Friday, 22 May 2015

Island Of Terror

Confounded? Try Silicate!

Island Of Terror (aka Night Of The Silicates)
UK 1966
Directed by Terence Fisher
Odeon Entertainment (for Planet Films) 
Blu Ray Region B

Warning: Slight spoilers but nothing which 
should really diminish your enjoyment of this movie.

One of the things I love about the current Blu Ray and DVD release landscape in the UK is the discovery of movies I really should have been tuned into as a kid but which, somehow, managed to escape me. Such a release is the new UK Blu Ray of the 1966 Terence Fisher movie Island Of Terror. Now Fisher is a director who is probably on the radar of pretty much anyone who’s interested in British movies made in the Science Fiction and Horror genres... most famously for the movies he shot for Hammer films such as Dracula (aka Horror Of Dracula and reviewed by me here) and the excellent Four Sided Triangle (reviewed by me here). He also directed one of my all time favourite British sci-fi/horror tales, The Earth Dies Screaming, which I would recommend to all of my readers and which definitely falls into the realm of what I have often called on here, my much loved ‘comfort horror’ films.

Island Of Terror is, from now on, also one of these much loved comfort horror films I will occasionally reach for but, I should probably warn the faint of heart when it comes to certain people who like to take their horror straight up and as it comes, that it’s also badly written and falls quite comfortably into that realm of cinematic entertainment known as... the unintentionally hilarious movie.

The film starts off with some amazing script outbursts which show the inhabitants of an island village at their harbour, each passing second including samples of dialogue which absolutely highlights how cut off from the world they are, even to the point where ‘the company’ hasn’t even bothered to put phones on the island for the last two years. It’s a smallish community and even the local police force seems to be a force of one - Constable John Harris played by Sam Kydd. We then cut to a scene of some of the most incomprehensible sci-fi techno babble I've heard committed to celluloid, which I’m sure even the scriptwriters probably didn’t understand and made up without any kind of research, as a team of scientists in a secluded manor house on the island start their next experiment involving Strontium 90 and a load of lab equipment. All in a quest to discover the cure for cancer. The pseudo-science dialogue is quite outrageously bad, even for a movie like this, and would have took some rehearsing to get it to roll off the tongue like that, I’ll bet.

We then get a credit sequence where my ears stood up and took note. I’d not consciously heard any other movies scored by this composer except one and, as they music played out, I just had time enough to say to somebody in the room that... this sounds a little like the music to the first Dr. Who And The Daleks movie... before the music credits came up. Music by Malcolm Lockyear with sound effects by Barry Gray, who people will know as the musical team behind that first Dalek movie and, in Barry Gray’s case, the composer of many of the Gerry Anderson TV shows such as Joe 90, Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, Space 1999 (Season 1) and the like. So I was quite pleased to be able to identify Lockyear’s trademark style when I’d only ever heard his stuff on that first Dalek film, to my knowledge. That being said, when the music was playing on the menu screen, the other person in the room with me suggested the film must be a comedy, from the sound of the score. Nope, it’s not a comedy... well, not intentionally, anyway, but I’ll come back to this point with the music a little later, I think.

Pretty soon, a man goes into a cave and we hear his screams. When he’s discovered by Sam Kydd and taken to one of the three male main protagonists of the film, Dr. Landers (played by Eddie Byrne), it becomes apparent that the rubbery husk of the remains has somehow had the bones stripped from the body. Oh no! Is it a virus? Landers takes advantage of the only boat a week that leaves (or some such, they really do keep emphasising how cut off the population of the island is at any opportunity) to go to London to enlist the aide of his friend Dr. Stanley, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. Stanly takes Landers to meet the lothario Dr. West (played by Edward Judd) who agrees, along with Dr. Stanley to accompany Dr. Landers back to the island to investigate the body.

But how to get there?

Well, West’s girlfriend Toni (played by the lovely Carole Gray) has a rich father and she secures a helicopter ride back to the island... on condition that she can accompany them. Unfortunately, she only accompanies them to be a paper thin character frequently put in peril, assist exposition and help out with the villagers while the men do all the interesting stuff but... hey ho... that’s what you expect from this kind of movie, I guess. Of course, it then transpires that her father will need the helicopter again the very next morning... so the four of them are dropped off on the island and the helicopter agrees to return in a few days... because it’s really important to the plot that everyone in the audience knows they are cut of from the rest of the world on this island for a number of days, right?

And then, amost immediately, the whole film gets really great and when our intrepid heroes go to investigate the Manor House containing the island’s experimental scientific community... they find them all in an equally dead and rubbery state, their bones sucked from their bodies. It doesn’t take long for our heroes to discover that the scientific experiments to cure cancer inadvertently brought forth a rock based, amoeba like creature with a long tentacle that can sting you and suck the very skeleton from you in a very small amount of time. Oh... so it wasn’t a virus after all then? Okay that’s good.

