Released in its native Britain in 1966, Island of Terror (IOT) made its American debut in early 1967 as half of a double bill with The Projected Man. The theater poster (below, left) suggests that IOT was the "B" feature, but based on the production quality and some personal recollections, IOT was the lead film. Though an independent production (by Planet Productions), IOT has a Hammer Films feel to it, and for good reason. It stars Peter Cushing and was directed by Terence Fisher and it features some Hammer-esque style soft gore.
Quick Plot Synopsis
On a small island off the east coast of Ireland, a reclusive researcher and his team are trying to develop a cure for cancer. Their goal is to create, via irradiated nucleuii, cells that will attack and eat cancer cells. A local man is missing. When found, his body is distorted and soft. The local doctor declares that he has no bones. Dr. Landers travels to the mainland to consult with experts. They are puzzled so fly back in a helicopter that cannot stay. Another boneless body is found. When they seek out the reclusive scientist for advice, they find everyone in his mansion and lab are squishy dead bodies too. They take the scientist's notes and leave. The local constable arrives looking for them. A tentacle grabs him. He dies. Drs. Landers, Stanley and West return to the lab and are menaced by the culprit -- a turtle-shell shaped creature with a long tentacle. It grabs Landers. He dies. The creature then goes dormant and divides. The others escape. Later, it is deduced that there are dozens of them on the island, dividing every six hours. A militia of locals and the doctors try to shoot, burn and blow up the Silicates, but to no avail. They're impervious. All the townsfolk are sheltered in town hall, but they're a panicky lot. A dead Silicate is found near the half-eaten body of a dog. The dog was exposed to Strontium 90. Thinking that S90 is what kills the Silicates, Drs. Stanley and West return to the lab to get some isotope. Their plan is to irradiate the island's cattle, so the Silicates eat them, then die. One grabs Dr. Stanley's hand as they leave. West chops off his hand with an ax in order save him. West injects the cattle. The Silicate's arrive en masse and eat the cattle. They then attack town hall, breaking in through windows, killing quite a few. The survivors hole up on the windowless clinic, but the Silicates are breaking down the door. Dr. West is just about to give his girlfriend, Toni, a lethal injection in order to spare her the agonizing death, but just as he's about to act, the Silicates start to quiet down. They all die off. The S90 worked. The helicopter returns. The two doctors speechify a bit. They are glad it happened on an island, so the world was safe. Cut to a lab in China (presumably). Cancer research with radiation. A scream, a sucking sound. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The acting is great. The pacing is great. The story is fairly familiar (see Notes below), but retold with zeal.
Cold War Angle
Beneath the typical monster/horror tale, are the usual cautionary flags. Radiation creates the deadly menace. Scientists, even though intending to benefit mankind, create something terrible -- rather analogous to the atomic bomb. Also in keeping with the Cold War attitude, it is radiation which is seen as their savior.
Under Siege Again -- The plot of IOT is the familiar one in which a group of people find themselves under siege by a monster (or monsters). Since they're trapped, they must fight to survive. This trope fueled The Thing in 1951 -- there, a remote arctic base. Islands were popular isolation places, as in Attack of the Crab Monsters ('57), Killer Shrews ('59) and The Flesh Eaters ('64). Rockets in space were popular venues for sieges too, as in It! Terror From Beyond Space ('58), Mutiny in Outer Space ('65), and Queen of Blood ('66) to name a few.
Killer Shrews II -- There is a lot of similarity in plot and premise between IOT and the 1959 film, The Killer Shrews. In both, reclusive scientists are conducting research on a remote island. Their work is intended to benefit mankind (world hunger / cancer). In both cases, their experiments backfire and produce deadly monsters. In both cases, said monsters quickly multiply in the wild. In both films, the potential (or eventual) solution is to let the monsters starve to death by eating everything on the island. The two diverge in their endings, but the net effect (hero and heroine survive) remain.
Nuclear Curse and Cure -- As is fairly common in 50s and 60s sci-fi, radiation is both the cause of the monster-of-mass-destruction, and turns out to be the only thing that kills the monster. Thus is encapsulated the Cold War era's bipolar attitude towards nuclear power. Scientists let the genie out of the bottle during WWII, unleashing horrific mass destruction. Yet, it is those same bombs which (so far) have kept the armageddon beast under control.
Bottom line? IOT is solidly a horror-sci-fi hybrid, with the bias towards horror. That appeals to some, but not others. The monsters aren't particularly terrifying. The pacing is good, so the over all result is fairly entertaining.