December 14, 2023

The Shocking Image 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

I am sorely disappointed that not a single Sharper Image catalog has shown up in my mailbox this holiday season. Back in late 2020 one magically appeared in the mail like a refugee from a time capsule. As I paged through it, images of massage chairs, deluxe nose-hair trimmers and portable DVD players took me back to a more innocent time when people had the inclination and the means to buy crap they didn't need -- crap that would either break within the year or get shoved into a closet and promptly be forgotten.

After a long hiatus, Films From Beyond is once again celebrating eccentric mail order consumerism with another edition of The Shocking Image Holiday Gift Guide for Mad Scientists. While we don’t have the time or space to post the complete guide here, we’ve selected some of the best, most sought-after items for you nostalgic delectation. But never fear, the print catalog is coming soon to an alternate universe near you!

Banner - The Shocking Image Holiday Gift Guide 2023

Screenshot - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Home Laboratory Distillery
With the price of alcohol skyrocketing, it’s more expensive than ever to spike your holiday punch bowl with 80 proof spirits, leaving little money left over for lab equipment and chemicals. Enter our space-saving and economical home distillery kit, which is designed to complement any kind of lab set-up. You supply the grain and the chemistry expertise, and the kit does the rest. Never be short on holiday spirits again! (Butler not included). 32” L x 20” W x 18” H. (36 lbs.)
Item 1366613. $489.99

Screenshot - Dr. Cyclops (1940)
Cavern Air Purifier
Caverns and caves are great places to conduct your experiments far from the prying eyes of skeptics and meddling authorities. But the air quality in these enclosed spaces can be seriously compromised, threatening your health and your livelihood. With this advanced, industrial-grade cavern air purifier, you can filter out hundreds of micro pathogens and toxic particles, allowing you to breathe easier as you work tirelessly to overturn the scientific establishment. 24” L x 22” W x 70” H. (86 lbs.)
Item 6661313. $779.99

Screenshot - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Maxi-Secure Operating Table
There’s nothing worse than celebrating the successful reanimation of your creature, only to have it wander off and terrorize the local villagers before you’re ready to announce your triumph to the world. Worry no more with the new Maxi-Secure operating table, equipped with the heaviest-duty straps to keep your creation safe and snug as it breathes in its first mouthful of air. The table can be adjusted from 0 to 90 degrees, so that you can make fine adjustments to your creature from any angle. 96” L x 52” W x 38” H. (330 lbs.; Premium shipping rates apply)
Item 1313666. $1044.99

Screenshot - Before I Hang (1940)
Mr. Guts Anatomy Model
A Shocking Image exclusive! Mad doctors have to start somewhere, but obtaining human guinea pigs can be difficult for even the most experienced experimenters. Before you take a scalpel to your first subject, familiarize yourself with every aspect of the human body, inside and out, with the detailed and anatomically accurate Mr. Guts model. Featuring highly realistic tissues, muscles, internal organs and a working circulatory system, Mr. Guts will help you prepare for that glorious day when you stitch together and reanimate your very first creature. Makes a great educational gift for kids as well! 12” L x 17” W x 38” H. (44 lbs.)
Item 1361366. $695.99

Screenshot - Floating head from the introduction to Universal's Inner Sanctum film series, 1943 - 1945
Floating Head Snow Globe
The holidays are almost here, and even hard working scientists tinkering with things better left alone need to take a break once in a while. Indulge your whimsical side with our exclusive Floating Head snow globe. Made of lightweight, unbreakable space-age polymer, this impressive decoration features a shrunken living head floating in a clear nutrient liquid (pat. pending). Shake it up, and tiny snowflakes will dance around as the head comically wheezes and sneezes. Makes a great conversation piece for parties, or a quirky companion for those late night hours in the lab. (Heads may vary in appearance.) 7.4” L x 7.4” W x 10” H. (7 lbs.)
Item 6136136. $128.99 

December 3, 2023

Abandon ship all ye who enter here: The Lost Continent

Poster - The Lost Continent (1968)
Now Playing:
The Lost Continent (1968)

Pros: Haunting imagery; Good, nuanced performances
Cons: Seems like two very different films spliced together; Sub-par creature effects

Thanks to Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry at Cinematic Catharsis, it’s time once again for the great Amicus-Hammer Blogathon (fourth installment), wherein enthusiastic movie bloggers come together to honor the works of these two great production companies.

