Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

... aka: Demon di fuoco
... aka: Island of the Burning Damned
... aka: Island of the Burning Doomed

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

It's winter, and on the British mainland the temperatures are an accurate reflection of the season. However, right off the English coast on the small island of Fara, the temperatures are steadily on the rise, reaching triple digits by nightfall with no decrease in sight. Because of the stifling heat, glass explodes, cars overheat, TV and radio signals are drowned out by fuzz and people start behaving a little on the animalistic side. Even more peculiarly, fields of sheep are found fried, strange lights are seen in the sky, certain energy sources are being sucked dry, trails of a black coal-like substance seem to be everywhere and people are mysteriously turning up dead, with only charred corpses left to tell their fates. Understandably concerned writer Jeffrey Callum (Patrick Allen) and his wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson), who run a local inn / tavern called "The Swan," and others in the town try to get to the bottom of things before its too late. They also try to figure out what mysterious, antisocial boarder Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee), who has converted his room into a lab and seems to enter and exit at the strangest times with a camera and various equipment, is up to. Also stopping by the inn (where much of the film takes place) is town doctor Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing) and Jeffrey's sexy new "secretary" Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow), amongst others.

Based on a novel of the same name by John Newton Chance (written under the alias John Lymington), this originally aired on American TV as Island of the Burning Doomed and played a theatrical double bill with Godzilla's Revenge (1969) as Island of the Burning Damned. It's a passable sci-fi / horror programmer from the short-lived Planet Film Productions, who also made the genre pictures Devils of Darkness (1965) and the somewhat similar ISLAND OF TERROR (1966; also with Cushing) before calling it quits in the late 60s. This one's fairly well-made, entertaining and has decent production values and acting, with Lee in a major part, Cushing in a minor one and the rest of the actors and actresses doing good jobs with their roles.

Some may not like that it's talky and slow-moving for the first hour but, strangely enough, it was this first hour of mystery, character drama (including an adultery subplot) and rising tension among the citizens of the town that I felt was the stronger portion of the film, as opposed to the later action-oriented scenes. When finally visualized, the beings causing the heat wave, hysteria and deaths resemble giant hairy eggs. But hey, it was 1967, so that's pretty much to be expected anyway, right? Oh well, at least now I know where M. Night Shyamalan got his silly ending for Signs from.


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