Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Island of Terror (1966)

"Absolutely smashing 1960s BritMonster SF fun."

Director Terence Fisher, creator of many a fine Hammer horror, took a break from gothics in the mid-1960s to make a few low budget British science fiction movies for other companies. The black and white THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964) which he made for Robert Lippert, is really only of interest to completists, but the two colour features he made for Planet Productions are both well made monster adventure pictures. ISLAND OF TERROR, the better of the two, came first (NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT followed in 1967) and it has finally had a decent UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Odeon Entertainment.

One of the many movies of the 1960s that made the little me want to be a scientist

All is not well on the remote Petrie’s island, the landscape of which bears a striking resemblance to Buckinghamshire’s Black Park. Bodies are turning up entirely bereft of bones and local Dr Eddie Byrne, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, calls in bone pathology experts Peter Cushing and Edward Judd. 

See a torch meet a squishy hand!

Together with pretty Carole Gray (from Don Sharp’s 1965 CURSE OF THE FLY) they discover that at a research establishment on the island, an experiment to cure cancer has gone horribly wrong and instead created silicon-based blob monsters with wobbly tentacles that can suck all the calcium phosphate out of you. They’re also reproducing at an alarming rate (we get to see one do it in a welter of what looks like spaghetti) and if something isn’t done quickly the island will soon be overrun. 

It's in the trees! It's…oh hang no it's not anymore, sorry. 

Co-produced by an uncredited Richard Gordon, and double-billed in the US with his THE PROJECTED MAN, the movie originally called The Night the Silicates Came was retitled in favour of something more attention-grabbing. Now nearly fifty years old, ISLAND OF TERROR still holds up pretty well as an example of the ‘British scientists sitting in the local pub drinking Guinness and pondering the monster problem while locals are horribly killed’ subgenre.

You won't solve this sitting in the pub drinking coffee, chaps

The climax is very well put together, as the silicate monsters besiege the survivors in the local town hall, break in and begin to kill them all off. In fact, if John Carpenter had been making movies in the 1960s, ISLAND OF TERROR is just how one of them might have turned out. The silicates themselves look rather ropey now, inspiring affection rather than terror, but the whole thing moves along at such a pace and the performances are all pitched just right, that the film is a lot of undemanding fun.

…and the little me still wanted to be a scientist despite scenes like this

ISLAND OF TERROR has been available in the UK in a number of formats over the years, none of them hanging around on shop shelves for very long. Odeon’s transfer is undoubtedly the finest, with the Eastmancolor tones looking as rich as they are probably ever going to. The film is uncut as well, with a previously excised scene of Peter Cushing’s hand being amputated reinstated to provide a bit of gore. Extras are  limited to a trailer and an image library but to be honest it’s great to have this little British classic available again, and in such fine shape. Well done Odeon. 

ISLAND OF TERROR is available now on Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD from Odeon Entertainment

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