Night of the Big Heat (1967)
aka Island of the Burning Damned
As this Terence Fischer directed sci-fi effort is not based in a Gothic setting and isn’t part of the Hammer series of monster films, it’s perhaps a lesser known thriller of the Peter Cushing – Christopher Lee 1960’s pairings. As a matter of fact it took me longer to see this one than any of their other duets. With no Baron or Count in sight, our two titans of horror cinema will have team up to face off against a threat from outer space in the forms of giant jelly fish like blobs that are anything but threatening so just concentrate on enjoying the participation and interaction of the iconic leads.
Our heated story takes place on a small isle somewhere near the English coastline that is experiencing a record heatwave while the mainland is somewhere near zero degrees. The story revolves around a pub/inn run by writer Patrick Allen and his wife Sarah Lawson and the barflies that populate it. This includes local Doctor Peter Cushing and a mysterious, arrogant Christopher Lee as some sort of scientific researcher renting a room and throwing orders about as only Lee can with his commanding, demanding on screen presence.
Aside from the off screen aliens raising the islands temperature is Jane Morrow arriving on the isle to serve as Allen’s new secretary. Her presence is raising the heat on every male within eyesight and the script is very liberal in tossing around words like ‘common slut” or scenes of barely contained breasts, groping and slobbery kisses like those I recall from the days of owning a Saint Bernard. With everyone sweating profusely and Morrow’s chest bursting from the screen, it’s hard to believe that this was supposedly filmed in winter and the cast were anything but overheating.
“Creatures? What do you mean creatures?”
Something is frying the locals and feeding off batteries and other forms of energies leading Cushing to demand just what are the creatures Lee who has confided in Allen are exactly that they’ve been referring to. Panic is setting in to our small cast that includes Percy Herbert, William Lucas and Kenneth Cope. With the heat rising, it’s effecting the state of mind of our islanders who are beginning to make some irrational choices including an attempted raping of Miss Morrow.
Lee gets to play hero here for a change and takes charge with Allen while kindly Peter steps up to do his part in what is billed as a Guest Starring role. Essentially this means his screen time is somewhat less than Lee’s meaning you know what. If you haven’t figured it out than skip the next sentence. Peter steps up on a suicide mission and gives his life just past the half way point in an attempt to contact the mainland. With Peter out of the way, Lee and Allen take center stage when the giant jelly rocks make their appearance known with less than stellar special effects.
Strictly a “B” effort from the pair and their frequent director, Fisher the film reminds me of a couple of others. Notably the cult favorite again from Fisher, Island of Terror which Cushing had just starred in one year previous to this one and also Carpenter’s The Thing which lay in the future. I say this because they both share the isolation factor and the characters realizing that they must not let the aliens in question reach mankind or the mainland if you prefer. No matter the cost.
Normally a villain, Lee gets to play on the side of good here and like some of his other heroic roles in The Gorgon, The Devil Rides Out and Horror Express, he still carries within his performance an arrogance that makes him hard to like even though we all do by the time the final reel plays itself out. His role here mirrors that of the one he would play to great effect in Horror Express opposite Peter in 1972. Easily the best of their non Hammer titles.
Looking for a copy of this one? Check out the blu ray from OEG that surprisingly gives Peter top billing with a Lee interview included and also a running commentary during the film monitored by hammer Historian Marcus Hearn that also features Lee telling some funny stories and recounting the production and working with his friends Peter and Terry.