Island of Terror (1966)
This film is quintessential b-movie monster greatness and one of my all-time favorites. Everything works beginning with rapid editing, fine direction by Hammer regular Terence Fisher, an original and taut score, a moody setting (there’s Brocket Hall again), a terrific supporting cast (Niall MacGinnis), an unusual story about cancer research gone bad, the inimitable Peter Cushing and the unforgettable turtle monsters or Silicates. Island of Terror (1966) is a fast paced film. Like The Thing from Another World (1951), Doom Watch (1972), and The Wicker Man (1973), the movie benefits from the uneasiness of an unknown terror threatening an isolated and unprepared group of people. Terence Fisher’s direction is sublime. However, this is not a Hammer production.
In some ways, Island of Terror reminds me a bit of a 007 flick —I like how Peter Cushing (Dr. Brian Stanley) and Edward Judd (Dr. David West) don Level A radiation suits. They look like Dr. No! My friend Jim thought the film to be a “little bit Dr. Who-ish”. The monsters look like they might appear in a Dr. Who episode.
You’ll notice the research facilty as Karswell’s mansion Lufford Hall (Night of the Demon, 1957). This is the historical home of Lord Brocket, in Hertfordshire, England. It’s in several films.
Here’s a plot rundown. An island off the coast of Ireland harbors a research facility and specialists using radioisotopes in hopes of finding a cure for cancer. A body of local farmer Ian Bellows is found devoid of bone structure. His body is essentially a big mass of jelly. A local Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) examines the body and recruits input from mainland Dr. Stanley (Peter Cushing) who specializes in pathology. Both doctors are dumbfounded and consult with bone specialist Dr. David West (Edward Judd). The three good doctors and West’s wealthy girlfriend Toni Merrill (Carole Gray) fly to the Island of Terror via a Sikorsky helicopter.
The doctors examine the corpse of Ian Bellows and discover numerous minute puncture wounds and discover that his bones and skeletal structure have been completely dissolved. Other bodies are discovered. They recruit the aid of a local constable and investigate the cancer reasearch facility run by a mysterious Dr. Philips (there are a lot of doctors in this film). Several “jelly” bodies are discovered. The constable pokes around in the wrong place…
Still in the catacombs of the research facility, Stanley, Merrill, West and Landers encounter a strange slug-like creature with a hard tough carapace and long snake-like tentacle. Landers grabs an ax…
The doctors discover that the creatures or “silicates” become dormant when they split. They multiple much like primitive organisms… One silicate becomes 2, then 4, 8, 16 and so on…
Peter Cushing and friends learn that Doctor Philips research into creating cancer fighting cells led to the creation of the durable, deadly multiplying silicates. Local islanders are informed. I particularly like Niall MacGinnis (Karswell in Night of the Demon) who plays one of the island leaders toting a shotgun.
Peter Cushing approaches one of the silicates with a Geiger counter…
I won’t spoil the ending, but Cushing has an encounter…
Island of Terror is tremendous fun. This film serves as a template on how to make a good sci-fi/horror film:
- Hire Terence Fisher (or other experienced horror/action film director)
- Hire Peter Cushing (or Christopher Lee)
- Hire good writers.
- Create a weird and interesting monster and have it stalk people in an isolated setting.
- Film on location.
- Don’t make the film too long.
- Add punchy score.
- Never ever add CGI unless it’s a superhero movie like The Avengers.
Ah, they don’t make ’em like they used to…
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