Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray
Director: Terence Fisher
For their follow-up to the misfire that was Devils Of Darkness, Planet Film Productions wisely decided to push the boat out and bring in the big guns.
Instead of the previous films lacklustre cast and direction, Island Of Terror would feature not only the great Peter Cushing in the lead role, but the equally great Terence Fisher behind the camera, resulting in a film that transcends its schlocky B-movie premise to be without a doubt, the best made and best acted film ever made about bone-dissolving blobs invading an island off the coast of Ireland.
On the isolated Petrie Island, Dr Landers (Eddie Byrne) suspects an unknown disease is killing the population when he comes across bodies completely missing their entire bone structure.
Baffled, he heads to the mainland to recruit expert help in the shape of noted pathologist Dr Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr West (Edward Judd), a specialist in bones and related disease. The trio head back to Petrie Island accompanied by West’s girlfriend Toni Merrill (Carole Gray), but soon find themselves stranded.
Their investigations reveal that it’s not a disease they are facing, it’s something much more horrifying. A group of scientists on the island have been researching a cure for cancer, but have unwittingly created a new life form from the silicon atom. These “Silicates” are near-invulnerable creatures who kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies. Not only that, the replicate themselves every few hours and if they aren’t stopped, will number a million by the end of the day…
Island Of Terror could easily have been a trashy B-movie with the smallest of changes, but its no surprise that Terence Fisher makes a silk purse outfit of the potential sow’s ear it could have been.
Yes, the silicates look ridiculous, like scabby cushions with a prehensile hose wobbling out from them, but they’re shot with real panache and given gravitas by the reactions of talent like Cushing and Judd, who play it utterly straight and more than make up for any inherent daftness. These creatures are lethal and rightly terrifying, so if the effects themselves don’t quite hold up, everything else around them helps sell the illusion. Saying that, I bloody love them anyway. They’re a great, bizarre-looking alien design and wouldn’t look out of place menacing a base-under-siege in Doctor Who a few years later, which is fine by me.
The Silicates are slowly bled into the action, killing offscreen at first, then a tentacle here, a gelatinous undercarriage there, with Fisher expertly building the tension amongst the boneless corpses they leave in their wake. By the time the fully appear in a properly gripping corridor stand-off, there’s a real feeling of threat to them. Oh, and then they’re revealed to be practically invulnerable. Great.
It’s all beautifully shot both on location (sadly not on coastal Ireland though) and some lush interiors, giving Petrie Island a real atmosphere of being a real, living place, which goes some way to upping the threat another few notches.
Cushing is…well, Cushing. Once again, he turns up, steals every scene and is immense. As always. His Dr Stanley is as brave as he is resourceful, authoritarian but open to others opinions, but Cushing gives him a dry wit that only he could deliver. It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling off his brilliant combination of humour and stiff-upper lip in the scene where he’s making light of his recent life-saving dismemberment at West’s hands.
Both Judd and Gray are on fine form too as the lovers who’s planned date night has taken a turn for the horrific, particularly the latter, who turns what could have been a vapid dolly bird role into something with a bit more substance.
Much like the same year’s The Projected Man, which it would be released in the US as a double bill with, Island Of Terror feels somewhat anachronistic with its weird science gone awry ideas, but it’s so brilliantly realised it doesn’t matter. It’s silly, but it’s wonderfully done too. An underappreciated classic.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy