This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Matisse van Rossum’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a triumphant examination of a gang of lifelong friends and their sentient, but dim-witted dog’s harrowing journey into a waking nightmare that leaves them questioning the nature of existence and evil itself. The dark, mysterious bayous of Louisiana provide a backdrop that not only poignantly mirrors the shadowy condition of the human soul, but also the muddy obfuscation of morality brought about by desperation.
The film begins with Mystery Inc being chased through a foreboding castle by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, enraged by having somehow found himself in a rain-slicked bastion upon a mountain, where no self-respecting swamp creature would feel at home. The ska rendition of the iconic Scooby-Doo theme transports the viewer back through time to the year 1998, a more innocent time when we could simply skank our worries away. The jarring disjoint between monster and manor is clarified at last with the reveal that once again, these hijinks were the work of a confused elderly oligarch attempting to increase his material wealth through criminal means. Disillusioned with their monotonous role in futilely unmasking the economy of fear presided over by the wealthy elite, the gang goes their separate ways.
Destitute, Scooby and Shaggy find themselves becoming an extension of the very iron fist of authority that their carefree spirits have long rejected, seeking employment as airport security. It seems too horrible to be true. Our beloved, innocent dunces have become narcs. More distressing still, in this pre-9/11 world, their day-to-day consists of rooting out and confiscating exotic sausages and cheeses to be hoarded in a colossal airport evidence pantry that would put the larders of the most opulent of Bavarian royalty to shame. Contrastingly, Velma finds herself trapped in a comfortable but unsatisfying existence reliving the past commodified, dealing in the very mystery stories she longs to be living once again. Only Daphne Blake retains the joi de vivre to keep the belief in authentic mystery and adventure alive, as she spearheads a paranormal investigation television show, accompanied by hapless simp, Freddie Jones. Daphne alone has kept the crushing nihilism at bay enough to retain a childlike belief in the unknown. She will soon wish she had been more cautious in her eagerness.
Planning a series of investigations in Louisiana, the “most haunted place in America,” Daphne and Fred reunite the gang, who come running without hesitation, begging the question why they separated in the first place. They fall back into their comfortable roles almost immediately, wasting no time in trying to feed Shaggy dog food, who, poor and stupid as he is, gobbles it up with gusto. We see their journey across Louisiana in montage, foiling ill-planned caper after ill-planned caper in the heart of Cajun country, as an upbeat musical number laments the ersatz quality of the ghouls and ghosts they encounter, to Daphne’s growing dismay. At last, they meet the charming and sultry Lena, a personal chef who invites them to visit her employer’s house on, as she assures them, the authentically haunted Moonscar Island. What follows is a tonally confusing journey by boat with a cartoonish caricature of a cajun ferryman named Jacques, during which Scooby Doo is outsmarted by a catfish named Big Mona, resulting in he and Shaggy narrowly avoiding a grisly death in the jaws of a pair of alligators, saved only by a Crocodile-Dundy-style fisherman named Snakebite Scruggs and his catfish-sniffing hog Mojo. Despite saving them, Snakebite makes clear his deep abiding hatred for tourists. Does he hate them enough to kill them? Likely yes, as will be revealed later.
Landing upon the Island, the gang at last meets the lady of Moonscar Manor, Ms. Lenoir, who explains that the island is named for the notorious pirate Morgan Moonscar, who is rumored to have buried his treasure there. Did someone say TRAYSURE? Fred’s boner for bullion is practically bursting from his breeches. Rivaled only by his boner for Lena, who similarly wins the love of Scooby and Shaggy with her seemingly bottomless pot of gumbo. Daphne jealously reacts to Fred’s infatuation by flirting ferociously with the disgruntled gardener, Beau, further cementing the bizarre cycle of mutual cucking that defines Fred and Daphne’s relationship.
