Island of Terror (1966)

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By the time I watched Island Of Terror, around the age of 7 or so, it had become a staple on afternoon sci-fi theater type TV shows.  I had seen many horror and sci-fi movies, from The Fly, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Jaws, and Kingdom of the Spiders to stuff like The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead.  None of these movies scared or bothered me, but for some reason Island of Terror did.  It actually gave me nightmares, which very few movies have ever done in my life.

Directed by the prolific Terrence Fisher (who directed some of the most notable British horror films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s including a ton for Hammer (such as The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, Brides of Dracula, The Mummy, The Earth Dies Screaming, and many more) and starring Peter Cushing, it’s another story of scientific research gone wrong.

On a remote British island, the body of a man is discovered with no bones left in it (“He’s like jelly” remarks the constable).  A couple of specialists (played by Peter Cushing and Edward Judd (from First Men In the Moon, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and The Vault of Horror to name a few)) are brought in and discover that a researcher who was trying to find a cure for cancer created a new life form which can dissolve bones and suck them out of a person (or animal’s) body.  These creatures are also virtually indestructible and divide into two every 6 hours or so (which means that the island would be overrun by them in less than a week).
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After trying to shoot them and blow them up with dynamite, they discover a possible weakness and hatch a desperate plan to destroy them for good.  But with their numbers diminishing and no place to run, the odds of surviving are pretty low.
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In contrast to some of his Hammer work, Fisher’s direction here is fairly subdued, making me think a bit of Tod Browning’s style (in which he generally would set up a camera and let all the action happen in front of it, rather than moving around a lot or utilizing a plethora of cuts, zooms and close ups. Of course with Browning this was mainly because of equipment available at the time, but he still seemed to favor a “sitting back and filming a play’ direction style).  He’s never really had the flair or atmospheric touch of fellow Brit director Freddie Francis, but he seems more subdued on this film than most of his others.  The acting is decent, tho the main ‘hero’ (played by the aforementioned Edward Judd) is lacking in charisma quite a bit.  The unnecessary love interest (played by Curse of the Fly‘s Carole Gray) is a fairly annoying character as well, but everyone else plays their parts perfectly.   The setting is used nicely with the remote island and old school feel of everything.  Basically this is like a zombie movie- the creatures move very slow, but keep multiplying and are unstoppable.  The main characters end up barricading themselves (tho not very well) in and under siege.
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The monsters are pretty cool looking, kind of like turtle/ snails with a tentacle coming out where their head should be.  They also make a creepy, radioactive synthy sound (and a comical slurping one when they suck someone’s bones out).
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The film is a little slow moving by today’s standards, but fairly fast paced by 1966 horror/ sci-fi movie standards.  I found myself getting into the story and enjoying it (tho it didn’t scare me like it did my 7 year old self.  I have no idea why it affected me so).  People these days are so overstimulated I doubt a lot of them could watch a movie like this and get into it.  They would be looking at their phone, texting, filling the chip bowl, doing laundry, looking at the iPad, etc. way before it got going.  I like movies that take their time building to something.  I like to see these small villages and old ways portrayed in detail.  It was a simpler time, and if a movie can show it realistically it often fascinates me (it doesn’t hurt that this movie was filmed not too far into the future from when times were really like this).
So some of me liking it might have more to do with the period setting than the actual plot, but I still found it a good watch after all these years.   It’s never been released in a Region 1 DVD or Blu Ray, so it might be hard to track down, but you can’t consider yourself a classic British horror/ sci-fi film connoisseur, even if you’ve seen all the Hammer and Amicus films, until you’ve seen some of these offbeat titles (this one done by a small company called Planet Film Productions), and this is a good one to start with.
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