Okay, so we talked about a witch’s ghost last time, so I guess the logical progression is to talk about zombies. Or, at least it is when talking about good Scooby Doo movies. We already went into some background stuff last time, so let’s jump right into the review of Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.
This one starts off in a castle, on a dark and stormy night. However, it becomes clear quite soon that Snoopy didn’t write this, due to it being good. The gang is attacked by a monster with noticably sharp claws as the theme is performed by Third Eye Blind. Hearing this for the first time was kinda awesome back in the day, but the song has since degraded a bit. Still, better than the Simple Plan Scooby theme. Velma and Daphne even fall from a dilapidated ledge, almost plummeting to their deaths as Fred holds them up. In fact, only by dumb luck does the gang succeed, and the characters actually seem threatened by the events going on this time around. Of course, they find out its some guy in a mask making counterfeit money.
And we cut from that to Daphne on a daytime talk show. Yes, really. As I mentioned last time, these movies attempted to bring the franchise into the modern age, and this movie specifically worked fantastically. It turns out the gang went their separate ways a little while back, with Daphne and Fred now making a rather popular television series, Velma running a mystery-themed bookstore, and Shaggy and Scooby working as customs agents at an airport. Let me repeat that: The obvious stoner and his talking dog are working airport security (sorta). In reality, they confiscate contraband food that people attempt to sneak into the country. That, of course, ends badly, and they are fired just in time for Freddy to get the gang back together for Daphne’s next big project: Finding real haunted places.
It’s worth noting that, in a strange way, all the character’s jobs are believable. Velma’s is pretty obvious, but Freddy is shown to be a tad camera shy, so his role as producer of his beloved’s TV show makes sense. Daphne has always been about looks more than brains, but she has a decent share of both, so her show makes sense. Shaggy and Scooby are both food experts, and Scooby is a dog, so searching for contraband food makes sense, even if they get fired for doing the one thing they should be expected to do. In any case, the group heads for New Orleans, and we get… a musical number!
Actually, about the music. Much like the Hex Girls’ songs last time, the songs this time around aren’t bad. In fact, they are kinda catchy, particularly “Terror Time.” The group continues to find guys in suits and masks, because hey, Scooby Doo Detective Agency is advertising for real ghosts for the hit TV show, Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake. That can’t possibly end badly.
In any case, the group is approached by Leina, an Esmeralda-looking woman who, unlike the last Esmeralda, has a voice actress who isn’t phoning it in. She tells them she works at a real haunted house, so the gang follows along. Besides, Daphne needs material, something she herself is conscious of. Velma notes that there have been many disappearances on the island they are headed to. In any case, the group heads there, with Scooby and Shaggy getting rescued by an angry fisherman. Who is voiced by Mark Hamill, and is completely irrelevant to the story.
The group arrives at the house on the island, and Scooby is driven to chase the numerous cats that hang around the mansion on the island. The gardener is quite angry about this, and you might recognize his voice as well. Particularly if you’re on of the 11 million World of Warcraft subscribers, as it’s the voice of Malygos, Cam Clarke. He’s also known for playing Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, and Max Genius in Robotech. Simone is also introduced, seeming somewhat aloof and creepy, but kind enough about everything except the cats being chased.
Scooby’s cat chasing is the set up for numerous bits here, as the hauntings that show up don’t have quite as much impact in the beginning. Velma soon discovers that the house is built partially from the pirate ship of Morrigan Moonscar, the man for whom the island is named. This is after they discover that their VHS camcorder happened to catch a vision of the ghost, recognizable as said pirate. Simone is surprised by their foolhardy bravery, and Fred insists there is a logical explanation. Thanks, Scully, we didn’t realize that the supernatural stuff might be real until you showed up.
Scooby chases cats again, and the little buggers actually deserve it, but it leads to him and Shaggy happening across the first zombie of the movie, which is unsurprisingly that of Moonscar himself. The reanimation of his corpse, however, is pretty damn epic, with magical energy forming thin flesh and setting his bones in place. Heck, it even gives him his sword back. “If you wanna plant something, like, there’s a dead guy following us!” The gang heads back to the hole Moonscar came from and asks the gardener about what he was doing out there. I’ll go ahead and spoil it a bit: this guy is a great red herring, and he keeps the audience off kilter throughout the majority of the movie. Also, if you haven’t figured out who the guy in the mask is this time, don’t worry, there’s still a chance before I ruin it. Scooby and Shaggy see a ghost in their mirror, and walk in on Fred deciding not to wear an ascot. Also, Velma lost her glasses cloth from earlier. Ask yourself why I would mention these two scenes.