We quickly learn that pirates are not the extent of the island’s dark history. Moonscar Island is home to a pepper plantation that has existed since the island’s antebellum days. It seems that the island is indeed haunted. By the specter of slavery. Distressingly, this does not seem to even moderately concern any of the characters, whose callous attitude toward the suffering and exploitation of laborers extends so far as to suspect Beau of malicious intentions, simply because he is rightfully enraged by the indifferent destruction of his weeks of landscaping work through the moronic antics of Scooby-Doo as he chases the dozens of cats kept by Ms. Lenoir. This antagonistic relationship with the feline denizens of the island serves largely as a vessel for a tiresome bit where Scooby-Doo repeatedly emphasizes that he is, in fact, too stupid to realize that he is a dog, ultimately leaving Scooby and Shaggy exiled from the manor, forced to eat hot peppers in the Mystery Machine until they are driven to quench their scorched mouths by gulping gallons of dirty swamp water. The seemingly masochistic obsession with the infernal peppers deftly mirrors the Promethean flame that drives the gang’s relentless quest for truth.
After a terrifying series of unexplainable paranormal sightings, including a spectral pirate scratching some spooky words on a wall, Velma levitated hornily without the use of wires or magnets, and the ghost of Robert E. Lee appearing inside of a mirror, the gang is at last forced to confront the reality of the supernatural when a sickly green light raises an army of zombies from the swamp. Fred, unwavering in his skepticism, tries to unmask a zombie pirate, instead removes its entire head, resulting in a game of hot potato that is more macabre than amusing. This revelation shakes the gang to their cores, with the exception of Scooby and Shaggy, whose simple minds are just as easily frightened by men in masks despite their long history of hoax busting. The gang are chased through the night by a potpourri of zombies, from pirates to confederate soldiers, and even a pair of Bermuda shirt clad tourists (Snakebite’s past victims perhaps?) as another musical number helpfully informs the viewer that this is, in fact, the scary part.
The horrifying revelations do not end here, however. The gang’s investigations lead them to a subterranean shrine dedicated to the worship of the pagan cat god of the island’s original settlers, where they discover, to Fred’s horny dismay, that Lena and Ms. Lenoir are ancient, ghoulish cat creatures, who traded their souls to wreak vengeance on Morgan Moonscar and his crew, after brutally feeding the settlers to alligators 200 years prior. In exchange for immortality, the cat creatures must lure victims to the island each harvest moon to drain them of their vital life essence. Too late, our heroes realize that the ghosts and zombies were simply trying to warn them of the impending peril. The gang and Beau are immobilized with the use of wax voodoo dolls, and are forced to watch in horror as the feline femme fatales begin to drain the life-force from Shaggy and Scooby. But before they can finish sucking their shit dry, a horde of zombies burst into the eldritch sanctuary, distracting the beasts long enough for Velma to reshape the wax dolls into likenesses of Lena and Ms. Lenoir instead, holding them at bay until the harvest moon passes its zenith, breaking the curse at last. As the cat creatures are reduced to bone and ash, the restless spirits of the undead are finally freed. As the eerie green light disperses for the last time, the tiny ghost of Robert E. Lee salutes the gang and offers them a relieved “Thank y’aaaaaall” before disappearing forever. The final betrayal of the audience is the revelation that the long-suffering proletarian, Beau, was actually an incompetent undercover cop investigating the disappearances on the island, and being characteristically useless when danger reared its ugly feline head.
Ultimately, Daphne’s curiosity was satisfied beyond her belief, biting off more of the supernatural than she could chew. But rather than dissuading them from their lives as paranormal investigators, this narrow brush with true Faustian evil and death bolsters the gang’s resolve more than ever, fueling a further 22 years and counting of solving formulaic mysteries and foiling the harebrained schemes of eccentric millionaires. If this inspiring tale does not instill in us the boldness to persevere in the face of the repetitive and banal evils of modern existence, I don’t know what will. And with that, I will leave you with those timeless words of the tiny ghost of Robert E. Lee that ring ceaselessly through time. Thank y’all.