From here on the film turns into a standard monster combat situation, as our heroes learn in no uncertain terms that the silicates (as they call them) split after they’ve eaten some bones (belonging to the odd horse or human, for instance) and multiply with great rapidity. Our three scientists, aided only by West’s girlfriend, the short lived constable and a bunch of “Oh, arrr” local villagers, have only a day at most to stop the total annihilation of the population of the island by the increasing numbers of silicates. As one of the villagers said to another, in a piece of dialogue that says everything about this movie in terms of its scripting... “There’s some peculiar goings on, going on, on this island.” Not sure if that’s the right punctuation  for that sentence or not but... no, I’m not making this stuff up.

Oh wait. Did I say ‘standard’ monster combat situation. Well, this movie is anything but standard and although the script is quite bad and giggle inducing at regular intervals, it’s... well, it’s pretty well made for starters. There’s some really nice things happening with the composition of the shots and the director uses the varied heights of people to make diagonal patterns and pyramid shapes within the set ups... which works really well and might well be a signature trait of the director since I’m sure I’ve picked up on that element of his films before.

The other thing this movie has got going for it, apart from some brilliant actors and actresses in it who you wouldn’t believe would ever want to attempt to bring these almost unsayable lines to life, is a certain unpredictable quality to it. It’s not a film which sticks completely to a formula and, though the elements of peril and much laboured sense of jeopardy are hitting pretty standard riffs, things suddenly happen in this film that you just don’t expect to see... like the unexpected death of one of the three doctor heroes about half way through the movie (and no, I’m not going to tell you which one that is).

There’s another quite amazing moment which completely contradicts what we know about the physiology of the silicate monsters but is a nice scene, nevertheless... where Peter Cushing’s character gets a tentacle around his wrist and is being pulled towards a silicate. Edward Judd’s character reacts as quickly as he feels the audience can keep up with and grabs an axe, moving towards the silicate... and, just when you expect him to cut the tentacle off the creature, he chops off Cushing’s hand instead. Apparently this particular scene was trimmed in a few countries, including here in the UK, to delete the spurting of blood from Cushing’s stump. However, I’m happy to confirm that this Blu Ray reinstates the second or two shot... which was previously only available in a German DVD release of the movie, from what I can make out.

Even the possible cure to the silicate problem, which I won’t go into here, involves the heroes sacrificing all the cattle on the island to the creatures in order for their mad scheme to work... which is kinda brutal and ruthless even for a modern horror film, when you stop and think about it, let alone something which hit the cinemas in 1966. So all in all, the less than predictable way in which a lot of the plot unfolds is quite stand out and it certainly had me scratching my head, in a good way, at times.

Less good is the amount of padding in this movie. It’s not  long affair but a lot of the film seems like it’s lingering unnecessarily in scenes to fill out the running time. For instance, when the helicopter leaves our heroes on the island we are treated to a long, held shot as it flies off into the distance for a while. The music tries hard to make this long, drawn out static shot sound a bit more exciting but, sad to say, and going back to the comment made about the film looking like it was a comedy, the soundtrack does seem like inappropriate scoring for the majority of the movie. it would be great as a stand alone listen, I’m sure (although I’m also sure we’ll never get the chance) but as support to the movie, it’s heavy rather than robust a lot of the time.

Similar scene padding comes when Cushing and Judd go to collect a load of Strontium 90 from the Manor House. We are treated to a long scene of them putting on their protective radiation suits which takes far longer than it should and, sad to say, looks like each actor is wearing a giant condom over their head. I know the characters want to stay safe but that’s not the kind of safe I was expecting from them, to be honest.

While I’m at it though, I noticed a probable cut scene too, that doesn’t seem to have made the final version of the film. In one scene, where Judd is addressing the village community, he talks about running one of the creatures over... well I can probably hazard a guess as to where this scene would have been but it’s certainly not referring to anything that happens in the movie as it was released... so that’s a bit of a worry. Also, a quick note to anybody fighting monsters... if you’re going to throw Molotov cocktails at rock creatures, don’t stand directly under a tree which happens to have one in it. Just a little word of advice there.

And that’s all I got on this one. The ending is... well it’s a bit more predictable than some films I’ve seen Fisher work on but there's a little punchline of an ending, where one of the characters says the truly groan inducing line... “We’re lucky this was an island. If it had happened anywhere else I don't think we could have destroyed them.”... takes us to a scientific research team in Japan,  obviously working on a similar problem and getting killed offscreen by a similar ‘accidental creature.’ It’s all happening in this movie but it makes for an incredibly corny ending, I must say.

All that being said, though, I absolutely loved Island Of Terror and have no hesitation in recommending it to pretty much anyone who loves these old British B movies and it’s one I’ll no doubt watch a fair few times in my life, now I know it exists. Not a hard release to love and I certainly hope there are a lot more of those kinds of movie coming from wherever they dug this one up from. I’ll be happy to stand in line for them.

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