Shaggy and Scooby are forced to eat in the van as Velma and Fred throw around ideas about what might be causing the strange happenings on the island. Daphne asks the pair if they can accept the idea of something without a rational explanation. They don’t have much choice, as another epic musical scene kicks in and sends the gang running from the zombies. They soon discover that when Fred tries to remove the “mask” from the monster, the entire head comes off. Also, these zombies are a bit different, as the body can operate without the head attached. Soon enough, they hear a scream and realize they forgot Leina and Simone back at the mansion. There is something strange about these zombies, though. One even hands Shaggy a vine to rescue Scooby from quicksand. Weird.
Fred and Daphne meet up with Velma and Beau (the gardener), while Shaggy and Scooby find voodoo dolls of their friends and the gardener. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but the pieces are finally starting to add up for the audience, even if the actual motive is still a nice twist. After some slapstick, the group heads for the mansion, where they meet up with Leina, who tells them a very, VERY thinly veiled lie. However, the four of them walk straight into the trap that had been laid for them by Simone and Leina, a pair of cursed individuals who need to steal life essence every harvest moon in order to survive. The heroes are trapped by the voodoo dolls as Simone explains everything.
Okay, now this is a long explanation, but I do have to explain a point about it. Simone and Leina are colonial-era settlers who worshipped a cat god on this quiet island in Louisiana. They witnessed the deaths of their fellow believers at the hands of Moonscar, who drove them into the bayou to be devoured by alligators. Desiring justice, they called for a curse on the pirates, but cursed themselves as well. Now, they are forced… wait, no, they have chosen to consume the life essence from innocent people to survive. What we have here is a great example of a pair of unsympathetic villains with a sympathetic backstory. In the case of Moonscar, we have the opposite: a hero by circumstance, not origin. He actively attempts to twart the efforts of the cat cultists to allow his soul to be freed from it’s prison. Now, quite honestly, he deserves what he got, but at the same time, he is helping to save those who do not deserve such a fate. In acting selfishly, he works toward what amounts to a heroic goal.
Also, the paganism this time is portrayed as peaceful, but potentially evil, rather than having one completely good side and one completely bad side (Wiccan vs. Witch, an oxymoron, but whatever). In other words, it’s very human, with a desire for revenge effectively consuming the villains long after their objectives have been achieved. It really is impressive, and makes for a better deep philosophical thought exercise than Witch’s Ghost. In any case, there are little bits here and there that link together quite well. The voodoo dolls are a great example, with each personal item making a direct appearance. Velma’s cleaning cloth is taken first, and while she is being levitated, Simone takes the hair from Daphne’s brush. As for Fred, the item is his ascot, left alone while the group investigated the ghost. Leina is the obvious thief in that case, and she may have also stolen something from Beau in the preceding time, as he had been working there for a few months already. I have seen this movie about a dozen times now, and I still can’t find a point of very serious contention with the events. Everything adds up, yet still makes for a great twist. It really is probably the best mystery Scooby Doo has ever had, and combined with the effective supernatural elements and the zombies as (gasp and/or shock) allies, the ending is a superb cap to the entire experience. This is a rare circumstance in which a Direct to Video release is actually better than any theatrical release in the same franchise. It took about 25 years, but Scooby Doo was finally worth watching again.
And, as expected, they milked the hell out of it. Year after year, more direct to video movies have been released. Some are good, like Witch’s Ghost and Alien Invaders, but most are mediocre or bad, like Legend of the Vampire, which sadly features the Hex Girls (they deserved better). Thankfully, though, it seems that Cartoon Network is finally giving the series what it deserves with the recent Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated series, which has official character relationships AND an ongoing plotline.
So, things are looking up for the Mystery Inc. gang, but after a couple good movies, it’s time to get back to the titular reviews of the site. And so, next time, I begin reviewing a series of movies that will take me quite a while to finish, because they are so hard to watch. The first of a five part intermittent review. Well, it WILL be five parts eventually.