Retro-review: New on DVD from Cheezy Films and MVD Visual!
ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967)
aka NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Ronald Liles (screen play based on the novel by John Lymington), Pip Baker & Jane Baker (additional scenes and dialog)
Starring Christopher Lee, Patrick Allen, Peter Cushing, Jane Merrow, Sarah Lawson, William Lucas, Kenneth Cope, Percy Herbert, Thomas Heathcote, Anna Turner, Jack Bligh, Barry Halliday, Sydney Bromley
It’s doubtful Hammer director Terence Fisher included ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED as one of his best works, but any movie with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in it is worth a viewing in my book.
The residents of a hotel owned by an author named Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) is put into full on crisis mode when the temperature begins to rise, high pitched sounds begin coming from the countryside, and what looks to be aliens from another world land and begin to drive them mad. Among the residents at the hotel are; a reclusive scientist (Christopher Lee), a barroom philosopher (Peter Cushing), Jeff’s doting wife (Sarah Lawson), and his former mistress Angela (the sultry Jane Merrow). All of these characters bicker, complain about the heat, suspect each other of wrong doing, and end up being terrorized by glowing blobs that emit high pitched sounds and are bent on taking over the world.
The true joy of this film doesn’t come from the aliens (they merely show up in the last reel and aren’t very interesting). It comes from the interactions between the cast members. They are already put into an uncomfortable situation. Everyone is sweaty, uncomfortable, and forced to be in the same location with little hope of rescue. This makes for the perfect scenario for some awesome character interaction and the film pays off in this in spades because the cast is so awesome. Cushing is at his most snide and wise here, simply playing the Cliff Claven of this hotel barroom everyone is trapped in. Lee is equally awesome as the secretive science type who scurries in and out of the hotel in the dark and isn’t quick to offer up any explanation as to the horrific events going on. Adding to the fun is the heroic stereotype played by Patrick Allen as a man torn between his devoted wife and a sultry gal who tosses herself at his feet at any turn. Somehow, despite bopping back and forth between the two women through the film, Allen remains sympathetic. And Jane Merrow is scorching as the seductress Angela who opens her top at the drop of a hat and bent on weaseling her way in between Jeff and his wife. Seeing these characters bounce against one another is what makes this film worth seeking out as all of the performances are stellar.
Most likely, though, they needed to cast to be stellar because aside from some fun audio screeching and some hammy acting that the sounds are deafening and maddening, the threat in this movie isn’t much of a threat at all. Once revealed, the aliens are simply glowing and pulsing blobs. They move slowly and look more like yellow Scrubbing Bubbles than anything else. Seeing the cast cringe in terror at these unimpressive monsters isn’t convincing in the least. The film also wraps up pretty tidily in a manner reminiscent of WAR OF THE WORLDS, only this manner by which the aliens are defeated shows how stupid the aliens truly are. Not only is the alien conflict taken care of, but the relational problems between Jeff, his wife, and his mistress is wrapped up rather cleanly as well. It all just feels as if the entire cast and crew were looking forward to this one ending and once it was close, they threw logic, entertainment value, and any sense of narrative resolution out the window.
That said, fans of Cushing and Lee are going to have to have ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED and schlocky sci fi lovers will need it too. It’s breezy fun with an even breezier ending, but ISLAND OF THE DAMNED keeps it all rolling with solid performances and little else.