Friday, August 8, 2008

Island of Terror - Skeleton-Slurping Snorkelupagusses

Ubiquipus strikes!!!
After seeing Deep Rising, about a giant squid that sucks the meat off your bones, I remembered its polar opposite- Island of Terror, a 60's horror movie about critters called "silicates" that feast on human bones! Preferably by sucking them out of your body. It was a Sunday morning movie staple on '70s TV, and the delightful noise the creatures made as they feasted upon their victims, sort of like slurping Jell-O while crunching on a mouthful of corn nuts, is unforgettable in a disturbingly hilarious way that sets the tone for the whole film.

Our intrepid heroes, two-fisted scientists

On a remote British isle, the government runs a lab where scientists use radiation to search for a cure for cancer. They unwittingly create fearsome monsters that reproduce by division, and soon threaten to take over the whole island. Peter Cushing stars as a scientist new to the island, where people and cows have begun disappearing. All that remains are mushy corpses missing their bones! And the mystery begins. Playing on our radioactive fears and attachment to our skeletons, Island of Terror may not be a Hammer film but surely plays as one of the better ones.
If an armadillo got drunk and humped a vacuum cleaner...

A good, classically trained actor can say anything and make it believable; Peter Cushing is one of those men. Imagine Morgan Freeman saying, "My testicles are made of an indestructible substance obtained from the center of the Earth." You'd believe it. I know I would. Peter Cushing doesn't talk about his invulnerable boy-berries, but when he tells us that these creatures are silicon-based, and require calcium to live, we damn well believe it. It helps that he has a floppy rubber corpse to illustrate his theories.
One of our spineless victims

When the monsters are finally revealed, they are armored slugs full of spaghetti with vacuum hose snorkels for mouths, and move so slowly that you wonder how they managed to kill anybody. You have to go to great lengths to get in the way of their snoots, which resemble a cartoon elephant's trunk searching for peanuts. My sister and I used to throw a ragged Afghan blanket over our heads and get one of the vacuum attachments from my grandmother's ancient Hoover to mimic the creatures. All things considered, it was a reasonable facsimile. My favorite death is when a guy attacks one with a fireman's axe, which bounces off their silicate armor plating. it of course grabs his leg, and Cushing stops anyone from getting closer to help him. Apparently the leg bone is connected to the (beat) thigh bone, and once they get you, you're finished.

Thanks for letting me die in agony, Cushing!

Nowadays, where do kids get to see their bad movies? The Sci-Fi Channel? A sad replacement for delights such as Chiller Theater. It's not really the same, since their movies never want to be more than crap. Island of Terror may have silly Snuffelupagus monsters, but they try to keep their origin rooted in science. Silly science, but science nonetheless. They even reproduce via mitosis, splitting in two like amoebas full of spaghetti. It was a fine distraction when years later, I learned the stages of mitosis.
Uh-oh, spaghettios.

In the middle of the movie, when they try killing them with shotguns, dynamite, and fire, the filmmakers seem to realize that sluglike creatures aren't a real threat. So they put one up in a tree. How it got there nobody knows, but it drops on one poor bastard who forgets to look up. They finally decide to starve the things to death, by herding all the cows away from them and of course, having everyone hole up in one building. The scene I remembered most was when they got on the roof and skylights, and their snorkels were poking through the windows... remember, when you're under attack from Spaghetti Snorkel Slugs, or anything else, stay away from the windows and watch those corners.
When your monster is this slow, you need skylights for suspense...

For silly horror fare, this movie should be a minor classic. It has a ridiculous yet unique monster, and very good effects for its time. It succeeds at scientific suspense with a few good gross-outs for the time, and even manages to be a bit scary during the final battle. There are better horror movies from the time- The Night of the Demon being particularly memorable- but this one is scientific instead of supernatural. The sound effects really must be heard to be believed (thanks to Bad Movies for recording it). And if you're bored one day, since it is not available on DVD, the entire thing is up on youtube.
pre-Barbarella we settled for gams instead of boobies

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