Island of Terror (1966)

*. I wonder how many actors there have been who had careers like that of Peter Cushing. He’s still very well known today, and I think widely admired, but he made a living out of appearing in scores of undistinguished and now quite obscure movies basically playing variations on the same character. Just look over his filmography. What stands out? Turns as Sherlock Holmes and Van Helsing. Of course Grand Moff Tarkin (though that was a bit part). Aside from that it’s mostly a blur. I was surprised to find that he doesn’t even have an entry in David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film.
*. Well, here he is again, performing above his pay grade in a cheap slice of Brit horror from the ’60s. As usual he is an eminent man of science fighting the forces of evil. Island of Terror wasn’t a Hammer production, but it might as well have been. Terence Fisher was behind the camera. The big house isn’t Oakley Court but St. Hubert’s. Cushing’s character exclaims that it looks like Wuthering Heights, but I don’t think Emily Brontë imagined anything half so grand.
*. I thought the plot felt very much like a Doctor Who episode, which seems fitting since Cushing played the Doctor this same year in the feature Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. To recap: A bunch of scientists have set up a research station on a remote island off the east coast of Ireland. While trying to discover a cure for cancer they accidentally create a species of fast-breeding creatures that sort of look like giant turtles with long, tentacle-like necks. Anyway, once one of these “silicates” grabs hold of you they dissolve every bone in your body and then start to duplicate. Given enough of a food supply they’ll soon take over the world.
*. The silicates do not impress. Since they move very slowly and the only way they can attack is by way of their single appendage (or, even more improbably, by falling on people from out of trees) they really aren’t all that threatening. At best they can be disgusting, as when they go through some kind of mitosis and spill out pools of greenish spaghetti. But give credit to the producers for going ahead and showing them in all their low-budget glory early on, in full view and good lighting. Laugh or shake your head if you want, but this is the best they could do and you’re welcome to it.
*. If the silicates underwhelm, they do at least provide the film with its one signature element. The rubberized corpses of the people they have de-boned are actually pretty creepy. I only wish we had seen more of them. But I don’t think Fisher’s heart was in it.
*. Carole Gray plays the scared, helpless, and stupid female who is even more scared, helpless, and stupid than usual. She needs to be held, a lot, and is so lacking in agency she’s nearly euthanized at the end.
*. The idea of injecting strontium-90 into a herd of dairy cattle that the silicates then eat and are poisoned by isn’t bad. But aside from being excessively nerdy it’s also a drawn-out and boring solution. While dynamite and “petrol bombs” (Molotov cocktails) are attempted but found wanting, I think we still want to see the silicates getting destroyed in some more spectacular way than just dying from food poisoning.
*. Well, don’t expect too much. Island of Terror is a bit of fun for fans of British horror from this period. There are a couple of decent jump scares, and some memorably odd shots of herds of silicates wandering through forests and fields. It’s certainly miles ahead of the next production to come from Planet Film Productions, Night of the Big Heat. Which only goes to show that things here could have been a lot worse, even without the contagion spreading to Japan.

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