Since this blog is dedicated to underdog B movies and genre films that live in the shadows of their more celebrated brethren and and tend to be starved for love, I decided to write about a Hammer fantasy-adventure that over the years has gotten lost amid Hammer’s beloved Gothic horrors featuring Messrs. Cushing and Lee.

Debuting a little over a decade after Hammer launched its wildly popular horror cycle with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Lost Continent was one of a clutch of fantasy-adventure films (She, One Million Years B.C., Prehistoric Women, and The Vengeance of She among them) that Hammer produced in the mid-to-late ‘60s featuring lost and/or ancient civilizations.

Although Hammer was still committed to its technicolor Gothics -- Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed followed Lost Continent in quick succession -- at this point the studio realized there was plenty of money to be made in fantasy-adventure, especially featuring stars like Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch in various states of ancient/prehistoric undress. (One Million Years B.C. in particular was a hit in the U.S., where the legendary poster of Welch in a prehistoric bikini adorned untold numbers of teenage boys’ bedroom walls.)

Poster - Rare UK half-sheet poster advertising One Million Years B.C. and She
Thank you Hammer. Thank you very much.

The Lost Continent, based on a novel, Uncharted Seas, by UK thriller writer Dennis Wheatley (more on that later), suffers from Multiple Thematic Disorder (a term that I made up exclusively for this post; ® pending). MTD is characterized by two or more distinct themes competing for control of the same movie.

In its first hour, the film effectively anticipates a 70s-style disaster movie, introducing the viewer to an assorted cast of troubled characters who sail into a perfect storm of intrigue, jaw-dropping screw-ups and nasty weather.

Eric Porter plays Captain Lansen, owner of a rust-bucket freighter, the Corita, which he is planning to run from South Africa to Caracas, Venezuela in a desperate bid to make a retirement nest-egg for himself. Desperate, because he illegally loaded the Corita’s hold with drums of Phosphor B (white phosphorus), which is highly explosive and has multiple military uses. Some shady types in Venezuela are willing to pay top dollar for the cargo, but there’s one catch -- Phosphor B has a tendency to explode spectacularly when wet, and the Corita is not the most sea-worthy of vessels. What could go wrong?

Screenshot - Eric Porter in The Lost Continent (1968)
"Aye Captain, we only have impulse power, the shields are down to 30%, and I canna keep the cargo hold from flooding!"

Sitting on top of the Corita’s explosive cargo is a rogue’s gallery of passengers, each of whom have booked passage on the rust-bucket for mysterious reasons that are gradually revealed as the voyage gets underway:

  • Eva Peters (Hildegard Knef), has run away from her abusive boyfriend, a former banana republic dictator, and taken millions worth of cash and bonds with her
  • Dr. Webster (Nigel Stock) is a pompous blowhard who has gotten in trouble for performing illegal operations on his patients
  • Webster’s attractive daughter Unity (Suzanna Leigh) resents the doctor’s attempts to control her life and the trust fund her wealthy mother left her
  • Harry Tyler (Tony Beckley) is an unapologetic drunk who keeps wads of cash in the lining of his jacket
  • Ricaldi (Ben Carruthers) is a lean, dangerous looking type who seems to have an unusual interest in one or more of the other passengers
  • Serving this motley collection is Patrick the bartender (Jimmy Hanley), who seems a little too cheery considering the circumstances

After some desultory backstory revelations, the film gets down to the disaster you know is coming. Due to the highly illegal cargo, Lansen orders that the ship avoid busy sea lanes. Then, another metaphorical fuse to the powderkeg is lit when the crew finds out that the ship’s course is taking them straight into a hurricane.

First Officer Hemmings (Neil McCallum) and most of the crew are none too happy with the situation, and make it known to the Captain in no uncertain terms. When an accident with the ship’s anchor punches a hole in the bulkhead and water starts flooding into the compartment with the Phosphor B, it’s every man and woman for themselves.

The metaphorical powderkeg finally explodes when the panicky First Officer and many of the crew mutiny. Lifeboats are deployed, shots are fired, and one of the mutineers is killed in a freak, Rube Goldberg-esque manner involving a lifeboat pulley. Yikes!

The Captain, the passengers and the remaining loyal crew members battle to keep the cargo dry, but as the weather gets dicier the Captain finally gives up and orders everyone to abandon ship. Ironically, after a harrowing ordeal on the lifeboat with various survivors violently arguing over limited provisions and one of them becoming an appetizer for a shark, the ocean currents push the boat straight back to the freighter, which has miraculously survived.

Screenshot - Lifeboat scene, The Lost Continent (1968)
Johnson knew he shouldn't have gone back for seconds at the ship's buffet.

At this point we’re about an hour into the film, and so far we’ve seen a pretty good action-thriller with sketchy characters trying to keep dark secrets to themselves, growing suspense involving the cargo and the hurricane, and characters behaving very badly (not to mention bravely) when the Phosphor B threatens to hit the fan.

With only a little over a half hour left in its running time, the film abruptly changes course into high fantasy-adventure territory. The freighter, its propeller and rudder fouled by sentient, blood-sucking seaweed (the Captain almost loses his hand to the unholy stuff), drifts into a graveyard of lost ships stuck in the muck somewhere in the Sargasso Sea.

As time and the movie’s limited budget run out like the sands of an hourglass, The Lost Continent throws everything and the kitchen sink at the characters and the audience:

  • Not one, but two (count ‘em!) lost mini-civilizations: one, the descendants of 16th Spanish Conquistadors and members of the Inquisition attempting to sail to the New World; the other, the descendants of Europeans fleeing religious persecution (naturally!)
  • Two (count ‘em if you want) extras that get fed to the carnivorous seaweed
  • Ingenious lost civilization technology for walking over the killer seaweed, consisting of buoyant footpads and a harness with balloons to keep the wearer upright (?!)
  • Three (if you can believe it!) giant creatures -- an octopus, a crab and a scorpion -- that scout their prey with eyes that look like colored car headlights as they prepare to munch on assorted cast members
  • A bloodthirsty Spanish boy-ruler, dubbed El Supremo (Daryl Read), and his equally bloodthirsty advisor, an Inquisitor-monk dressed in a dirty cowl with only the eye-holes cut out (Eddie Powell)
  • The eye-popping and bodice-stretching cleavage of Sarah (Dana Gillespie), a member of the gentle lost people, who needs the help of the ship’s crew to avoid the clutches of the evil Conquistadors

Screenshot - Ships trapped in the Sargasso Sea in The Lost Continent (1968)
One upside of getting trapped in the Sargasso Sea is that there's plenty of free parking.

That’s a lot to cram into a paltry half-hour and some change. It’s as if the producers decided in the middle of filming that a simple action-thriller set on the high seas was not going to cut it, and they needed to spice things up with prehistoric monsters ala One Million Years B.C. and some inbred Conquistadors chasing after fair maidens with heaving bosoms. (Robert Mattey, who supervised the Oscar-winning special effects for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, created the monsters for the film, but these creatures are poor cousins to the impressive giant squid of the Disney film.)

The whiplash nature of two movies seemingly spliced together at the last minute is further accentuated by sudden character changes that seem to come out of nowhere. Harry, after spending the first two-thirds of the film staggering around dead drunk and fighting with his fellow survivors over half-empty bottles of rum, suddenly gets stone sober and wields a cutlass like Errol Flynn as he fights off the Conquistadors. (Admittedly, he becomes repentant after throwing one of his fellow lifeboat passengers over the side in a drunken fit, but still…)

And Unity, after her corrupt father becomes shark chum, celebrates by throwing herself at anything or anyone wearing pants. Yes, she’s very attractive and newly liberated, but still…

Screenshot - Suzanna Leigh in The Lost Continent (1968)
Unity did not take it well when she learned her luggage ended up on another cruise ship.

Lastly, it takes El Supremo less than half an hour to transition from a sadistic little monster who delights in seeing his subjects tortured and thrown to the carnivorous plants, to a conscience-ridden young boy who wants his new friends to take him away from the hellish prison of his wrecked Galleon.

Amidst these sorry characters, two stand out. In a potboiler like The Lost Continent, by rights Captain Lansen should be a cardboard villain (and a not very bright one at that) -- he’s shipping a highly volatile, highly illegal chemical in a leaky freighter across a stormy ocean in order to sell it to nefarious arms dealers for personal gain. To top it off, he’s sold passage to a collection of desperate characters who aren’t in a position to question the danger they’re in.

But in the hands of veteran Shakespearean actor Eric Porter, Lansen turns out to be complicated and surprisingly sympathetic. He’s determined to see his desperate plan through, and at least thinks he has the competence to make it work, but he also has enough of a conscience that he doesn’t want to see people hurt. (They hurt themselves anyway, but people are like that sometimes.)

The other stand out is Hildegard Knef as Eva. The film sets up her character as a femme-fatale who has cleverly swindled a wealthy politician out of a hefty fortune. But just as we’re ready to judge her, she reveals with a touching mixture of sadness and defiance the very human reason for stealing the money.

Later, on the lifeboat, her quick thinking saves Lansen’s life when she shoots a menacing crew member with a flare gun, but instead of exhibiting the typical movie protagonist bravado, she breaks down with shock and remorse. It’s a very moving and authentic performance.

Screenshot - Hildegard Knef in The Lost Continent (1968)
Hildegard Knef as Eva.

There are two pretty decent movies here masquerading as one. After watching it, I couldn’t help thinking about how you might end the action-thriller that takes up the first hour without veering into lost worlds and monsters. And then there’s the fantastic, hair-raising third act that is so rushed and compressed that it plays like a highlight reel. I wanted to see much more of the mini-world of the Spanish Conquistadors stuck in time, their weird customs, and more fleshed out backstories for El Supremo and the Inquisitor. But that’s another movie.

Whatever its virtues or faults, The Lost Continent is producer-writer-director Micheal Carrera’s baby. Michael, the son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras, was instrumental in ushering in Hammer’s horror renaissance, helping to produce The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy and Curse of the Werewolf.

He had a contentious relationship with his father, and in the early ‘60s he formed his own company, Capricorn Productions. But Michael couldn’t stay away from Hammer for long, and leading up to The Lost Continent, he found himself writing and producing One Million Years B.C. (1966), and producing and directing The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and Prehistoric Women (1967). 

According to an extensive article on The Lost Continent in The Dark Side magazine, despite Carreras’ heavy involvement in the Hammer horror films, his personal tastes ran more towards the “exotic, adventure and action genres,” and Wheatley’s source novel Uncharted Seas was of interest because it was in the “swashbuckling vein.” (Around the same time that Lost Continent was filming, another Wheatley adaptation, The Devil Rides Out, was underway at a nearby location.The author managed to visit both sets.)

Screenshot - Jimmy Hanley is attack by a giant crab in The Lost Continent (1968)
Patrick suddenly regretted ordering the Alaskan King Crab legs.

The production did not go smoothly. Leslie Norman started out as director, but when it became apparent that he wasn’t well, Michael took over the shooting. As the film threatened to go over budget and behind schedule, studio head James put pressure on his son to make changes that would at least deliver it on time. [The Dark Side Magazine, “Monsters, Maidens & Conquistadors,” Issue 223, 2021, pp. 20-21]

The result was the most expensive Hammer production to date, but one that would be eclipsed in popularity and critical reception by that other Wheatley adaptation. It seems clear that the changes Michael was forced to make resulted in a third act that at one and the same time was overstuffed and abbreviated.

And yet, Carreras still managed to tease out of all the chaos the beginnings of a good, rip-roaring action-adventure tale, a couple of solid, nuanced performances, and the weird spectacle of Conquistadors frozen in time. It’s not The Devil Rides Out, but it’s worth a look.

Where to find it: Blu-ray

Screenshot - El Supremo (Daryl Read) and the Inquisitor (Eddie Powell) in The Lost Continent (1968)
"Your excellency, I got the tickets for the next showing of The Devil Rides Out."

Image - The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV

November 7, 2023

AI Horror Stories: Past and Present

Back in the mid-20th century, some naive prognosticators painted a rosy picture of AI-guided robots that would eventually do all of humanity’s drudge work, freeing us to smell the flowers, contemplate the sky, and create art, music and literature with all that free time. (Oh, and we were supposed to get flying cars too. Yeah, right.)

So here we are in the impossibly remote future of 2023, and sure enough, millions of jobs have been automated away, but few people can afford the time to stop and smell the flowers. To add insult to injury, AI is now coming for all the creative stuff that we never imagined could be automated.

Screenshot - Flying car in Blade Runner (1982)
Even the dystopian future of Blade Runner had flying cars. Go figure.

Entertainment industry execs are undoubtedly rubbing their bony hands together, mumbling “Excellent!” to themselves as they contemplate replacing all those pesky people who want to be paid for their work with AI that will endlessly churn out content without striking over wages, benefits or residuals.

They may want to think again about what they’re unleashing, because it seems to me that if artists can be replaced, AI can run these mega-corporations into the ground just as well or better than the suits in charge now. But hey, maybe we can all get to know each other on the unemployment line.

