On this Malayan island in 1945, World War II is drawing to a close elsewhere, but here it is dragging on under the direction of the sadistic Japanese guards in the prisoner of war camp there. Today, as has happened all too often, the inmates watch from behind the fence as one of their number digs a grave and then, with crushing inevitability, he is made to stand over it and gunned down. The leader of the prisoners, Colonel Lambert (André Morell), remains stoic in the face of this brutality, knowing that his first priority is to keep as many of his charges alive as possible...
But that might be tricky when the commandant has promised to massacre the lot of them - the women and children too - should the Japanese lose the war. The Camp on Blood Island was controversial in its day for its violence, and although you've probably seen much worse since - it's not exactly The Men Behind the Sun - it was still strong stuff compared to its contemporaries, though perhaps not for the studio's other productions as this hailed from the British Hammer filmmaking company. It had already by 1958 garnered a reputation for pushing the envelope with regards to its subject matter, and this particular effort was criticised for going too far.
By this time, the stories of Japanese cruelty when dealing with their prisoners was well known, and after Bridge on the River Kwai was a worldwide hit, Hammer evidently decided to jump on that bandwagon only play up the grimmer qualities for their sensationalist aspects, hoping to draw in the customers that way. To an extent it worked, but those misgivings never really went away, not only because it was highlighting a passage of history that they almost gleefully announced was based in lurid facts, but perhaps because it was best not to dwell on the sickening details when we were meant to be building a better world now that the global conflict was over.
But really, this film fit right in to the tradition of British war movies, except that Hammer had a problem in casting their villains: there simply were not that many Japanese actors they were willing to place in prominent roles, so they fell back on the dubious - as if this wasn't dubious enough - practice of casting white actors and starching their eyelids to try (and fail) to make them look Oriental. It shatters the illusion immediately, but considering the budgets they were working with was the best they could do; still, seeing Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper as a maniacally laughing Japanese does tend to look more ridiculous than chilling.
As to the plot, the prisoners do their best to keep the news of the end of the war from their captors, because if they discover what is going on the commandant will have everyone murdered in cold blood, so what could have easily made for a comedy is played up for its horrific stylings, with the express wish to keep the audience feeling suitably harrowed. It's true that a tension is in the air once we find out about the dilemma, and selected scenes operate precisely as they are intended to judging by the suspense or disdain they generate, it's just that the motives of the filmmakers are called into question early on and the film never really recovers. Imagine they were saying to you, we have a story that will chill you to the bone and it's not a horror movie, it's all true and you wonder at their primitive attempts at recreating the worst of the war; well acted, well enough made within its restrictions, but it reduced its subject to comic book level. Music by Gerard Schurmann.