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Why Blumhouse flipped the '70s TV classic 'Fantasy Island' into a modern thriller

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Sooner or later, everything old is new again. Especially when you're in Hollywood.

Across television and film, remakes, reboots and revivals have dominated popular culture over the last decade, most noticeably across the horror genre. The latest reimagining (but surely not the last) is Blumhouse's "Fantasy Island," a PG-13 thriller that transforms the comparatively tame 1970s series into an ensemble horror movie.

Written, directed and produced by Jeff Wadlow ("Truth or Dare") alongside co-screenwriters Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs, the film, which hits theaters Friday, is Blumhouse's most recent effort at flipping previously loved characters and IP to box office dividends. (It will attempt to repeat the feat again with the release of Universal's "Invisible Man" at the end of the month.)

"If the (script) is good and right, I think any time is a good time for a reboot," said Jason Blum. "When I watched 'Fantasy Island' as a kid, I remember there being a really dark, creepy element to the show and I loved the idea of leaning into that and making a movie that emphasized just the scary part. It was lots of other things too."

"A lot of people -- I know I felt this way -- have this idea of 'Fantasy Island' that's a little silly," said Roach. "Probably because it was on back to back with 'Love Boat.' But the truth is the show had a lot of very dark episodes. It was very 'Twilight Zone' in nature. And as the seasons went on, it dealt with a lot of subject matter that really lent itself to horror, so it seemed like a natural fit."

The fantasy drama series ran on ABC from 1977 to 1984 and starred Ricardo Montalban as the mysterious Mr. Roarke and Herve Villechaize as his assistant, Tattoo.

 

For the Blumhouse version, Michael Pena dons Montalban's signature white suit, something the Mexican American actor felt particularly called to do.

"Ricardo Montalban was one of the first Latin dudes on TV that I saw," said Pena of the Mexico-born actor. "Before that we didn't see a lot of Latinos in cinema (or on TV). I mean, we still have a lot of work to do, to be honest. But I wanted to do the movie because he was such an icon. There was a certain charm to him that I didn't want to emulate but I wanted to convey, and a lot of it had to do with the language."

Each episode of the show followed the same format: "The plane arrives, the door opens, the guest gets out, the fantasy begins, gets twisted (and then) they learn a lesson," said Wadlow.

"It has this incredible 'be careful what you wish for' notion embedded in the original material that, if you really analyze horror movies, is present in all the great ones," he added. "It's about wanting something and then being punished for wanting it. Whether it's something as base as sex or drugs or as forbidden as love, there's always a price that needs to be paid."

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