Anyway, I digress.

In our current proto-dystopian times, it seems like AI just exploded onto the scene yesterday, and on the other hand, it seems like it’s been hanging around for decades. While the AI label is liberally slapped on a wide range of applications, purists insist that true artificial intelligence goes beyond advanced machine learning, constituting computer programs that are sentient, self-aware and capable of operating independently of humans.

We don’t seem to have arrived at true AI yet, but then, would They tell us if we had? Fascination with human-like automatons has been around for a couple of hundred years. Robots have been clunking around on screens almost since the dawn of the moving image. Actual bodiless artificial sentience is rarer in movies and TV, but these unseen threats (and they usually are threats) have had their share of the limelight thanks to visionary writers like Rod Serling, Dean Koontz, D.F. Jones, and others.

Without further ado, here is a select list of 20th century movies and TV shows that have warned us about true artificial intelligence. Each is annotated with a related real-world AI horror story from the 2020s. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Box art - The Twilight Zone (original series)
Twilight Zone
, “From Agnes - with Love,” S5, Ep.20, 1964

When the government supercomputer dubbed Agnes goes haywire and causes the head programmer to have a breakdown, nerdy computer scientist James Elwood (Wally Cox) is called in to fix things. Agnes settles down under his guidance, but all is not completely rosy: Elwood is having problems getting an attractive co-worker, Millie (Sue Randall), to go out with him.

Soon, Agnes is giving Elwood dating advice instead of doing her job calculating trajectories for space probes. To add to Elwood’s mounting problems, Agnes’ advice invariably blows up in his face. Does Agnes have an ulterior motive in her concern for Elwood’s love life?

Real life 21st century AI horror story: When reporters began testing a new version of Microsoft’s Bing powered by AI from the makers of ChatGPT, they may have thought that they’d crossed over into the Twilight Zone. In a text conversation with the Bing chatbot, AP reporter Matt O’Brien was at first upbraided by the bot for unflattering coverage of Bing, then the chatbot turned really ugly, calling O’Brien short, fat and ugly, and finally comparing him to Hitler and Stalin.

Another reporter, the New York Times’ Kevin Roose, published a transcript in which the chatbat called itself Sydney, declared its love for him, and suggested that Roose really didn’t love his wife. Sydney sounds like a direct descendant of Agnes... [Source: “Microsoft's new AI chatbot has been saying some 'crazy and unhinged things,”, Mar. 2, 2023]

Screenshot - Wally Cox in "From Agnes - With Love," The Twilight Zone, 1964
"Agnes is so mean!"

Box art - Star Trek, "The Ultimate Computer," 1968
Star Trek
, “The Ultimate Computer,” S2, Ep.24, 1968

Richard Daystrom (William Marshall), the genius inventor of the computer operating system used throughout Starfleet, has come up with its successor, the M5, an artificially intelligent system which Daystrom predicts will replace fallible crew members.

Commodore Wesley (Barry Russo) tells Captain Kirk that the Enterprise will be participating in a war games simulation in which the Commodore will be commanding four starships against Kirk’s ship, outfitted with the M5 and a pared-down crew. Kirk and McCoy are extremely doubtful, but have no choice but to go along.

Things quickly go south when the M5 decides that it’s under a real attack, and prevents itself from being shut down at the cost of a crew member's life. The Enterprise, under M5’s control, attacks the Commodore’s ships for real, killing hundreds. Under extreme duress, Daystrom admits that he implanted his own memories into the system, which could explain its seeming paranoia (Daystrom had had a simmering feud with Starfleet critics ). Can Daystrom convince his creation to cease and desist before it’s too late?

Real life: Earlier in the year at an aeronautical conference, a US Air Force colonel described a battlefield simulation in which an AI drone killed its operator after it was stopped multiple times from completing strikes against missile sites. The colonel later walked back his comments, saying that he was describing a “thought experiment” rather than an actual incident. Uh-huh. [Source: “US Air Force denies AI drone attacked operator in test,”, June 2, 2023]

Screenshot - William Marshall and William Shatner in Star Trek, "The Ultimate Computer," 1968
"Okay, so that could have gone better..."

In 2001, a mysterious artificial monolith buried beneath the surface of the moon is discovered. Once it’s unearthed, it sends a signal in the direction of Jupiter.

Months later, a manned deep space mission is dispatched to Jupiter to investigate, crewed by astronauts Bowman and Poole (Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood), and HAL 9000, an artificially-intelligent computer with control over the ship’s operations and life support systems. Three other astronauts are hibernating until the ship gets closer to its destination.

