For years I’d seen images of this Peter Sasdy directed production for Tigon Productions in Famous Monsters magazine or old hard cover books on the history of horror films I’d sign out at the local library and eventually acquire for my own. The fact that it’s taken me this long to actually see the film for the first time makes it somewhat rare in my eyes and it’s thanks to a recent blu ray release from Kino that has allowed me to finally sit in on this thriller that I dare say is far more relevant today than it was in ’72.
Not knowing where this thriller was headed I was quite surprised that it’s less a horror title than it is a message film on the state of world pollution. Doomwatch is actually a world organization that sets out to protect the environment from man’s destruction of the planet. This leads to Ian Bannen arriving on a secluded island that is mainly a fishing village. He’s arrived to study the residual damage of an oil tanker that had gone down off shore a year earlier.
As an outsider who has arrived in the village he’ll soon find out he’s an unwelcome visitor. From the local Vicar to Percy Herbert as the local Police Officer, Bannen, finds most every door closed to him aside from a local boarding house run by Shelagh Fraser. It’s here that Bannen (in the Peter Cushing role) will meet the lovely Judy Geeson. Like him she is still considered an outsider after two years of teaching the island children in school. The men in the local tavern are no more friendly than the Vicar and though he didn’t turn up as a barkeep, I really did expect Hammer favorite Michael Ripper to be running the local pub and warning Bannen off the isle.
Not only did the film remind me somewhat of a vintage Hammer title but also called to mind Edward Woodward’s journey to Summer Isle in The Wickerman. It should be pointed out that Doomwatch predates The Wickerman by one year in case one is thinking of the Chris Lee film influencing this Sasdy effort.
What Bannen is soon to discover is the deformity of many islanders who’s facial features are enlarged and hardened. They seem to be suffering from the deformity known as acromegaly. Now he sets to discover the reasons why which will lead to a beach area being used by the navy as a chemical dumping ground and by extension an area where a private company run by Geoffrey Keen has been ridding itself of an experimental chemical that was to increase growth in livestock. That chemical in turn has leaked into local waters. End result is the fish are much larger around the island and as fish is the main source of food for the islanders, they too have become poisoned with the chemical. This is as good a time as any to point out some spectacular make-up effects in the film.
The horror angle comes into the story via the people that Bannen can’t see. The ones that have been hidden away in the homes of the locals. Bannen even comes across the body of a child buried in the woods that will conveniently disappear when he convinces Officer Percy to come to the woods where he first discovered the body. Bannen will also be allowed to verbally spar with Oscar winner George Sanders who plays an Admiral in the Navy and is aware of the military using the area as a dumping ground. Sadly, this was to be one of Sanders’ final film roles as he would take his own life the same year of Doomwatch’s release to theaters.
Bannen’s role is a heroic one as he fights to right a wrong and gather the islanders around him. It’s an uphill battle and a tad frightful at times even after he convinces lovely Miss Geeson to join the fight against the world of pollution and it’s harmful after effects to the innocent bystanders.
Prior to this theatrical release, Doomwatch, was already an established show on television in the U.K. that hit screens in 1970. Actor John Paul who starred in the series as Dr. Spencer Quist is carried over to the film as Bannen’s boss at Doomwatch. I’ve never seen the TV show so can’t comment on whether or not it’s worth looking up. Feel free to leave a message if you have a comment on that.
Back to that Hammer feeling I was getting over the first thirty minutes. Not surprising considering Sasdy directed a trio of Hammer titles as the decade rang in. Taste The Blood of Dracula, Countess Dracula and Hands of the Ripper. Ian Bannen was for me a first rate character actor who here does the lead role justice. His career began in the early 1950’s and he made stops in top flight films like The Hill (1965), Flight of the Phoenix (1966) and turned in a stellar performance in one of his final films, To Walk With Lions in 1999.
Fans of 70’s films should easily recognize Judy Geeson. She starred in the superior 10 Rillington Place, Hammer’s Fear In the Night and even played opposite John Wayne in Brannigan and is still active in movies and television today.
Tigon Productions should be a name familiar to Horror Film buffs. Between 1967 and 1973 the company had 19 films in release. Among them some cult hits like Witchfinder General, The Crimson Cult and Blood on Satan’s Claw. They even dabbled in the western genre with Hannie Caulder. The final film the company had in release was 1973’s The Creeping Flesh that starred the dynamic duo of Horror, Lee and Cushing.
Doomwatch proved to be a solid piece of entertainment that was less a horror film than I expected but one delivering a message that unfortunately is still relevant nearly fifty years later.