Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Island of Terror (1966) review


Peter Cushing (Dr. Brian Stanley), Edward Judd (Dr. David West), Eddie Byrne (Dr. Landers), Sam Kydd (Constable Harris), Carole Gray (Toni Merrill)

Directed by Terence Fisher

On Petrie Island, the gruesome remains of a man are found whose skeletal structure has been liquefied leaving only a gelatinous mass. A group of doctors attempt to find out the cause of the strange death and make a trip by helicopter to the mysterious island. Once there, the scientists look for Dr. Lawrence Phillips. They soon find Dr. Phillips dead, his body maimed in the same fashion in addition to other victims. Aware of Phillips experiments in his search for a cancer cure, the doctors find his notes on his tests. Phillips had created a living matter that would attack cancer cells. However, something went horribly wrong. His experiments created a monster (called Silicates) that survives off bones of other living organisms. Dr. Stanley and Dr. West learn that the deadly creatures partition every six hours and the threat of over a million Silicates within a week is imminent. It's a race against time to find a means to destroy the island horror before anymore deaths occur.

Peter Cushing stars in this unusual and obscure British horror movie directed by Terence Fisher. What's most peculiar about the film is that it's neither a Hammer, nor Amicus production, but a picture from the relatively unknown Planet Films Production Company. Despite some inadequate creature effects, it's an interesting script and Fisher builds the suspense nicely before the creatures are revealed. After which, the film becomes a battle between the humans and the monsters. The doctors devise a plan to utilize Strontium-90 to combat the Silicates. This being their last hope as all other attempts to destroy the monsters proved futile.

The creatures possess an exo-skeleton that makes them impervious to weapons. Even dynamite is ineffective as learned in an earlier scene in which the doctors and a group of townsfolk fight off a group of the monsters, which, aside from sliding along the ground, also can attack from high above in a tree. The doctors later find a Silicate that died while feasting on a dog. The dog was a test subject for doctor Phillips and the remains contained a high level of Strontium-90. Doctors Stanley and West use this to their advantage injecting isotopes of the radiation into what remaining cattle are still alive. The plan is for the Silicate's to eat the cattle and hopefully, die off from ingesting the radiation. If the plan doesn't work, the remaining people must survive till help arrives. Herded into a building awaiting the attack by the Silicates, the townsfolk grow restless and attempt to leave by force. The creatures prevent their escape by surrounding the building and break in through the windows and from above.

During this last 10 minutes, the suspense returns as the dwindling group nearly resort to suicide as the Silicates manage to break into the building. It would have been even more so had the creatures been more realistically conceived. They look like they'd be more at home on an episode of DR. WHO. Even so, the aftermath of the monsters handiwork is rather nasty. The effects showcasing the victims of the Silicate's is suitably gruesome. The middle portion of the film is made up of both the doctors attempting to find a means to counter attack the monsters and punctuated by a brief encounter outside the dead doctor Phillips's house. Doctor Stanley is attacked by a Silicate which wraps its tentacle around his arm and begins to dissolve his bones. Stanley holds out his arm beckoning West to sever the limb. This scene is quite gory for the time. This German DVD retains the full amputation scene as the British DVD is cut.

One of the best sequences is when doctors Stanley, West and Landers accompanied by the beautiful Toni Merrill, enter doctor Phillips home and head into the basement where the labs are located. The four are trapped in a hallway by the bone eating monsters. It is here the group realize how strong the creatures are when Landers fails in killing one of the Silicate's with an axe paying for his mistake with his life. This is the protagonists first encounter with the monsters. It is also here that the scientists find that the creatures multiply by dividing their bodies into two parts every six hours. An oozing substance mixed with what looks like spaghetti excretes from the monsters. The ending is a nice touch that sees a similar fate befalling a medical facility in Japan!

Peter Cushing plays his role with a touch of subtle humor. During the first time he and the other doctors get a look at one of the victims, Stanley looks a bit shocked but retains an icy demeanor and utters, "That's not a very pretty sight." At the end after the threat has been subdued, Stanley complains of his stump itching. West tells him to shut up and Stanley responds with, "Watch it, boy, or I'll sue you for malpractice", in playful retaliation for West having chopped off his hand earlier in the film.

Director Terence Fisher is most famous for his Hammer classics like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), DRACULA (1958), THE MUMMY (1959), THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959), THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) among them.

His handling of Science Fiction laced with horror isn't too far removed from any number of American made sci-fi creature features of the 1950's only here, there's a slightly higher level of grisliness lacking from many of those earlier movies. Any British horror fan should give this one a go. It's nothing overly spectacular (due mainly to the effects work), but the storyline is sound and it has Peter Cushing which is a good enough selling point. The film has a good pace and comes recommended to lovers of monster movies of old.

This review is representative of the uncut German CCI DVD release. This release contains both English and German audio options.
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