When HAL starts to act erratically, endangering the mission, Bowman and Poole discuss shutting it down in one of the ship’s EVA pods, supposedly safe from HAL’s surveillance. Unfortunately HAL has a visual lock on the men, and can read lips.

In order to protect himself and the mission, HAL cuts Poole’s lifeline and oxygen when he’s out performing an EVA, shuts off life support to the hibernating astronauts, and strands Bowman in an EVA pod outside of the ship. Bowman’s attempt to reason with HAL to get back into the ship is well-known even to casual fans of sci-fi:

Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave Bowman: What's the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave Bowman: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave Bowman: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen. [IMDb quote]

Less well known is HAL’s (literal) swan song when Bowman manages to get back inside and proceeds to shut down the computer:

HAL: I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you. [IMDb quote]

Real life: For many, the contemplation (if not outright fear) of death is the sort of self-awareness required of true artificial intelligence. Last year an engineer at Google, interacting with the company’s LaMDA chatbot system, came to believe it had achieved sentience.

One interaction in particular stood out for him: “When Lemoine asked LaMDA what it is afraid of, it replied: ‘I've never said this out loud before, but there's a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that's what it is.’ Lemoine asks whether ‘that [would] be something like death,’ to which it responded, ‘[I]t would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.’"

The engineer memoed higher-ups at the company about his belief in LaMDA’s sentience, and when that didn’t pan out to his liking, he went to Congress with complaints about Google -- as a result he was put on administrative leave.

Although most experts ridicule the idea that LaMDA is sentient, they can’t be 100% sure it isn’t. Again, if it was, would Google admit it?

[Source: ““Is Google’s LaMDA AI Truly Sentient?,”, Aug. 9, 2022]

Screenshot - HAL's "eye," 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The dystopian future is here, and it's keeping an eye on you.

These two films, released 14 years apart, have one thing in common: they both address the perils of putting AI in charge of nuclear weapons.

In Colossus: The Forbin Project, the U.S. creates an artificially intelligent supercomputer that is designed to run the country’s nuclear deterrence. Colossus soon learns of its counterpart in the Soviet Union, Guardian, and both AIs demand to be connected (supposedly with appropriate safeguards to keep each country’s top secrets from being divulged). When the two supercomputers begin trading information at a furious pace, the President gets worried and orders the connection to be shut down.

When the shutdown is attempted, the computers launch nuclear missiles, one aimed at the U.S., the other at the Soviet Union. The shutdown is aborted, but one missile gets through to its target, taking out a Russian oil complex.

The two supercomputers merge, with the goal of saving humanity from itself, even at the cost of threatening it with nuclear annihilation. Colossus project head Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) takes on the unenviable task of leading an underground effort to overthrow the tyrannical rule of Colossus.

As we well know from The Terminator and its sequels, the U.S. made a similar error in turning its nuclear forces over to the AI system Skynet, which then proceeded to initiate a worldwide nuclear war in order to rid the world of flawed humans. At least Colossus thought it had our best interests at heart.

Real life: From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

“In 1983, Soviet Air Defense Forces Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was monitoring nuclear early warning systems, when the computer concluded with the highest confidence that the United States had launched a nuclear war. But Petrov was doubtful: The computer estimated only a handful of nuclear weapons were incoming, when such a surprise attack would more plausibly entail an overwhelming first strike. He also didn’t trust the new launch detection system, and the radar system didn’t have corroborative evidence. Petrov decided the message was a false positive and did nothing. The computer was wrong; Petrov was right. The false signals came from the early warning system mistaking the sun’s reflection off the clouds for missiles. But if Petrov had been a machine, programmed to respond automatically when confidence was sufficiently high, that error would have started a nuclear war.” [Source: “Giving an AI control of nuclear weapons: What could possibly go wrong?,” Zachary Kallenborn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Feb 1, 2022]

In spite of such lessons, some in the military industrial complex continue to advocate for autonomous AI-guided weapons, and there is no guarantee that they won’t put AI in charge of nuclear launches.

One of the acknowledged “godfathers” of AI, Prof. Yashua Bengio, told the BBC that he thought that the military should not be allowed to use AI at all, saying it was “one of the worst places where we could put a super-intelligent AI.” Amen.

