’d be content. Happy. At peace.
This is not such a place.
Oh, you’d expect more from an island named Fantasy Island, wouldn’t you? The brochures say that it’s a place where “anything and everything can come true,” after all. And to be sure, the tropical getaway does seem like it one-ups Tahiti. It’s quite pretty. The staff is efficient, if a bit prone to creep into your bedroom at night and give you a personal wake-up tap. Mr. Roarke seems pleasant enough.
And yes, the island itself seems to have some pretty nifty magical powers. Why, you can be reunited with loved ones. You can find your soul mate there. Only problem is, these folks all eventually seem to want to kill you. Contentment? Happiness? By the end of your stay, those things feel in rather short supply. As for peace, well, there’s plenty of that to go around … of the eternal variety.
Still, can’t blame a tourist for trying, right?
And so they try. Patrick shows up, hoping to have a chance to pretend to be a soldier for a while, to feel what his heroic dead dad felt like back in the day. Gwen wants a do-over, a chance to say “yes” when her beau proposed to her five years ago. Brothers Brax and J.D. don’t want much: Just “it all,” they say, whatever that means. And Melanie? She wants to exact a little revenge on her eighth-grade bully.
But you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for.
So what’s up with this island, anyway? It seems to be sentient, first of all—and not only that, but it has the ability to read minds, too. Using its near-omniscient psychic abilities, the island is able to conjure up … well, a lot of things, including people from your past to abra-cadabra-ing whole memories out of thin air. Nifty trick, that. Also, even when people on Fantasy Island die, they don’t, as a rule, stay dead … so technically you can add resurrection to the island’s many talents.
Someone wears a devil mask.
Mr. Roarke sees a lot of repetition in the fantasies he helps facilitate. “Lots of sex stuff,” he admits to a guest.
But the only guests who seem to fall into that category this time ‘round are brothers D.J. and Brax. For them, Fantasy Island is like Vegas with an unlimited bankroll to spend on legal, scantily clad “companions.” And true to form, the lavish house that Mr. Roarke introduces them to is already populated by a bevy of model-caliber guests in the very skimpiest of swimsuits.
Those guests, incidentally, are both male and female—convenient, given that Brax is gay. He came out to his parents seven years earlier, we’re told, and he was pretty much disowned by them. We don’t see any graphic sexual interaction by either brother, but Brax brags that he’s surprised that his male paramour could “even sit down” the next day. Meanwhile, J.D. says that the name of his lover of choice, Chastity, is purely ironic. No nudity here, but we sure see a great deal of jiggling.
Another guest spends time with someone whom she thinks is her true love—including time (presumably) naked in bed. At a dinner where a man proposes marriage to a woman, he mentions that the two spent the night together the evening before. Someone else talks of and pines for an old boyfriend. A woman—married—has an affair with someone else, and the resulting recording of the encounter posted on social media.
Melanie flirts with Patrick at first, slyly asking what his “fantasy” is and offering a handful of double entendres as they talk. When J.D. and Brax find a cache of weapons in their house, J.D. suggests that Brax should name the biggest gun after his male lover.
Fantasy Island can be a pretty violent place. And while some of that violence is perpetrated upon the Island’s own people-facsimiles, we’ll not make distinctions between the two groups of characters in the litany below.
Several people get stabbed, and one of the stabbers winds up stained with blood. Many others die via gunshot, sometimes a bit grotesquely. (Other people don’t die, despite being shot several times.) People plunge off cliffs, presumably to their dooms. (But presumptions are not wise to make in this movie.) A little girl apparently kills her father, thwapping his unseen head with something. Someone is burned up in a fire. We see a charred fellow walk about the island on occasion. A woman spends much of the movie losing blood through her nose and mouth. Explosions aplenty wrack the island. Sea snakes slither and may turn into hands, for some reason.
In a Saw-lite-like scene, someone is bound to a chair and gagged, allowing a tormenter to torment her remotely. One button triggers an electrical shock. Another sends toilet water plunging over the victim. Then, a muscular surgeon (with his mouth stitched shut) shows up to further her torment—cutting open the victim’s arm before the tormenter asks the surgeon to slice off her ring finger. (He doesn’t.) Other people are captured by masked assailants, and one of them begins to saw off one captive’s hands. (The act is done off-camera and is stopped before the knife can get too far.)
Planes blow up. People do, too. Folks fight with each other pretty strenuously. People get dragged under water and sometimes drowned. Or so it would seem. Mr. Roarke has a taxidermized snake and mongoose sitting on his desk—a sculpted arrangement that, in a better movie, would be symbolic of something.
One f-word and about 10 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused about a dozen times.
The guests are given drinks right after they get off the plane, and they meet Mr. Roarke for more drinks later that evening. They speculate on what, exactly, Fantasy Island is or does, and one guest suspects that Mr. Roarke just spikes the drinks with lots of hallucinogenic drugs.
A drug empresario shows up on the island, demanding to know where all his (or his predecessor’s) cocaine is kept. One guest admits to using some of it, then lies and says he knows where the rest is.
People drink wine, martinis, champagne and other forms of booze at times. Someone says that he lost the love of his life because he kept getting high playing Mario Kart.
Melanie sounds as if she dealt with a lot of abuse from her eighth-grade bully, and she’s clearly had a hard time getting past it.
Fantasy Island is loosely based on the old ABC television show that ran from 1978-84, in which various fantasies were granted every week and, as a rule, the guests left more grateful for the lessons they’d learned than for any of their literal wish fulfillment. The show, naturally, was hokey and cheesey and silly.
But compared to this movie, the TV show looks like it was written by Dostoyevsky.
True to its forebear, this mysterious island has powers that seem to break every law of nature and reason. But one would think the island would have to be consistent with, at least, its own internal logic: Once a fantasy is granted, guests must follow that fantasy out until its inevitable conclusion. Fantasies, we’re told, are like little preprogrammed monorails. Once one begins, it’ll end exactly where it’s supposed to.
Unless it doesn’t. Because really, by the end of the movie, the fantasies and non-fantasies and conflicting fantasies were so muddled that I began to wonder something odd: What if there really was a Fantasy Island, and the movie’s screenwriters were its only visitors?
Mr. Roarke? Perhaps they said. The only stuff we’ve ever written is unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness poetry while under the influence of psychotropic drugs. We want one of those poems to become a screenplay—a screenplay that someone actually makes into a movie.
I imagine they asked for an Oscar, too, but the island surely sunk under the weight of such a staggeringly outlandish request—like Atlantis, never to be seen again.
I could recap all the ooky and unnecessary content, of course, but I think you get the point. Don’t go to Fantasy Island, my friends. Many who do so here regretted it, and it’s unlikely you’ll be the exception.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.