Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Island of Terror (1966)


Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror is a fast paced, imaginative and at times, wonderfully cheesy slice of British sci-fi horror, straddling the twin sub genres of "science run amok" and "trapped on a remote British island". Despite the presence of director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing, it is not a Hammer film, and feels if anything like a precursor 1970s era Dr Who.

On a remote island the police constable makes a grisly find - the corpse of a local farmer, but without a single bone in his body. The local doctor is stumped, so travels to the mainland to seek help from top London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and bone disease expert Dr. David West. Back on the island they find more boneless bodies - and a mysterious lab where a scientist was working on a cure for cancer. Has this got some link to the strange creatures responsible for the horrifying deaths? But with all transport and communication to the island cut off, will any of them make it off alive?

Island of Terror was very obviously knocked out cheaply and quickly, but the film-makers respond to it with typical British Gusto. Firstly, by cheerfully ignoring the ridiculous rubber monsters causing the terror, and secondly by focussing more on the script. Being trapped in a place is a classic horror trope, and the script does set up, albeit through portentous dialogue, plenty of reasons why they can not get away. The writers are also not afraid to throw in twists and shocks, and bump off important and likeable characters. Granted some of the attitudes have not dated well. Toni Merrill, Dr West's girlfriend exists purely, as the daughter of a wealthy man with a helicopter, to give the men quick transport back to the island. After that she spends most of her time screaming and needing to be rescued. The slightly patronising attitudes of the London lot to the island folk looks a little cringeworthy too, especially when it was big city slicker scientists that started the whole crisis in the first place.

Some of the special effects, such as the boneless corpses or an dismembering a hand are surprisingly gruesome and shocking for a 1960s film. Others, particularly the creatures themselves, are just awful. They look like rubber shells stuffed with noodles, and coupled with the weird squeaky electronic noises they make, could come straight out of 1970s Dr Who. Cushing, as usual, plays it admirably straight, and brings some dignity to these scenes.

In fact, with some minor tweaks, the whole thing could play as a 70s Dr Who story, with Jon Pertwee in the Cushing role, and similar ideas of science gone bad and threatening the world were explored in stories of that era, such as The Green Death and The Seeds of Doom. Plus, there is a perpetually screaming woman who always needs to be rescued.

The film finishes on a speech defending the scientist whose work caused all the problems, a sort of, "okay, it went bad, but at least he meant well". This is quickly followed by a twist ending along the lines of "at least it's not happening anywhere else", followed by a cut to a lab in Japan, where.... well, I'm sure you can guess.