Isle of the Dead: Mark Robson’s Horror Film, Starring Boris Karloff and Ellen Drew

Mark Robson directed Isle of the Dead, a horror film made for RKO Radio Pictures by producer Val Lewton.

Isle of the Dead
Isle of the Dead (1945 poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

The script was inspired by the painting “Isle of the Dead” by Arnold Böcklin, which appears behind the title credits, though the film was originally titled “Camilla.”

Written by frequent Lewton collaborator Ardel Wray, Isle of the Dead was the second of 3 films Lewton made with Karloff, and the fourth of 5 pictures Robson directed for Lewton.

An onscreen text warns of the superstitious belief in a vorvolaka, a malevolent force in human form.

The story proper begins during the Balkan Wars of 1912. While his troops are burying their dead, General Pherides (Karloff) and American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) visit the Isle of the Dead to pay their respects to the General’s long-dead wife.

They discover the crypt despoiled; hearing a woman singing on the supposedly uninhabited island, they set out to find her.

They also find retired Swiss archeologist Dr. Aubrecht (Jason Robards, Sr.), his Greek housekeeper Madame Kyra (Helen Thimig), British diplomat Mr. St. Aubyn (Alan Napier) and his pale and sickly wife (Katherine Emery), her youthful Greek companion Thea (Ellen Drew), and English tinsmith Andrew Robbins (Skelton Knaggs).

Last Scene (Spoiler Alert)

The winds change and the sirocco has arrived, but it is too late for Pherides, who exhibits the plague’s symptoms. Mrs. St. Aubyn awakens from catalepsy but has been driven insane by being buried alive. Escaping the tomb, she kills Kyra, stabs Pherides as he attempts to kill Thea, and then leaps off to her death.

As Pherides is dying, he swears he has seen the vorvolaka and warns that she must be killed. “It is done,” says Dr. Aubrecht, sympathetic to Pherides’ madness. “The general was simply a man who was trying to protect us.”

Boris Karloff as Gen. Nikolas Pherides
Ellen Drew as Thea
Marc Cramer as Oliver Davis
Katherine Emery as Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn
Helene Thimig as Madame Kyra
Alan Napier as St. Aubyn
Jason Robards Sr. as Albrecht
Ernst Deutsch as Dr. Drossos
Sherry Hall as Col. Kobestes
Erick Hanson as Officer
Skelton Knaggs as Andrew Robbins


Directed by Mark Robson
Written by Ardel Wray; Val Lewton (uncredited; Josef Mischel (uncredited)
Produced by Val Lewton
Cinematography Jack MacKenzie
Edited by Lyle Boyer
Music by Leigh Harline
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: September 7, 1945 (U.S.

Running time: 72 minutes
Budget $246,000
Box office $383,000