“90 degrees and still rising – surely it can’t get any hotter”
Dir. Terence Fisher
Runtime: 94 minutes
Starring: Christoper Lee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen
When I say the names Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing – I instantly think of Hammer Films. Well guess what, this is not a Hammer Film, it’s a Planet Film Production. Also known as “Island of the Burning Damned” this 1971 release may not be the most well-loved film that the aforementioned trio have worked on, but it’s still a nostalgic bit of fun.
It’s the middle of winter, but the island of Fara is in the middle of an unnatural heatwave. A mysterious scientist, Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) is staying at the Swan Inn to investigate. The Swan Inn is run by Jeff and Frankie Callum (Patrick Allen & Sarah Lawson). Jeff is a novelist who has accidentally hired Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow), an ex, as his secretary. In truth, she knew and is trying to force herself on him despite being married. Weird things are happening due to the heat, including people being killed. Jeff confronts Godfrey about the weird stuff that is going on and Godfrey suggests it’s aliens. With the help of local physician Dr Stone (Peter Cushing), the group try to stop the aliens from taking over the island and pushing the conquest into the British mainland.
Ok, so this might not be the best film, or the most believable film. The monsters might look like over-sized melted slugs on skateboards – actually, that’s being very kind and using my imagination because they actually look worse than that! The sets are wobbly, the production values constrained, the continuity shocking, and the scrip has more holes than Swiss Cheese . You know what this film has going for it though – good direction, and excellent acting!
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are titans of the low budget horror film. In this they both elevate what could otherwise have been an embarrassingly poor film. Christopher Lee plays the grumpy aloof scientist that seems to be rushing from one scene into the next to try and give the film an upbeat pace (or get through the work he needed to do on the film quickly and go home). Peter Cushing on the other hand is very restrained and quintessentially British. Unfortunately Peter Cushing seems to have been relegated to more of more of a supporting cast member, so I can only wonder if the film might have had more of an edge with the two titans working off each other more.
They aren’t the only actors giving good performances though, the rest of the cast are equally good and add to the atmosphere. Kenneth Cope is amusing, and Patrick Allen’s love triangle with Sarah Lawson and Jane Merrow is an unusual subplot in a horror film, but one that provides plenty of tension, and is handled very well.
Terence Fisher does well to bring everything together despite a lot of issues with the budget. It isn’t the quickest paced film, but the atmosphere and tension does build throughout nicely. As mentioned, there are a few flaws in the script but I wouldn’t expect a 1960’s film to be perfect in every way. For example, the machinery seems to be heat damaged before any people suffer issues with it, and it’s weird that some machinery stops working but the plastic casing for the machines doesn’t melt (walkie-talkies, phones, etc.). The suggestion that the heat is a problem could have been exemplified a little better, but hey-ho, never mind.
The biggest beef I had (other than the aliens that were more threatening when they were off screen) was with the ending and how simple it was after the whole set up. The aliens are very anticlimactic, and the way they are defeated (sorry for that spoiler) seemed silly after such a big build up. I was genuinely intrigued how the islanders might survive, and then the ending that was played out was surprisingly poor and felt like I’d been cheated. “I hate a bad climax” – said the “Carry On” actor to the other “Carry On” actor – but that’s what you get here – a tissue and an apology rather than a fulfilled ending.
What starts well ends badly. Entertaining but not revolutionary. Good for nostalgia, but likely to be forgotten the day after you watch it. Pity.