7 November 2010 | kevinolzak
Neglected Peter Cushing classic
Tom Blakely's Planet Productions made just four features, three of which were this film, 1964's "Devils of Darkness," and 1967's "Night of the Big Heat" (their last). For ISLAND and NIGHT, they secured the services of Hammer director Terence Fisher and Hammer star Peter Cushing, adding Christopher Lee to the cast of NIGHT for extra measure. DEVILS was an odd footnote, the first British vampire film set not in the Gothic world represented so well by Hammer, but in the modern day, otherwise undistinguished. Terence Fisher expressed no fondness for science fiction, and his early black and white Hammer entries, "Four Sided Triangle," "Stolen Face," and "Spaceways" (all 1952), are all overly talkative and extremely dull. 1964's "The Earth Dies Screaming" was a modest step up, a very low budget alien invasion represented by a tiny cast and one single robot. Fisher's two Planet features make quite a matched set, perhaps not as revered as his better known Hammer efforts, but allowing him to focus on his cast of characters, presenting them in dangerous situations that create tension. Fisher always emphasized the human side of his monsters, and even in these two sci fi entries, he remains true to form. Both scripts benefit from finely etched characterizations, and wonderful actors bringing them to vibrant life. In ISLAND OF TERROR, an isolated island off the East coast of Ireland is the setting of an invasion created by scientists searching for a cure for cancer, creating a form of life that survives by devouring the bones of people and animals. Sam Kydd plays the constable, John Harris, who discovers a missing farmer dead in a cave, the body a mass of jelly. Eddie Byrne (THE MUMMY, THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU, STAR WARS) is the island doctor, scoffing at the apt description of the corpse: "there was no face, just a horrible mush, with the eyes sittin' in it." Both actors, well known faces in British cinema, are so natural in these roles that the horror of the situation is instantly established with great credibility, and this is BEFORE the introduction of the heroic Peter Cushing, who never fails to convey sincerity in even the smallest of parts. Here, Cushing occasionally takes a back seat to second billed Edward Judd, but both work well in tandem, putting together the scientist's notes as to what went on in the laboratory, and learning how to stop the onslaught of terror. Cushing was usually the voice of reason, the authority figure, a character the audience trusts completely to present all the facts to them, yet here, his character is not so sure of himself, a quick quip to try to hide his fear, a more believably written hero, and this marvelous performer delivers one of his very best. The low budget special effects, especially the eating sounds, deliver on a modest scale, and the harrowing sequence where Cushing is attacked and implores Judd to chop off his hand at the wrist is the stuff of childhood nightmares. A first time viewer may be surprised at the unusual depth of characterization, and Niall MacGinnis (NIGHT OF THE DEMON, DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, TORTURE GARDEN), as the island's leader, Liam Gaffney as the first victim, even the smallest of roles are played faultlessly. Of course, when one puzzled islander remarks "some peculiar goings-on going on on this island," there's always a risk that unintended humor might overcome the intended, but it's not fatal. Superior to NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, and proof that Terence Fisher could make excellent science fiction, provided he had a script that presented human characters little different from the ones in his Gothic chillers. Make no mistake, this is definitely a CHILLER, and one of Richard Gordon's infrequent productions, ranging from "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" (Bela Lugosi), "Grip of the Strangler" (Boris Karloff), "Corridors of Blood" (Karloff and Christopher Lee), "Devil Doll," "Curse of Simba," "The Projected Man," "Tower of Evil" (all four with Bryant Haliday), "Horror Hospital" (Michael Gough), "The Cat and the Canary" (Carol Lynley), and finally "Inseminoid" (Judy Geeson and Stephanie Beacham). Thirty years of genre cinema with the greatest stars of their day.