"How could they stop the devouring death....that lived by sucking on living human bones !"
Next to 1972's HORROR EXPRESS this 1966 economy minded budget British effort can be called "the best Hammer Film Hammer never made". Co-produced by American producer Richard Gordon and the UK based Planet Films it features Hammer's Gothic specialist director Terence Fisher and scene stealing performance by the wonderful Peter Cushing both on some downtime from Hammer. The film has a passing resemblance monster-wise to 1958's FIEND WITHOUT A FACE which was also produced by Gordon. It was filmed at Black Park in Wexham (which is adjacent to Pinewood Studios) where Hammer filmed many of their outdoor sequences for their Gothic horrors (filling in for Transylvania or some other vague eastern European locale) and some of the settings are so familiar you expect to see a black coach come galloping by. This all combined with appearance of several secondary Hammer alumnus gives the whole thing a very familiar & cozy atmosphere.
On the remote (and fictional) Petrie Island off the coast of Ireland local Dr. Reginald Landers (Eddie Byrne THE MUMMY 1959) & Constable John Harris (Sam Kydd THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLE 1959) are befuddled by the discovery of a corpse in which all traces of human bones have disappeared (or as Sam Kydd wonderfully puts it "a horrible mush..."). Dr. Landers heads off to London to meet with Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) to hopefully find some answers. Cushing suggests they call on Dr. David West (Edward Judd THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE 1961) a swinging bachelor type doc hose in the middle of putting the moves on a scantily clad Toni Merrill (Carole Grey CURSE OF THE FLY 1965). After a few minutes of witty banter, the group heads off to the island in Toni's father's helicopter which necessitates her coming along.
Upon arriving they learn of reclusive Dr. Phillips (Peter Forbes-Robertson (THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND 1958) whose hold up in large country estate on the island doing experiments for a cure to cancer. In a prolong sequence we were shown Phillips in his lab before a large explosion flashed into the opening credits. It's soon discovered that the experiments have produced large crawling creatures that exist by sucking the victims bone marrow. Unlike anything ever seen in horror movies they appear like large diseased headless tortoises with a single snake like appendage. Although wholly a unique creation one can see a lineage back to the brain/spinal cord sucking monsters from Gordon's earlier FIEND WITHOUT A FACE - even sharing a similar sucking/slurping noise as they engulf victims.
The head of the island is played by the great British character actor Niall MacGinnis (THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON 1957), but the two doctors (and our heroes) in the form of Cushing & Judd immediately take charge of the situation bossing about the meek and befuddled population. It's noted several times in the narration that Phillips was working on something noble and was not the proverbial "mad scientist". It's also set up in the plot that because of several happenstances the island is totally cut off and it's up to the two scientists to destroy what was created by science with no help from the military.
The creatures (or "sillicants" as they're named) can divide in order to propagate (and when they do so it looks like chicken noodle soup oozing out) and in the words of Judd's character will soon "number in the millions". Propelling themselves along with no visible means of locomotion and able to escape from securely locked houses, climb stairs and in one unforgettable sequence climb trees (!) and drop down on unsuspecting victims. Impervious to the scant weapons available on the island (fire, guns & dynamite) the creatures must be destroyed by the deductions and resources brought to bear by the pair of outsiders Judd & Cushing.
The two leads make a wonderful team together and although Judd is set up as the leader and serious half (even seeming deadly serious while flirting with Carole Grey!), it's Cushing who quietly steals the show here with clever witticisms & asides with even a sexual innuendo quip concerning being stranded on an island with Carole Grey. Speaking of Carole, she's the recipient of a horribly underwritten part here, disappearing for huge stretches time and just being told to "wait here" or "wait in the car". Her character Toni Merrill is initially introduced as a kind of interesting globetrotting heiress whose been recklessly pursuing Edward Judd (shades of Tippi Herden in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS), but soon she just descends into crying and/ or screaming hysterically.
Channeling some of the dark broodiness of Oliver Reed, Edward Judd has always been an interesting actor to me. He hit his peak in the early/mid 60's with leading roles in several sci-fi films including FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) and this blog entry. In 1965, he was the lead in the woefully neglected (at least in the U.S.) THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE in which he plays an alcoholic reporter who stumbles upon the story that simultaneous nuclear tests in the U.S. and Russia have altered the earth's orbit.
ISLAND OF TERROR was distributed in the U.S. by Universal where it was paired with THE PROJECTED MAN. ISLAND OF TERROR was recently released with a spiffy new Blu-ray from Scream Factory (with the hand chopping scene intact!) and they've announced a release next year for THE PROJECTED MAN so you can create your own double feature!
All above screen caps are from the Scream Factory Blu-ray