When I was a kid I loved Scooby Doo, I used to watch it all the time and it remains one of the most influential works of fiction in my life. Naturally, I was overjoyed when my parents bought me a VHS copy of Scooby Doo on Zombie Island (1998), the first Scooby Doo film since the series was cancelled, and it quickly became one of those films I watched over and over again. The years went by and I forgot about Zombie Island, until I stumbled across some clips of it on youtube. Suddenly everything came rushing back and I knew I had to watch the film again. So, does one of my favourite childhood films still hold up?
After years of solving mysteries, the Scooby Doo gang splits up. Daphne is the presenter of a mystery tv show, Fred is her cameraman and producer, Velma owns her own mystery bookshop, and Shaggy and Scooby Doo work as a sniffer dog team in an airport looking for contraband food. When Daphne reveals she misses the old gang, Fred makes some calls and reunites everyone for Daphne’s new tv series where she searches for real ghosts in New Orleans. The gang are invited to an island owned by Simone by her housekeeper Lena and soon discover that rumours of the home’s haunted nature are true, but is there even more going on?
I really wanted to like Zombie Island, I had visions of me writing about how shocked I was that Scooby Doo on Zombie Island was a good movie. In realty, it is pretty good but there are some problems that do bother me. Firstly, lets talk about the good things. While the film does take a while to really get good, there’s more than enough in the first third to get viewers satisfied. The montages of the gang being chased by monsters are very welcome and there are some interesting designs, including a holographic ghost, an old sea captain, and a giant lobster.
The visuals and animation is perfectly fine for the first two thirds, it’s a shame really because the majority of the film takes place in the Louisiana bayou and while they do make more of it later in the film, a lot of the dark and creepy imagery that is used in the climax isn’t really around at the beginning. In fairness, the premise is great for a Scooby Doo movie, you’ve got zombies, ghosts, voodoo, and cat people, everything you could want in a film like this and, whats more, its scary. Ok, I wasn’t terrified watching this but I remember some of this imagery sticking with me and even being taken aback by it when I watched it again for this review. Melting faces, heads being town off, disintegrating corpses, faces slopping off skulls, its admirable just how far they take it. I know these visuals stayed with me for years after and for a Scooby Doo film to have that much impact is frankly amazing.
The music, bizarrely enough, is also really good. One of the best scenes in the film has the gang being chased by zombies of various time periods to the song ‘Terrortime Again’, it’s a entertaining scene and the song is more memorable than you’d think. There’s also another fairly good song at the beginning of the film ‘The Ghost is Here’ a lament that every monster the gang encounters turns out to be a guy in a mask.
There are, however, problems with Zombie Island. The main plot, spoilers for those of you that care, is that Simone and Lena are 200 year old cat people who must drain the life force of mortals every harvest moon and the zombies and ghosts the gang run into are actually their victims. Alright, here are some problems with that:
- Why isn’t the very first thing the zombies do when they rise from the dead is to attack Simone and Lena? Alright, they may be immortal but you can still restrain them and prevent them from killing anyone else.
- It’s implied that every harvest moon the zombies rise, so has this happened every year for the past 200 years? Is this a recurring feature on the island, why have they been unable to stop Simone and Lena from killing so many people. Why don’t they move the corpses to a place where they could be easily contained?
- There’s a grumpy old fisherman on the island who has presumably been there for sometime as he complains about the tourists. Why hasn’t he been killed? Does he know about Simone and Lena? Is he in on it? Does he know about the zombies?
- Seeing as the house is haunted, why aren’t Simone and Lena constantly being tormented by the ghosts of their victims? Ok, so many the ghosts only become active during the Harvest moon, alright so spend what little time you have attacking the people who killed you, seems a bloodthirsty pirate ghost would be more concerned with vengeance, and why waste writing “GET OUT” on the kitchen wall, why not write something less cryptic?
So yeah, I know a lot of these may seem pedantic but they drag the film down, especially when you consider how easy some of these problems could be solved, a word of dialogue or a plot device to accidentally wake the zombies is all you really need. I also have issue with the ending, as previously stated, Simone and Lena are the antagonists and turn out to be cat people, and while I like the twist and appreciate the fact that the zombies and ghosts are actually the good guys. (This is perhaps the only kids film where confederate soldiers end up being on the right side)
My only complaint with this is that the whole cat people reveal isn’t given a lot of foreshadowing. Ok, Simone owns a lot of cats, so I suppose you could argue we’re told she’s a cat person beforehand, but I think we need a bit more than that. I’m not saying it should be spelt out for us as soon as we meet them, but it couldn’t hurt to throw some lines in there that we can look back on.
All things considered, Scooby Doo on Zombie Island is a good film, not quite as good as it could’ve been but far better than it had any right to be. Good music, great plot and setting, wonderful climax, Zombie Island’s flaws are evident but do little to detract from a great Scooby Doo film.