Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Island of Terror
Island of Terror sets a couple of “landmarks” in place despite being small on horror history. Despite being a British production, it was the first science fiction horror film Universal distributed in a long time by as a double feature with another British sci-fi called The Projected Man. Released in 1966 (but distributed to US soil nearly a year after), it was one of the last films to have a terror made by science but to be resolved by “scientific” measures. I do hope I’m not spoiling anything there but this was part of a long run of 1950s B-movies where a scientist would create something and try to destroy with a “cure” in the lab motif. Despite being cheap looking by today’s standards, surprisingly its one of the few movies where its cheesy gets really effected depending on the viewer. But I should warn right now that if you are eating or feel easy stomached, turn away now because this one is a doozy to discuss.
On a remote island off the east coast of Ireland, a group of scientists try to find a cute for cancer. A heavy idea for the time and even then still deep for today’s standards. Most scientists in movies at that age would try things like trying to read a book with their mind but here, its a bit realistic and welcome. Well, something goes wrong and all sorts of horror is unleashed as bodies are discovered but with their bones sucked out leaving behind skin, blood and flesh. A creepy concept enough and keeps you guessing up until the monster(s) show up. Even the make-up job on the squishy corpses are enough to send chills. It looks hokey but effective.
Peter Cushing plays a pathologist named Dr. Brian Stanley, he’s the typical scientist that looks at the clues and tries to piece them together. Upon arriving to the island to investigate, he takes things to a detective level examining the strange bodies and trying to make sense of the situation. I find it strange how Cushing is playing another doctor after his potrayle of The Doctor in 1965’s Doctor Who and the Daleks. In a sense, this does feel like a Doctor Who episode considering the amount of build up and where it leads. And to see Peter Cushing in a doctor role is ironic and interesting. On the other hand, he was with Hammer Films playing Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing so its no coincidence or guess to how good of a performance he gives.
Now let’s talk about the monsters in this movie. And right now if you do have a weak stomach, turn back now because there is no way I can talk about the movie without this. Do you really want to know what’s been making those boneless bodies? Are you really sure? Get a barf bag now because this gets heavy and spoiler-filled. Ready? Here we go.
It gets revealed that what the scientists created on accident was a strange set of creature called Sillicates. Giant blobs that suck the bones out of human being dry. To describe the appearance, picture a mutated ravioli with a single tentacle wagging about. It doesn’t get anymore simple or cheesy than that. Silly as that description sounds on paper, its executed very creepy. The sounds of the bones getting sucked out is really horrifying to listen to. But it pushes the gross factor more when we see these giant amoebas can multiply by mitosis. You heard me right! Monsters that can reproduce by the rate of a scientific germ. But they don’t just separate by any common way. When they split apart, they leave being a mass of strange goo that has stuff like looks like a mix of chicken noodle soup and maggots. Its really nasty.
As stated before, the creatures may look and sound goofy but the added sound effects really amps the fear. This is thanks to Barry Gray who did a lot of sound work for Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows like Stingray. When you hear that strange humming sound the sillicates make, you know trouble is coming. It’s very reminiscent of the sounds the spaceships make in George Pal’s War of the Worlds adaption. For a cheaply made movie, it knows when to be frightening and build terror in the right spots. Sometimes it can be questionable goofy but for 1966 this was really shocking. A good example is a really horrifying scene when one of the characters as a sillicant’s tentacle wrapped around his left hand. And in order to save his life, his partner has to lob off the poor guy’s hand at the wrist. Its a gruesome idea and surprisingly we the gory impact as blood spurts out. Even more shocking is how this movie aired on Svengoolie and showed this scene intact minus the blood spurt. And its not like they do a cutaway or anything. We actually see the ax come down on the hand and cut it off. And again, I do apologize for describing this scene in deep detail as I can. But this very much sums up the whole movie.
In fact, for most of the horror films of the time, I’m surprised to see Island of Terror never got that fame or infamy it deserves. Its a suspenseful feature that relies on sound and visuals to achieve its horror. Maybe it did seeing it does have a small cult following but I feel its not very big. Or perhaps it doesn’t much talk because of the horrific material despite how small it is in does. Or gets shrugged off seeing it came form a time when B-movies of the 1960s would craft this kind of schlock. I plead in defense that is a very different movie than what would one would expect. It doesn’t sugar coat anything which I’m glad it does and seems to be very bold for the time. The only drawback is that it falls into the category of “science gone wrong” which was a popular story trope of the time making it a tad predicable. But it can be clever with its choice of monster and the performances are very good, so my recommendation is very high for this one. Again for sensitive viewers, if you made it past this point and curious enough to see this movie, I won’t stop you. Just make sure your very close to the bathroom for this one or else you will see something far more gross on your living room rug by the end of the movie…know what I mean?
Posted on October 12, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged B-Movie, British, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Island of Terror, Peter Cushing, Science Fiction, Scientists, Sillicants, War of the Worlds. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.