Likable cad Bill Martin (Dick Foran) never met a get-rich-quick scheme he didn't like. The latest such plot comes to fruition after a chance encounter with a peg-legged sailor (Leo Carillo). With the seaman's half of a supposedly bogus treasure map, Bill cooks up an expedition on which to haul tourists in search of the booty. But little goes Bill's inaugural group know that real terrors await them at the castle said to be home to the legendary fortune. However, it's not spooks or spirits that await them but a flesh-and-blood menace known as the Phantom. This caped criminal is on the hunt for the treasure himself, and with an entire castle at his command, he's set on scaring the wits out of the competition -- that is, if some of their own don't beat him to the punch.
If false advertising were a crime, then Horror Island would be serving a life sentence. For a film with that title being part of Universal Studios' own horror-themed Classic Movie Archive collection, you'd think scares would be more abundant than they are. Horror Island is about as frightening as a "Scooby-Doo" episode, and it's structured pretty much the same way. For the first half of this hour-long feature, you don't even know you're watching what's supposed to be a thriller; everything's played for laughs, in that old-timey way that straddles the line separating "endearing" and "excrutiatingly campy." It's not until the characters actually reach the castle that any eerie goings-on take place, mostly thanks to our friend the Phantom. The flick's cornball disposition still reigns supreme, though it's a silliness that's easy to sit through and even a little enjoyable. But my biggest issue involves the film playing hot potato with the story for the last 15 minutes. It's nice that the filmmakers wanted to change things up, but it whips through too many subplots at too late a point in the game to amount to anything but confusing.
To its credit, Horror Island is far from a terrible watch, amusing in spurts and looking much better than similarly cheap fright farces of the time. It's also pretty kid-friendly, so before tossing little Junior into Dracula 101, this can serve as a simple intro to Universal's unique horror hovel. Horror Island is hard to hate, but it's easy to be let down by it.