Island of Terror scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. In fact, I only made it through a few scenes before running to the other side of the house and hiding. I didn’t remember the name for years. Only with the advent of the internet could I track it down and watch it all the way through. Even that took a lot of keyword searches.
This doesn’t make it a great movie. It’s decent because of some atmospheric tricks, pacing and passable acting. Honestly, I’ll watch anything with Peter Cushing–the man turns in a solid performance in every movie. If Peter appeared in an insurance infomercial, I’d watch it.
Terence Fisher is a veteran director of Hammer horror movies. He turns in a decent showing with this, even with its flaws.
The basic plot is familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with science fiction movies of the 50s. Scientific researchers on a remote island accidentally create monsters. Said monsters run amok. Heroic scientists come to the rescue. The monsters are unstoppable, until the heroes discover that one weakness. Monsters are defeated. Roll credits.
A rather unpleasant and unusual form of demise helps to sell the beasts. Bodies start turning up with no bones left. So they look like Silly Putty in clothes. Slow reveals also help to maintain the tension during the first half. Nobody gets a decent look at the critters until the halfway point. You merely see their handiwork and hear creepy sounds. I’ve seen better movie monsters, but then again I’ve also seen worse.
Turns out these nasties are “silicates”. They’re composed of silicon and chow down on humans for the calcium in the bones. The special effects team did their best to make them look like single-celled animals with flagellum. Unfortunately, they come across a bit more like tortoises with tentacle heads. I suspect they did the best they could with a limited budget.
The silicates are slow, but unstoppable. The island’s single boat isn’t available, trapping everyone. (This is a bit contrived. How many island communities only have one boat?) Like amoebas, the silicates divide to reproduce, growing at a geometric pace. The breakthrough occurs when a silicate is found dead—poisoned by snacking on an irradiated test dog. Being a 50s formula, one can expect radiation as a staple.
The scientists dose up a bunch of cattle with strontium-90 and feed them to the silicates. All of the island survivors hole up in the town hall, hoping the strontium will work. The silicates close in, followed by much screaming and panicking. Until the creatures succumb.
We have the obligatory denouement, where the heroes talk about the dangers of science. Then we have a: “If it hadn’t been an island, we couldn’t have stopped them.” As it turns out, scientists in Tokyo were cooperating and performing identical experiments. The movie ends with a Japanese scientist entering a lab after hearing creepy sounds. Screams follow.
The movie did leave me with one or two questions. One is the idea that an island community only has one boat. Another is how do cancer researches end up accidentally creating silicon monsters? Seems a rather roundabout method of research.
Despite its flaws, it’s enjoyable enough. Check it out.