Island of Terror (1966)

Rating: C+

Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Edward Judd, Peter Cushing, Carole Gray, Niall MacGinnis

If you need an example of how great an actor Cushing is, this is it. Oh, this is not a good movie. Far from it. However, the way in which Peter sells the concept with his commitment and performance is a masterclass. His character believes it, and that is transferred to the viewer, so we believe it. Any actor can be good in Shakespeare. Only the best can be good in something like Island of Terror. It takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland. When a local resident turns up dead, with his bones missing, the local doctor calls in outside help: top pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Cushing) and bone specialist Dr. David West (Judd). The latter brings new girlfriend, Toni Merrill (Gray) with him.

Turns put the cause is cancer research carried out by a reclusive scientist. This has spawned a silicon-based lifeform which, rather than eating tumours, dissolves the bones of its victims, animal or human. It also divides, like an amoeba, every six hours. As Dr. West says, “If the multiplication continues until the end of the week, there’ll be about a million of them.” #HeDidTheMath  The silicates, as they are named, are not exactly high-speed, but they are quite sneaky. In the movie’s greatest scene, one drops out of a tree onto its victim. Later, another plunges through a skylight. Or perhaps it was the same one: a stunt silicate, doing all the dangerous action, and addicted to the adrenaline rush.

It’s quite ludicrous, with the creatures looking like they are on day release from Doctor Who (the same could apply to Cushing). Stunt silicate aside, they’re embarrassingly static. However, the presence of Cushing helps enormously, although Dr. Stanley is sidelined down the stretch. He suffers an impromptu (and quite gruesome, for the time) hand removal with an axe, after it gets attacked by a silicate. Dr. West then takes over, and is a little too square-jawed to be effective. He is at least active, which is more than can be said for Toni, firmly cut from the pre-liberation skein of heroines. This means she spends most of the film petrified with fear, or taking care of the locals in the church hall, while the men get on with saving the world ‘n’ stuff. Sadly, the poster here is not accurate.

I did enjoy the application of the scientific method, as the doctors go through guns, petrol bombs and dynamite, before eventually finding something which can affect the silicates. Administering it to them, is another matter, and I’m a little less than convinced by the logic there. We liked the ending, which has a definite “Meanwhile, in Wuhan…” quality to it, as Chris pointed out. I was quite surprised to see Hammer stalwart Francis as director here: it feels like he was slumming it in this. Regular colleague Cushing may have helped get him on board, and it’s certainly not the worst thing Peter tried to elevate.