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Countdown to Halloween: Island of Terror (1966)


Yes, it stars Peter Cushing and yes, it's directed by Terence Fisher. However, I always thought it was about killer plants (it's not, really). I can't say I've seen very many killer plant movies that I've enjoyed; well, at least ones that aren't musical adaptations of Roger Corman classics.


It stars Peter Cushing and it's directed by Terence Fisher.


"Keep your expectations low and they will always be exceeded." I heard this recently on a podcast and it rang true for me as I watched Island of Terror. This one is truly something special. I don't mean it's special simply because it's better than I expected it to be. I mean it's special because it so greatly exceeds what it needs to accomplish to be entertaining. Every time I thought I was catching it with a plot hole or a mistake, I was proven wrong. For example, after battling one of the creatures with an axe, our heroes hop into the car to escape, but… they purposely drop the axe. Why would you leave behind a weapon?

Well, it's because it needs to be conveniently located there later in the movie. The screenplay by Edward Mann and Al Ramsen explains everything, from why Dr. Lawrence Phillips (Peter Forbes-Robertson) is performing cancer-curing experiments on an isolated island (he doesn't like company), to why our heroes are stranded there when they arrive to investigate a murder in which the victim's bones are missing (the helicopter is needed for business elsewhere). The ending even offers a nice little twist that rewards you for paying attention to the little details. In other words, there's no fat. Everything in the movie has a purpose.

On a more superficial level, Island of Terror actually manages to shock. There's a legitimate jump scare and a brutal act with real consequences in order for Dr. Brian Stanely (Peter Cushing) to survive. Thank goodness it's Cushing; we get to see these consequence in a performance that most actors would have ignored. The obligatory romance is even portrayed realistically, with the right amount of focus, which is to say, not much, since Dr. David West (Edward Judd) and Toni Merrill (Carole Gray) are being pursued by killer plants, after all.

Yeah, the creatures look like a cross between a Star Trek alien and a fleshy War of the Worlds ship, but they have a menacing tentacle and spew chicken noodle soup when they divide into two killer creatures. Neither guns, dynamite, nor "petrol bombs" can destroy them, so Cushing and company must discover an intelligent way to rid the island of this menace… while the menace continues to multiply exponentially. Not only does Island of Terror exceed expectations, but it overachieves in answering the question it poses, "How could they stop the devouring death… that lived by sucking on living human bones!"


Written by Edward Mann and Al Ramsen Directed by Terence Fisher Starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne, Sam Kydd Released June 20, 1966 (UK) RT 89 min. Home Video Scream Factory (Blu-ray)



We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.

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