Now that The Grim Game is safe, restored, and will return to the big and small screen in March (huzzah!), it's time to turn our attentions to another Houdini movie rescue mission, restoring his second Paramount-Lasky feature, Terror Island (1920).
While Terror Island has been available on VHS and DVD since the late 1990s, that version is incomplete. That's because the only know print of the film, housed in the Library of Congress, is missing two reels, resulting in a runtime of only 55 minutes.
|Disclaimer at the start of the current version of Terror Island.|
Unfortunately, and maybe not coincidentally, those missing reels contain the movie's two best escapes. The first features Houdini, as Harry Harper, escaping from a burning dockyard warehouse after being chained to a chair by the villains. Stills from this sequence survive, but not a single second of film footage. Houdini/Harper later hides in a packing crate -- only to be discovered by the villains who hammer shut the lid and throw it into the bay with predictable results. No photos of this scene survive, hence, it's not generally known that Terror Island even contains an overboard box escape (an iconic Houdini escape not featured in The Grim Game).
Harper then returns home where he's vamped by actress Rosemary Theby. A well known still of this scene survives, although it's sometimes misidentified as being another Houdini film. Harper then sets out to save Beverly in his super submarine, saving her from a sown sack underwater in the process.
All of this is missing from the existing print.
|Two of several missing scenes from Terror Island.|
Another issue is with the title and dialog cards. The Library of Congress print is from a later Realart re-release of the film, so the original 1920 Lasky-Paramount cards have all been replaced. Now that we've gotten a peak at how spectacular the original title card for The Grim Game looks, one can only imagine what the studio did for Terror Island.
|Realart title card is not original.|
Unfortunately, restoring Terror Island could prove to be a bigger challenge than The Grim Game. In the case of The Grim Game, we knew at least one print survived in a private collection, so there was always hope. But with Terror Island, it's unclear if these missing elements exist anywhere at all. Might there be no hope for Terror Island?
If anyone happens to have a lead on those missing reels, or if anyone knows of more complete print out there, shoot me an email or leave a comment below.
Let's find Terror Island!