Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Island of Terror (1966)

Country: UK

The Creepers
The Night the Creatures Came
Night of the Silicates
The Night the Silicates Came

While director Terence Fisher showed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and flair for the gothic horror productions he made for Hammer, his approach to films with a contemporary setting was significantly less accomplished. The two science-fiction pictures he made for producer Tom Blakely’s Planet Film Productions are ample evidence of this. Although I enjoyed both Island of Terror and its thematic sequel Night of the Big Heat (1968) it’s clear that Fisher’s heart isn’t in either project. This is despite the erstwhile support of Peter Cushing in both films. Where Fisher conjures up moments of sublime inspiration for Hammer, here his direction is bland and awkward, as featureless and uninspired as any hack invited to direct a low budget genre film. But somehow Island of Terror still manages to possess a certain charm, almost as if the ultra low budget is seen by the filmmakers as a challenge to their ingenuity. With its extremely silly and unconvincing monsters Island of Terror is very reminiscent of early 1970’s Doctor Who, and like Doctor Who a greater reliance is placed on the writing. Although the screenplay by Edward Mann and Al Ramsen is entirely unpersuasive in its badly researched science, the film moves along at such a quick pace that it doesn’t really allow an audience time to laugh at the absurdity…that comes after the end credits have rolled.

Island of Terror slots neatly into a mini sub-genre of British horror movies that are set on isolated island communities. Other examples include The Deadly Bees (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1968), Doomwatch (1972), Tower of Evil (1972). and The Wicker Man (1973). In most of these films the threat to the community is from an external agent, and the forces of modernity from the mainland are enlisted to solve the problem. Island of Terror is perhaps the most explicit in its veneration of the experts from London. An island off the coast of Ireland is seen as the perfect location for a team of researchers to work on a cure for cancer. This perfectly benevolent aim is perverted however by the accidental creation of a new silicon based life form that has the ability to liquefy and digest bone. This allows the film a few novel moments when several floppy decalcified corpses are discovered. Unusually the film is relatively silent about the fact that the misuse of scientific practices have caused the chaos. It’s almost as though the writers are saying it isn’t too bad, because at least the scientists were trying to cure cancer. The reason the film is quiet on this is that the heroes are also scientists. Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) is an expert pathologist who lectures at a top university in London, and his colleague Dr. David West (Edward Judd) an orthopaedic whiz kid. The scripts attempt to develop a playboy aspect to his character are laughably incompetent.

They are joined by Toni Morrill (Carole Gray) the token eye candy who blackmails the men into letting her come, and then spends the rest of the film screaming and being talked down to. Within hours of their arrival they are bossing the idiotic islanders around, have failed to destroy the silicates with the very scientific idea of petrol bombs and dynamite, have spent several scenes in the pub drinking Guinness and reading research notes, and have donned condom like radiation suits! - how these marvellous outfits didn’t catch on in Carnaby Street I’ll never know! Cushing also finds time to have his arm cut off, which is an odd touch, vaguely reminiscent of his vulnerable archaeologist in Hammer’s The Mummy (1959). The pro-science stance of the film is confirmed by the discovery that the Silicates are killed by radiation. Although science has run amok on this isolated tract of land, science also knows how to keep its own house in order. Island of Terror must stand as one of a select bunch of sci-fi films that actively celebrates radioactivity.

The Silicates themselves are an absurdity. They resemble organic Hoovers and are virtually comatose. But that doesn’t stop one of them finding the time to somehow climb a tree! Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of their makeup is their ability to divide every six hours, and their on screen appearances are given added resonance by an eerie electronic sound. But the Silicates are far too visible, their first manifestation (a tentacle appearing off screen to strangle the local policeman) is very effective. But from this point onwards their impact is lessened by the frequency of their appearances. The film was entirely shot in the Buckinghamshire countryside, but with a judicious use of sound effects, the filmmakers just about manage to convince us we are on an island. Despite its myriad weaknesses Island of Terror is cheap and cheerful fun. It proves a dictum that I have held too for many years; if it has Peter Cushing in it, its worth watching.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. I reviewed this one, too, Shaun. Decent film. I feel the exact same way regarding Cushing. I was lucky enough to obtain the uncut German DVD before it went OOP. I believe all that was cut was a hand being bloodily chopped off? I'd likewise love to get ahold of an uncut copy of CORRUPTION with Cushing as an insane killer.

  2. I read your review about an hour ago Brian! I have the Region 2 DVD release by DD Video, and the print is lacking vibrancy. I'm not sure whether its cut or not. My attitude to cuts has altered over the years. At one point I was determined to obtain uncut prints for my film library, but I've since reasoned that if it doesnt actually affect the meaning of the story is it a big issue. Does it really matter if you dont see a monkey getting its head chopped off in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST? I havent seen CORRUPTION, but I've heard interesting things about it.

  3. Another I seem to have missed, won't be bumping it up to high on the que if it is caught in a wave of mediocrity but I will check it out sometime based on the review Shaun!

  4. It is a lot of fun Carl, but Fisher's second film for Planet Productions NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT is a lot more enjoyable.


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