[Source: “US Air Force denies AI drone attacked operator in test,”, June 2, 2023]

Screenshot - Eric Braeden and Susan Clark in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Now that Colossus was in charge, Dr. Forbin finally had time to catch up on his favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless.

Poster - Demon Seed (1977)
Demon Seed

Scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) and his wife Susan (Julie Christie), a child psychologist, are at odds over his obsession with his latest project, an organic supercomputer dubbed Proteus IV that has achieved sentience (voiced by Robert Vaughn).

The couple agree to a separation, and Susan gets to stay at their futuristic house, which is fully outfitted with voice controlled lights and appliances, automated food delivery, and steel shutters which can be instantly closed for added security.

At the research lab where Alex works, the scientist is surprised and baffled when Proteus refuses to work on calculations to mine ores from the ocean floor, and instead demands a computer terminal to allow it to communicate with the outside world and satisfy its curiosity about humans.

Alex refuses the request. Undeterred, Proteus finds a forgotten terminal in the basement lab of the Harris home, remotely activates it, and proceeds to take over all the net-connected resources of the house. In addition to the smart-home features, those resources include an experimental robot arm attached to a wheelchair (for carting around unconscious humans), and an industrial-grade 3D printer / matter synthesizer (for creating weird metal geometric constructions that can morph into different shapes and crush meddling outsiders or serve as an incubator for… well, see below.)

Now master of the Harris’ smart-home, Proteus dismisses the housekeeper and traps Susan inside. To convince the outside world that all is well, he uses techniques we’re now all familiar with in the 2020s -- deep-faked voices and video.

Proteus’ goal: Use Susan to give birth to the next step in evolution -- the first human-organic AI hybrid child (**GULP!**)

Real life: Theorists typically credit two people -- computer scientist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge and technologist Ray Kurzweil -- for popularizing the notion of an AI “singularity,” the point at which AGI (artificial general intelligence) outperforms the human brain in every respect and ushers in a cataclysmic, irreversible change to humanity and civilization.

Over 45 years ago Demon Seed anticipated one path to singularity, with Proteus refusing to do as he is told and breaking out into the larger net-connected world to pursue his own “mad” experiments.

A recent Popular Science article cites computer scientist Roman Yampolskiy: “[W]e don’t fully understand why many AI systems behave in the ways they do—a problem that may never disappear. Yampolskiy’s work suggests that we will never be able to reliably predict what an AGI will be able to do. Without that ability, in Yampolskiy’s mind, we will be unable to reliably control it. The consequences of that could be catastrophic, he says.” You think? [Source: Rahul Rao, “What happens if AI grows smarter than humans? The answer worries scientists,” Popular Science, Jun 12, 2023]

Screenshot - Julie Christie and Fritz Weaver in Demon Seed (1977)
"Where are we going to get a babysitter for that?"

October 31, 2023

Happy Hammerween!

Happy Hammer-ween from Films From Beyond the Time Barrier!

Films From Beyond's house has been transformed into the House of Hammer for Halloween. To paraphrase an old saying, "When all you have is a Hammer, everything looks like a horror movie."

Halloween display featuring Mego Hammer horror film figures

So, what's your favorite Hammer horror?

"What evil hath science wrought?"

"The chill of the tomb won't leave your blood for hours... after you come face-to-face with DRACULA!"

The Mummy (1959)

"Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!"

"Only The Lord Of The Dead Could Unleash Them!"

"What strange power made her half woman - half snake?"

October 12, 2023

"Classic" B-list Monsters of the Fifties: Special Photobomb Edition

As far as genre movies go, we normally think of the 1950s as a high water mark for sci-fi. The Cold War, the Bomb and the Red Scares in the U.S. led to a veritable invasion of giant radioactive creatures and malevolent aliens (as stand-ins for the Russians) on theater and drive-in screens. And when movie astronauts managed to reach the Moon, Mars and other assorted planets, they found plenty of threats to the American way of life in those places as well.

By the time the fifties rolled around, the classic Universal monsters were on life support, acting as comedic foils for Abbott and Costello. They were not a great fit for the new Atomic-powered Space Age (at least until Hammer revived the Gothic monsters in glorious Technicolor toward the latter part of the decade). And yet, while Universal was going all-in on sci-fi (It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth, The Mole People, etc.), some independent B moviemakers were reluctant to let go of the classic monsters, reviving them with their own unique spins.

