ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) Blu-ray
Director: Terence Fisher
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Terence Fisher, Hammer Films’ most celebrated director, and Peter Cushing the superstar who was essential in putting the company on the map, make their first film together outside the Hammer name, a creepy sci-fi effort and perfect Saturday afternoon popcorn entertainment. ISLAND OF TERROR now makes its U.S. digital debut courtesy of Scream Factory, who deliver the stunning presentation that longtime fans have been waiting for!

In a secluded mansion on a remote island off the Irish coast, Dr. Phillips (Peter Forbes-Robertson, THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED) receives a shipment of chemicals related to his cancer research, but things go horribly wrong during the experiment. Soon after, Constable Harris (Sam Kydd, MOON ZERO TWO) discovers a dead local in a cave; his body mush and all bones removed. The island’s physician Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne, Hammer’s THE MUMMY) investigates this ghastly discovery and immediately calls upon London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES) who in turn calls on his young bone specialist friend Dr. David West (Edward Judd, THE VAULT OF HORROR). West’s latest flame Toni (Carole Gray, DEVILS OF DARKNESS) offers her father’s helicopter for the trip to the island, so she tags along with the three of them. Stanley and West are baffled by the boneless corpse (as well as the puncture wounds on it) and find more of the same at Dr. Phillips’ mansion lab, where all the inhabitants are found dead in the same condition. After studying Phillips pile of notes, they deduct that his intention was to create a new organism that would counteract cancer cells, but the actual outcome is soon witnessed first-hand: creatures called silicates which multiply at an alarming rate and devour humans and animals by sucking out every bit of cartilage. Now that the island is faced with this catastrophic disaster, the brave scientists team up with the island’s leader Roger Campbell (Niall MacGinnis, CURSE OF THE DEMON) and general store owner Peter Argyle (James Caffrey, THE BEDFORD INCIDENT) to wrangle up more villagers and try and stop these strange creatures. They prove impossible to destroy (even with explosives) and an assemblage of all the villagers in the town hall results in further panic, not to mention the building being surrounded by the pesky silicates!

ISLAND OF TERROR was one of two science fiction pictures Fisher directed for Planet Film Productions, the other being 1967’s ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (aka NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT) which also featured Cushing in a small “guest star” role (with Christopher Lee having a significant starring part). Although they are similar in style and execution, this is considered by many the better of the two films. Fisher was best known for stylizing the gothic Hammer horrors of the late 1950s and 1960s, so whenever he embraced modern-set science fiction (other examples include Hammer’s FOUR SIDED TRIANGLE and SPACEWAYS, as well as Lippert’s THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING)—as in the case of ISLAND OF TERROR—it's almost immediately looked upon as a lesser effort with uninspired direction. Although Fisher likely took this as a jobbing filmmaker and gets through the proceedings with mostly long and medium shots and little close-ups, this a rather handsome British production shot on some great locations (including Black Park, a Hammer background favorite) and some simple yet believable sets at Pinewood, giving the movie a seamlessly picturesque look and feel that’s anything but studio-pound in appearance. There are also some very tense scenes, especially when the villagers lock themselves inside the town hall and are surrounded by the bone-sucking goblins that eventually make their way in—evoking NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, made some three years later. The script harkens back to 1950s monster flicks (accounting for much of its appeal) and the results are undeniably fun. Executive producer Richard Gordon was the main force behind the film, falling in love with script when he optioned it under the title “The Night the Silicates Came” and he was very happy with the results, always wishing he had the chance to work with Cushing again (on a side note, it was because of this film and Gordon’s working relationship with Cushing, that he was instrumental in convincing the actor to fly to Florida from the U.K. to appear in Ken Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES a decade later).

Peter Cushing gives his usual reliable performance, bringing accepted authority to yet another screen scientist, playing his character with more of a sense of sarcasm than usual and delivering lines which might be considered ridiculous (and he has some of the best here) with conviction. Judd is another actor that sometimes gets a bad wrap, but he definitely has good chemistry with Cushing as they work as a team, and at the time of the film’s release, he was considered something of an easily recognizable British science fiction hero after appearing in THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, FIRST MEN ON THE MOON and INVASION (ironically, his leading man parts began to dwindle after ISLAND, and he became more of a character actor). Carole Gray was something of a scream queen in her own right, also appearing in such genre favorites as CURSE OF THE FLY and THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU, and she’s not just another pretty face and romantic interest of Judd, as she elicits empathy and likeability to her watered-down part (as she often did in these films), and there’s a point during the climax where you really feel for her character.

As for the silicates themselves, they are quite effective as far as classic movie monsters go. With fleshy green reptilian bodies in the shape of large turtle shells, they have snake-like tentacles that wrap around their victims’ necks and arms. Knowing the film's low budget, they likely constructed just a few of them that were made to look like many by using the same ones over and over again on screen (when the silicates split themselves, the ooze resembles the contents of those old-school cans of Franco American macaroni and cheese). For their movement, these creatures were pulled around by wires (as are their tentacles) which are often visible, but some of the best “attack” bits have them dropped flat on their victims’ stomachs. Great stuff! Of course, the unearthly sound effects used for the silicates is what really gives them an eerie aura, and this is also aided by the impressively composed score by Malcolm Lockyer (DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS). In America, ISLAND OF TERROR was released by Universal Pictures in 1967 on a double bill with THE PROJECTED MAN (also from executive producer Richard Gordon), so let’s up that Scream Factory might also have that rarity in their sights for a future Blu-ray release!

ISLAND OF TERROR is still owned outright by Universal in the U.S., and they last visited the title on VHS back in the 1990s, as it was never issued here on DVD. The film has been released on DVD in various parts of the world (including the U.K. and Germany), and most recently Odeon/Screenbound Pictures released a region free Blu-ray in the U.K. Scream Factory’s new Region A Blu-ray of ISLAND OF TERROR has been licensed from Universal (using Universal’s film elements) and their transfer looks superb (it’s also fully uncut, with the hand-chopping scene intact). Presented in 1080p in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, colors are very distinct with the saturation looking dead-on and the flesh tones also appear natural. The detail is high and the image remains sharp throughout with no noticeable softness, and grain is left intact and looks wonderfully organic. Blemishes are minor, and if anything, add a touch of character to the well-textured filmic look, and this is an overall terrific presentation (it surpasses the Odeon/Screenbound Blu-ray in terms of much bolder colors as well as stronger detail). The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track; dialogue is clear and the sound effects definitely have some nice oomph to them. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

An audio commentary has been included with film historian Dr. Robert J. Kiss and blogger/actor Rick Pruitt. The commentary is dominated by Kiss who shares an exhausting amount of information about the movie’s production, the actors, the locations and sets, the budget, the differences between the U.S. and U.K. credit sequences, how Fisher and Cushing got involved, the music score, why there’s similarities to FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and the Daleks, and he also goes into the production of THE PROJECTED MAN a bit. Pruitt comes in around the 46-minute mark to talk about seeing ISLAND OF TERROR on its original American theatrical run as a teenager, and he gives a charmingly descriptive account (for about ten minutes) of experiencing the ISLAND OF TERROR/THE PROJECTED MAN at a drive-in theater. Rounding out the extras are a lengthy still gallery and a full-screen theatrical trailer. The cover (which features the American post art), is reversible with better-conceived imagery showing Cushing on the opposite side.
(George R. Reis)