Island of Terror (1966)
Genre favorite Terence Fischer directed this sci-fi thriller at Pinewood Studios that features a silly plot and laughably cheesy creatures BUT along comes Peter Cushing to give the entire running length of 87 minutes complete credibility.
Having seen this film on late night TV as a child, I’ve always had a heartfelt love for this thriller that sees Cushing and co-star Edward Judd battling a lab created being known as a silicate that is capable of dividing itself into two beings every 6 hours. The end result being there’s a hell of a lot of silicates on this secluded island off the coast of Ireland.
Once a peaceful island of tranquility overseen by Niall MacGinnis as the community Mayor, lives are at stake when a reclusive scientist embroiled in cancer research creates the silicate. A giant sized amoeba like creature with a protruding tentacle that feeds off living organisms by devouring it’s victims bones leaving nothing but a jelly like blob of flesh in it’s wake. When a farmer’s body is found minus any bones, local island doctor, Eddie Byrne, heads to the mainland to find the Van Helsing of British pathologists for help, Peter Cushing. Peter in turn decides to bring along Edward Judd for some scientific assistance. Of course we need a romantic interest so Judd brings along Carol Gray who will do double duty supplying both kisses for Judd and screams to keep us all on the edge of our seats once the onslaught of silicates begins.
Following a quick autopsy to confirm that the farmer’s body is minus any bones, the quartet head to the estate that houses our cancer research. It’s here that they’ll find what’s left of the lab technicians. All reduced to boneless corpses. A quick note on the brave Peter Cushing. While the group descend the stairs to the estate’s lower depths the first door they see looks to be a sturdy and made of steel with a clear warning labeled across it, KEEP OUT RADIATION DANGER.” What’s the first thing that Dear Peter does? Opens it of course and charges in to discover there’s nothing amiss here. Man’s got guts! Not the same down the hall where they find what’s left of the lab with the jellied techs.
Time for some of our lesser characters to end up looking like a clothed jellyfish. Kind of like those ensigns that appeared each week on Star Trek beaming down with Kirk and company to this week’s planet never to return. So let’s say goodbye to a local constable, a horse, a volunteer fighter who doesn’t see that silicate in the tree above (and why should he????) and sadly even Eddie Byrne who would reunite with Cushing once again ten years down the road in a sci-fi flick that was to take the world by storm.
Just as nothing seems to be able to stop the silicates from overtaking the island and every living inhabitant, a discovery is made that could change the fortunes of Peter and his crew. I won’t give anything away but I will say I felt awfully sorry for the herd of cattle that are sacrificed for mankind. First off I wonder if they were told and secondly, I sure hope there were none hurt during production from the rubber special effects tentacles that once gripping you in a death like grip spell the end for most any mortal man or milking cow.
But we know Peter isn’t any mere mortal. Check it out for yourself.
“Fiction or Fact? This can really happen.”
So says the trailer and when filmed at Pinewood Studios, I guess it really can.
There’s an undeniable similarity between this production and another that Fisher and Cushing would work on the following year, Night of the Big Heat. A plot very similar about a secluded group of people trying to survive an alien being on an island off the mainland. A film that had the benefit of teaming Cushing with his number one co-star, Christopher Lee. And while Lee might have appeared in that follow up, Island of Terror is by far the more enjoyable of the two.
Working mainly for Hammer, this represented one of the few films Fisher directed outside of the Studio That Dripped Blood during the latter part of his career. Bringing Peter along for this foolishness is always a great idea. The film is a perfect example of a silly looking entity that couldn’t catch a child if it tried to but that doesn’t stop Peter the professional actor from taking the whole exercise with the utmost seriousness as if he were co-starring alongside Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. We fans would expect nothing less from Props Peter.
Leading lady Carole Gray though long retired was on a four film run of thrillers. She’d appear in Curse of the Fly, Devils of Darkness, The Brides of Fu Manchu (with Chris Lee) and Island of Terror in a two year period. Edward Judd has a long list of credits but I probably remember him best from the wonderful 1964 Ray Harryhausen film, First Men In the Moon. A film that captivated me in childhood and still does to this day.
With a firm walk and a deadly determination, Cushing is once again battling the forces of evil with a Van Helsing flair. Thankfully the film has finally resurfaced on blu ray via Scream Factory which looks a damned sight better than the VHS tape I’ve kept for years. Nice to see it came with a reversible jacket cover because upon opening it the first thing I did was to reverse it to the Peter Cushing artwork which is much more favorable to the fans then the drab cover without him.
No North American one sheet here in my personal collection but I did get a German copy a couple years ago when buying a collection. It promises quite a different look then anything on this side of the pond as you can see here.