Tuesday, March 01, 2016

An Island Double Bill

I finally achieved something of an ambition, exploitation movie-wise at least, last weekend, when I was able to watch Island of Terror and Night of the Big Heat back-to-back on a double bill.  Although, as far as I'm aware, they never played together during their cinema releases, they just feel as if they belong on the same bill.  Superficially, they have much in common: both produced by Tom Blakeley's Planet Films, both directed by Terence Fisher in between more prestigious assignments at Hammer Films, both featuring Peter Cushing and, most crucially, both involve remote island communities being menaced by monstrous external threats - man made, in one case, extraterrestrial in the other.  Seen back-to-back, however, they are revealed as being very different beasts.  Island of Terror is by far the more conventional monster movie, with its rampaging (if you can describe anything that moves as slowly as the film's Silicates as 'rampaging') creatures accidentally produced as a by-product of cancer research.  With its cast of stock stereotypes representing the islanders, (albeit they are played by some recognisable and very accomplished character actors including genuine Irishmen Eddie Byrne and the ever excellent Niaill McGinnis backed up by the likes of Sam Kydd sporting a faux Irish accent), the movie could easily have been made ten years earlier.  Indeed, it is somewhat surprising to find such a conventional monster flick being made as late as 1966.

That said, Island of Terror remains an enjoyable watch - Peter Cushing gives a particularly lively performance as the genial mainland pathologist brought in to investigate a series of killings in which all of the bones appear to have been sucked out of the victims.  He's also in genial mode in Night of the Big Heat, although here he is billed as a 'special guest star' and his character provides only a supporting role to leads Christopher Lee and Patrick Allen.  Adapted from the John Lymington novel of the same name, Night of the Big Heat, despite looking as if it had a bigger budget than Island of Terror, is far more static and talky, with much of the 'action' consisting of people discussing what's going on in the lounge bar of Allen's pub.  It never really exploits the story's central conceit of an unseasonable heatwave on the island being caused by aliens using radio waves to 'beam' themselves down and also create a suitably warm environment for themselves, as the spearhead of an invasion.  Unfortunately the aliens themselves - which produce sufficient heat to cause anyone in close proximity to them to spontaneously combust,- are poorly realised.  Instead of the book's spider-like creatures, the movie gives us what look like glowing giant fried egg yolks, which simply aren't menacing.  The film is further weakened by the use of the deus ex machina of a thunderstorm to defeat the aliens, rather than any of the efforts of the protagonists.   The film's biggest weakness lies in the fact that it spends far too much time focusing on a jealous romantic triangle involving Allen's writer, his wife and his secretary.  It serves no real purpose, detracting from the alien invasion plot, which, at times, feels as if it is of secondary importance.  Consequently, in contrast to Island of Terror, the film feels slow and talky.  Island might ave been old fashioned, even ib 1966, but at least it moves at a reasonable pace and never gets bogged down in too much talk, instead providing shock and action set pieces at regular intervals.

Still, despite Night of the Big Heat's shortcomings, the double bill made for an entertaining cold February Sunday afternoon. Both films show up regularly on digital TV (Island on the Horror Channel and Night on Talking Pictures TV), so, if you are interested, it shouldn't be difficult to record tham, as I did, and experience the double bill for yourself.



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