Planet Productions was started in 1962 by producer Tom Blakely and, like many small production companies then and since, it initially hoped to emulate the financial success of Hammer by knocking out a few low budget horror movies. Planet's first attempt, "Devils Of Darkness" (1964) was -- despite representing the genre's first attempt at introducing cape-clad vampirism to a contemporary setting and anticipating Hammer's own "The Devil Rides Out" (1968) with its scenes of feverish Satanic rituals -- met largely with indifference upon its initial release. But, despite this setback, Planet Films persevered, and next turned to the skills of veteran producer Richard Gordon, Hammer's house director Terence Fisher, and the undeniable box office clout of British Horror's elder statesman Peter Cushing, in order to bring some degree of notability to their low budget science fiction effort, "Island Of Fear". Fisher and Cushing (along with Christopher Lee) went on to work on Planet's second Horror/Sci-Fi outing, "The Night Of The Big Heat" but neither film did much to enhance the company's ambitions to compete with Hammer -- which was a role that was soon to be snatched swiftly away by Amicus. "Island Of Terror" remains an enjoyable romp though: a decent "Doctor Who-style" man-against-monster escapade with a solid cast and directed with customary verve and panache by Fisher.
Despite being set on a remote Island of farmers off the East Coast of Ireland, where a scientific team have isolated themselves while they work on a cure for cancer, the film makes good use of the ubiquitous Buckinghamshire location of Black Park -- familiar from many Hammer period pieces and Tigon's later "Blood On Satan's Claw" -- as a stand-in for the rocky, winter Island locale. The scientists' experiments in regenerative cellular matter results in the accidental creation of a new, silicon-based life-form which feeds on the carbon phosphate in carbon life's bone -- thus rendering any unfortunate victim a deflated, jelly-like mass of boneless gunk! After one of the islanders investigates weird noises emanating from a cave and becomes the first victim of these bizarre "silicates", local doctor Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) travels to the mainland to consult world renowned expert Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing). Stanley joins up with another colleague, the womanising Dr. David West (Edward Judd) and, together with West's latest beau (whose father owns a helicopter which can get them back to the island more quickly), Toni Merril (Carole Grey) they decamp to the island where they soon find that the entire scientific team have also become victims of the bone-sucking monsters!
While investigating the cellar at the scientific base, Stanley, West and Toni encounter one of the creatures which turns out to resemble a giant cow pat with a spindly, trunk-like appendage with which it grabs its victims and incapacitates them while it turns their bones to liquid! Equipped with an impenetrable outer shell, the creatures seems virtually impossible to kill and if that isn't bad enough, they also have the ability to divide, just like living cells, every few hours! Stanley realises that if they don't find a way to stop them, the silicates' numbers will increase exponentially until the island is completely overrun with them. When rifle shots, petrol bombs and dynamite turn out to have no effect, this looks like being a tall order! In the meantime, the team try to organise the islanders, gathering them together in the village hall which is soon under siege from the horrible, relentless creatures!
Although most famous for his work on some of Hammer's classic Gothic fairy tales, director Terence Fisher would occasionally turn his hand to Science Fiction, from the early Hammer effort "Spaceways" (1953) and on to Lippert films' "The Earth Dies Screaming" (1964). "Island Of Terror" is a bit of a dumbed down "nature-runs-amock" movie in the style of "The Birds" but which, most of all, recalls Hammer's early-fifties science fiction output such as "The Quatermass Xperiment" and "X The Unknown" in pitting well-to-do boffins against a queasy, sludge-like menace which somehow still manages to make the flesh creep despite its utter ridiculousness! Here, the low budget special effects furnish us with monsters which, though essentially piles of churning rubber winced along on hidden trolleys, still manage to look particularly disgusting -- especially when they divide: oozing slime and poking rubbery phallic appendages at people in a way that is guaranteed to provoke unease in even the most sexually-well-adjusted of persons! When the vile blighters start ambushing people -- scaling trees and throwing themselves on top of them -- the obvious comedy of it all is somewhat neutralised by the constant shiver-inducing sound-effects and judicious exploitation of common audience phobias such as crawling insects and slivering snakes, both of which these bargain-basement creations manage to invoke.
Fisher rarely went in for odd camera angles or flashy frame compositions in his direction but, because of his background in editing, he always knew how to put together a decent action sequence; all of his skills are called upon here to make the sight of a bunch of, largely static, pancakes -- advancing (painfully slowly) across a forest clearing -- look threatening. But this he manages to do with the aid of some spirited participation by the plucky cast. Cushing makes a "dangerous" dash among the trundling monsters, to test for radiation, look quite convincingly suspenseful as he just manages to avoid getting snared by a creature that silently creeps up beside him. The veteran actor is in prime "likeable patriarch" mode for this film: always retaining his British stiff-upper-lip and authoritative manner when all around him are losing their nerve -- he even manages a few jocular retorts after Dr. West is forced to hack his hand off with an axe when one of the creatures ambushes Cushing's character outside the scientific base! "I ought to sue you for medical malpractice!" he amiably jokes while feverishly clutching a bloody stump to his chest as West desperately tries to get their creature-besieged car to start! There is also good support all round from the likes of rugged Edward Judd whose doctor West comes over like a rambunctious rugby player with a medical degree, while Carole Grey (best known for her role in "The Return Of The Fly") may not have that much to do but look pretty, but manages this with silky ease.
The film is good spirited, second feature fun, which moves along at a chirpy pace once things get going; the whole adventure ends on an ironic note with West defending the initial research that led to the disaster, proclaiming: "mistakes happen but progress is necessary, we're just lucky that this happened on an island -- where it can be contained." With that, we cut to a Chinese research lab where something equally noxious is brewing in the test tubes!
DD Home Entertainment continue their excellent Masters Of Horror Special Editions line with a fairly decent transfer of this rare feature: it is not pristine by any means, as there is minor print damage and a slightly faded look to the colour palette (the Eastman Colours pop out more convincingly on the theatrical trailer!) throughout, but overall this is a fair effort. The audio mono soundtrack is clear and free of pops and hiss.
Extras consist of a theatrical trailer, animated photo gallery and a twenty-four minute video interview with Christopher Lee (who is not in this film) conducted by Marcus Hearn on the subject of Terence Fisher. As usual, Lee is in a "suffer-no-fools-gladly" mood but has plenty of anecdotes to share on his time working with the revered director. Like all of DD Home Entertainment's Masters Of Horror discs, the package contains a glossy twenty-four page booklet full of photos and informative liner notes by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby. Another excellent UK release for fans of British horror!