Saturday, November 3, 1972 (Noon): Island of the Burning Doomed (1967) / Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)

island

Synopsis: Best-selling author Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) and his wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson) own an inn called the Swan on England’s remote Faro Island.  Even though it’s midwinter in the U. K., Faro Island is experiencing unprecedented stifling heat.

A young woman named Angela arrives on the island in her sports car, which soon overheats. When she finally makes it to the Swan she tells Frankie that she is Callum’s new secretary, sent by the temporary agency. But when Jeff Callum goes out to meet her he is furious — he had previously had an affair with Angela, and she’s clearly arrived in order to rekindle their relationship. Knowing that to dismiss Angela immediately would make Frankie suspicious, he decides to carry on under the pretense that she is simply his secretary.

Angela takes up residence in the cozy inn; the only other guest seems to be a very tall, humorless scientist named Hanson (Christopher Lee) who is quite rude and interested only in his experiments. He has lots of electronic instruments in his room and mucks around in the countryside with cameras and tripwires.

Meanwhile, the townspeople have been hearing an unusual sound in the village — a whirring, whining noise that grows closer and then fades away. And one by one, villagers turn up dead, their bodies burned to ashes.

Hanson has developed a theory about what is happening, and after Callum confronts him about all the mysterious goings-on he reluctantly explains. The island, he tells him, is the beachhead of an invasion from outer space!
 
Hanson explains that there is a radar station on the island, and these aliens are arriving on earth through the radar dish, much in the same way a TV broadcast speeds unseen through the atmosphere and is decoded by a receiver. They’re using the radar station as a landing point to gain access to Earth and are heating up the island as a test, changing the climate to match that of their home planet. If their test on the island is successful, they will soon spread all over the world, using all the radar stations on Earth against us….

 Comments: IMDB claims that this 1967 British import wasn’t released in the US until 1971, but as you can see from the photo above, it actually filled out a (presumably matinee) double-bill with Godzilla’s Revenge in 1969. That makes it the first time a double feature we’re seeing on Horror Incorporated originally played together in theaters — though of course the order is flipped.
Made by Tom Blakely’s Planet Productions, the movie’s original British title was Night of the Big Heat. Perhaps to avoid confusion with the 1967 Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night, the U.S. release title was changed to the delightfully lurid Night of the Burning Damned. This became the less-profane Night of the Burning Doomed for television, and the title reverted to Night of the Big Heat for its various home video releases.
You would be forgiven for thinking this sci-fi / horror hybrid was a Hammer films production, since it sports so many Hammer alumni; it was directed by Terence Fisher and stars Patrick Allen, Christopher Lee, Sarah Lawson and Peter Cushing. But the film lacks a certain finesse and polish that marked even the lower-rank Hammer films. And the screenplay is decidedly uneven; it was, in fact, reportedly overhauled completely only a few days before shooting began.
All the same, it’s not a bad effort, with a sci-fi premise that required almost no special effects to pull off save for the clear gelatin slathered on actors to make them look sweaty.  For most of its running time the movie plays as a straight-up horror film with an aura of mystery and dread around what is causing the stifling heat and bizarre mayhem on the island. The aliens themselves were wisely held back until the final minutes of the picture — they look like giant, glowing coconut macaroons — and while they aren’t at all convincing they’re not really on screen long enough to matter. Overall, this is an unassuming programmer that doesn’t stand out in any particular way, but it’s lively and moderately suspenseful nonetheless.
 
Perhaps the oddest thing about the movie is that it appears to be made by people who’ve never experienced hot weather before. Throughout the film the temps are supposed to be in the upper 90s and rising (and by the end of the film 110 degrees Fahrenheit), yet Peter Cushing’s character wears his suit jacket and tie at all times, and sweat stains are clearly visible around the armpits of the jacket. The scientist Hanson wears a shirt he also sweats through profusely and a tie but fortunately no jacket; only the manly Callum is going around tie-less. As for Frankie Callum, she wears a series of frowsy ensembles, and we must also presume there’s an underwire bra under there somewhere. Angela, being a stylish and free-spirited young woman in the summer of love, presumably doesn’t bother with underclothes at all, except for when they’re needed to, um, bait the trap.

No doubt intrigued by the exploitation possibilities of a title like Night of the Big Heat, the French home video distributor of this film shot some pornographic scenes using actresses who could pass as Jane Merrow and Sarah Lawson. I think we can chalk that up as another first for the Horror Incorporated Project.

Godzilla’s Revenge

 

Godzilla's_Revenge_1969

Synopsis: Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki) is a lonely schoolboy who lives in Tokyo. His parents work long hours and have little time to spend with him. He loves monster movies, and by far his favorite monster is Godzilla, whom he sees as almost infinitely powerful. Ichiro is constantly being harassed by a local bully named Gabara and his gang, and his only escape from this dreary existence is dreaming of being on Monster Island, where he watches powerful creatures engage in fierce battles. On the island he befriends Godzilla’s son Minya. Minya is about Ichiro’s size (though he can grow somewhat larger when he chooses to do so) and he can also speak. He tells Ichiro that he himself is being bullied by one of the young monsters on the island — a monster, coincidentally, that is also named Gabara.

Minya wants very much to be like his father, but he isn’t very big by juvenile monster standards; and he isn’t able to breath fire like his father either. In spite of his best efforts all he can do is puff out comical smoke rings.

godzillasrevenge4

Nevertheless, Godzilla has impressed upon his son the importance of standing up to bullies. Minya learns that he can defeat Gabara by being brave and standing his ground.

In the real world, Ichiro tries to take this lesson to heart. But he gets more than he bargained for when he’s kidnapped by a pair of bumbling bank robbers….

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Comments: As a kid I was a big fan of Godzilla movies, and I still have a great deal of affection for them.  But even as a small child I hated Godzilla’s Revenge, which is widely regarded as the worst Godzilla film ever made.

And with good reason. This movie is dreadful for lots of different reasons: it’s silly; it talks down to kids; there is little of importance at stake; the action in the movie is essentially a dream; and worst if all, it is (to borrow from the parlance of television) a clip show.

Most of the Monster Island footage was cobbled together from earlier pictures (even the scene where Godzilla tries to teach Minya how to breathe fire is taken from 1967’s  not-quite-as-terrible Son of Godzilla). As a cheap and cynical way to wring a few more pennies out of dying franchise, it’s a great idea. As a way to maintain the viability of said franchise, not so much.

To be fair, Toho seemed confident that their kaiju films had run their course. 1968’s Destroy All Monsters was supposed to be the final film in a series that was becoming visibly threadbare. Series weren’t “rebooted” or “reimagined” in the way they are nowadays. Instead, studios just ran their franchises into the ground and walked away. But Godzilla wasn’t an ordinary character like Charlie Chan or Francis the Talking Mule; he had captured the imaginations of moviegoers and he would be back. The results weren’t always great, but they were usually interesting.

All the same, Godzilla’s Revenge is unquestionably the low point, the indisputable nadir of the franchise. And no matter how many more Godzilla movies are made, I’m confident you’ll still be able to say that.

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. I always liked ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED, though it was not as good as the previous Planet production ISLAND OF TERROR, also directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing. Patrick Allen just didn’t seem the type to be a ladies man, though he was back at it for 1969’s INVASION OF THE BODY STEALERS (Sarah Lawson not only played his wife on screen, she was Mrs. Allen in real life). Total agreement on GODZILLA’S REVENGE, made on a shoestring perhaps with a nod to the juvenile Gamera series.

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