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: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen
Director: Terence Fisher
After the excellent Island Of Terror, Planet Film Productions had one last roll of the dice in the shape of Night Of The Big Heat.
Despite its American title Of Island Of The Burning Damned, it’s an altogether more subtle and character-driven film than it’s predecessor, one that goes out of its way not to show the invading aliens, instead focusing on the effect their presence and influence on the surrounding area has on the locals.
Britain is in the middle of another cold winter, but the island of Fara is undergoing an unexpected extreme heatwave. A scientist, Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) arrives on the island and secretly sets up a laboratory in his lodgings above a pub to investigate the causes.
Meanwhile, the owners of the pub, author Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) and his wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson) have their own, more personal problems. Unknown to Frankie, Angela (Jane Merrow) the new secretary she’s hired to help her husband, is actually his old mistress and the reason they moved away to Fara in the first place.
As the temperature rises, tempers fray and people start to lose control of their inhibitions, not to mention the spate of deaths that start occurring, for this is no naturally occurring freak weather, it’s the first move in an invasion by aliens, who want to terra-form the planet for their own purposes…
What a strange little film Night Of The Big Heat is. First and foremost, it’s an alien invasion film. That’s the main plot, but there’s no aliens actually in it until the last couple of minutes. We’re used to this in regular horror films of course, but your more sci-fi fare tends to make a virtue of its aliens, even if they’re terrible. Which to be fair, these particular ones are, if not truly terrible, certainly not anything to get excited about. Unless you get excited about glowing poached eggs, that is.
It kind of works in its favour though, as Terence Fisher focuses on building the tension along with the temperature. Initially, it’s all as British as it gets, with everyone (including Peter Cushing’s sadly-underused Dr Stone) gathering in the local pub to calmly discuss the weird goings on. Slowly though, they all start to lose control, their clothes drenched in sweat, as they let anger, lust and irrational behaviour get the better of them. Though there’s a lovely touch in how everyone starts peeling off layers and looking generally disheveled with the heat, apart from Cushing and Lee, who don’t even undo past the top button. They’re British, you know?
Lee is on top form here as the harassed and borderline neurotic scientist, who has no time whatsoever for these civilians and their idiotic questions, while Cushing, for all his limited screen time, is in a playful mood and brightens up the screen every time he appears.
The love triangle between Jeff, Frankie and Angela brings a very human element to the whole thing and works well, even if it’s resolution is uncomfortably of its time, with Frankie being delighted to be told that the other girl means nothing as “She was a slut, and I wanted her”. Eew. The whole thing gives Jeff some character though and makes him more than the usual plank of wood hero that these films all too often think is good enough.
It’s only really the ending that properly let’s Night Of The Big Heat down, in that it goes down that War Of The Worlds/Day Of The Triffids (the film that is) tacked on solution of something natural and common t Earth being the solution to the invasion, in this case, its rain. How handy.
It doesn’t spoil what is a tense and gripping thriller though, one that’s content to be subtle and let its characters tell the story. Just don’t go in expecting full on horror and effects, because you’ll be disappointed.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy