Friday, November 17, 2017

ISLAND OF TERROR 1966


"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








Thursday, November 9, 2017

THE SLAYER 1982


"She searched through the corridors of the unknown only to find....The Slayer!" 




     Barely released to theaters it later showed up one of those classic big box videos from Continental Video where it was paired with Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS in a double feature that seemed to show up at every video store back in the day. THE SLAYER also (in)famously appeared in Continental Video's TERROR ON TAPE compilation in which video store owner Cameron Mitchell trots out the goriest scenes from the company's library saving THE SLAYER for a Gothic Michelle Bauer as she's never been scared in her life (with its climax from THE SLAYER naturally doing the trick).
   Abstract artist Kay (Sarah Kendall) work begins to show a more distributing turn in her work much to the concern of her husband David (Alan McRae THE STUDENT BODY). He suggests a getaway vacation for the couple along with Kay's brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook THE CYCLE VIXENS) which he also hopes will help cure her of the disturbing dreams she's been having. The group flies to their destination Tybee Island (a small Island off the coast of GA.) their pilot being the rather sinister Marsh (Michael Holmes DEADLY PREY) who provides the cryptic warnings (instead of the proverbial crusty old man) to the group concerning their stay on the unpopulated island being off season there.




    Arriving on the barren Island the group discover a derelict theatre which Kay has seen in her dreams and she warns the group that they will all die if they stay. An approaching hurricane forces the group to stay and hunker down in their large rented house. Early in the film we're shown the killing of a local fisherman by an unknown assailant wielding an oar which he splits the victims head open. This sequence doesn't really match the mood or look of the later murders but does set up the
"maybe I'm dreaming" thoughts of Kay and does provide some blood early in the film. The first night Kay dreams of a horrific death for David and awakens to find his severed head in bed next to her. The rest of his body his discovered and Kay becomes convinced that a skeletal figure from her dreams murdered him and will kill the rest of them if she falls asleep again.
    Written and directed by J.S. Cardone (THUNDER ALLEY) and shot by cinematographer Karen Grossman (HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE), it was released in the midst of the slasher boom and THE SLAYER does deliver the expected goods with kills and bloody gore. It does attempts to set itself apart (not always successfully) with the emphasis more on the characters and their distinct personalities along with the brooding atmosphere and desolation of the island.
     Perfect for a stormy night viewing, this slow-burn & atmospheric horror with slasher elements and a touch of Euro horror/giallo requires attentive viewing to appreciate its plot and ambiance. Some viewers might find it somewhat tedious & talky (rightly so) but it will draw the you into its dream like pacing if given a chance. It's also generated a bit of notice because of its "don't go to sleep" theme and the comparison to the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise.




    Barely released to theaters it later showed up one of those classic big box videos from Continental Video where it was paired with Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS in a double feature that seemed to show up at every video store back in the day. THE SLAYER also (in)famously appeared in Continental Video's TERROR ON TAPE compilation in which video store owner Cameron Mitchell trots out the goriest scenes from the company's library saving THE SLAYER for a Gothic Michelle Bauer as she's never been scared in her life (with its climax from THE SLAYER naturally doing the trick).
    The kills themselves are composed effectively with an eerie dream-like quality to them including a well-staged pitchfork impaling. The mature cast also sets up things differently relationship-wise rather than the usual horny teenagers. The dream like mood carries though the entire film and the sometimes-slow moving plot while maybe does make one fidget (this would make a terrific double feature with 1980's SILENT SCREAM) it does fit in with the film's central question - is Karen "dreams" real or is she or somebody else the murderer with the title figure maybe a part her dreams or not??


 
    Sarah Kendall (whose only other credit is THE KARATE KID PART II) does a decent job in the lead role with her slowing building hysteria although with her corpse like appearance and buggy eyes she seems pretty batty right from the beginning. Later when frantically chain smoking, guzzling coffee and even burning herself with a cigarette to stay awake she seems even more scary then the title monster. Michael Holmes stands from the other cast in his brief role as the red herring and intoner of doom to the travelers. The creature make-up effects by Robert Short & Julie Purcell are very well done with the skeletal needle toothed title character being an unforgettable image and it's not surprising he's featured prominently in the trailer (although only quickly glimpsed in the film itself).






The above screen caps are from the Arrow Films DVD