Thursday, January 21, 2016

Island of Terror (1966)

A rather peculiar human corpse is found on an isolated island between England and Ireland (I’m not sure if this is explicitly meant to be Pitcairn): it is boneless and has a jelly-like consistency. The local doctor (Eddie Byrne) has no idea what could be going on – a new infectious disease, perhaps? – so he jaunts off to fetch eminent pathologist Dr Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) who in turn fetches “young” bone specialist Dr David West (Edward Judd as the most boring man alive) who in his turn again will – for reasons of plot contrivance too tedious to get into and so we have a character in the movie who is only there to be in hysterics at all times – fetch useless rich girl Toni Merrill (Carole Gray).

On the island, the doctors quickly find quite a few more dead bodies and soon realize their problem isn’t a new kind of disease but the accidental product of another doctor’s attempt at curing cancer, which somehow resulted in bone-sucking monsters. Nearly indestructible monsters at that, if not for the wonders of that glorious stuff we know as Strontium-90.

Island of Terror is never going to be an important entry in the annals of British SF/horror films, nor one of the important films directed by Terence Fisher, nor any kind of career highpoint for my spiritual house patron, Peter Cushing.
It’s just too leisurely a film, with Fisher only seeming to put the minimum of effort – though the minimum of effort for Fisher is the maximum for many another genre director – into filming a script that itself barely scrapes by. Just look at the way the film isolates the characters on the island and cry bitter tears of It’s In The Script!.

Speaking of the script, apart from being rather silly (which is perfectly okay for this particular genre), it is too often falling back on variations of 50s US monster movie tropes, with a female lead character so useless even said 50s US monster movies would be a bit embarrassed about it, and a romance that’ll send shudders of horror down even the spines of the most hardened of viewers. The script also suffers from making so little out of the somewhat more original or more grim ideas it has. It doesn’t even bother to do anything with the moment where our heroes decide to murder our heroine so she doesn’t have to suffer through being bone-sucked, keeping what could lead off into an actually interesting little scene about a woman’s right to choose her own death (or something like that) a deeply unpleasant paternalistic gesture that probably can still invite a perfectly justified feminist rant.

Fortunately, there’s some enjoyable nonsense in here too, starting with the adorable looking monsters (or “silicates”, as the film calls them) that remind me of a some kind of English dish, only moving and with a single front tentacle, and that make the sort of electronic noises you also could have found in a contemporary  Doctor Who episode. And how many films are there whose grand finales are based on the heroes feeding cows they have poisoned with Strontium-90 to the monsters to then hope the creatures will die before they can bone-suck the rest of the cast?

Peter Cushing’s fine as always, of course, even with the little the film gives him. He milks the scene where he loses his hand for all it is worth and gets a few quips in I very much suspect were improvised on set and not in the script, and is otherwise the sort of presence that will improve every film. His old partner behind the camera Fisher does get around to two or so effective scenes between the parts of the film where he isn’t doing much beyond pointing the camera. Particularly the film’s finale is rather good, while the sting in the tale is not unexpected but fun enough in suggesting an imaginary Toho sequel.

Otherwise, Island of Terror is nothing to write home about, but is enjoyable enough.

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