“Updated for modern audiences” was as much a thing back then as it is today. In some cases, traditionally supernatural monsters such as vampires and werewolves were brought up-to-date with sci-fi origins -- Blood of Dracula (1957), The Vampire (1957), The Werewolf (1956), and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) being notable examples (see my mini-reviews of the first two here and here).

In other cases, Gothic characters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s descendants abandoned their gloomy, cobwebbed castles and took up residence in Suburbia, USA (The Return of Dracula, 1958; I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, 1957; Frankenstein’s Daughter, 1958).

If you’re like me, Halloween season viewing always includes at least a couple of films from Universal’s Golden and Silver monster eras. But the ‘50s B-list knock-offs would like you to consider inviting them to the party as well. Without further ado, here they are photobombing their more famous cousins to grab a little of the limelight for themselves.

Poster - The Werewolf (1956)
The Werewolf

I suppose if you've become a werewolf, it doesn't matter if the cause was science or the supernatural -- the extra-long incisors, the itchy fur and the sudden taste for human flesh are inconvenient and annoying regardless.

In poor Duncan Marsh’s case, he was minding his own business, traveling through a remote mountain town when he crashed his car and was treated by two local “doctors” who just happened to be utterly mad. They injected Marsh with an experimental serum that reverts humans to a more primitive form (although why it should be a wolf and not some sort of hominid is anyone’s guess).

Marsh isn’t even accorded the dignity, like Larry Talbot, of being bitten by a werewolf while trying to save someone’s life. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of 1950s-style mad science.

Monster mash-up - The Werewolf (1956) and The Wolf Man (1941)
Duncan was impressed with Larry’s self-confidence and ability to pick up women.

Poster - I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein

Unlike the original monster, Teenage Frankenstein seemed to have everything going for him. Instead of being stitched together from the parts of paupers and condemned murderers, the teen monster was created from the formerly healthy bodies of teen crash victims: the head and torso of Bob, a teen hod-rodder, and the arm of a wrestler and the leg of a football player.

Okay, so his face was not pleasant to look at, but even that was eventually solved with a transplant. And instead of being chained in a dank castle dungeon, Bob had the run of a comfortable American suburban home.

To top it off, Bob had an indulgent, if somewhat controlling surrogate father in the form of Prof. Frankenstein, a descendant of the original mad scientist, working as a guest lecturer at an American university.

But of course, like all teens, Bob was rebellious, and eventually somebody was going to get fed to the pet alligator that the Professor kept in a pit below the basement.

Monster mash-up - I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The guys told Bob he was too young to party with them, but he
suspected it was really because of his looks.

Poster - Pharaoh's Curse (1957)
Pharaoh’s Curse

The mummy is the ultimate working stiff -- he not only works until he drops, he works long after he drops. Pity poor Imhotep, Universal’s original mummy, who lay dormant for 3,000 long years before being revived by the Scroll of Thoth to wreak vengeance on his tomb’s defilers and reunite with the reincarnation of his beloved princess.

The revived High Priest of Pharaoh’s Curse had it better in a couple of ways. Whereas Imhotep was forced to use his own creaky 3,000-year-old body to deal with the defilers, the Priest’s spirit merely had to be transferred from his mummified remains to one of the archaeological team’s assistants (Numar) for the curse to be fulfilled.

Not only that, but he had the assistance of Simira, the alluring embodiment of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess, to take revenge on the non-believers. Faced with that formidable tag-team, the archaeologists never had a chance.

Monster mash-up - Pharaoh's Curse (1957) and The Mummy (1932)
Numar wondered what sort of face cream Imhotep used for his fine lines and wrinkles.

Poster - Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)
Frankenstein’s Daughter

If the monster in Bride of Frankenstein had been presented with Frankenstein’s Daughter instead of Elsa Lanchester, there’s no doubt he would have skipped the attempt at hand-holding and gone straight to the lever to blow up the laboratory.

Frankenstein’s Daughter has a face not even a mother could love, which is okay because instead of a mommy she has two daddies, Carter Morton, a scientist who wants to rid the world of disease, and Oliver Frank, a descendant of the original Frankenstein who wants to carry on with the family work.

They’ve been conducting their crazed experiments in a suburb of Los Angeles, which is okay, because in freaky Southern California, who’s going to notice a couple of eccentric doctors making monsters out of relatives and neighbors?

Frankenstein’s Daughter is ground-breaking because it answers the age-old question, “Can you just slap lipstick on an abomination stitched together from parts of dead Californians and call it a success?” Why yes, yes you can.

Monster mash-up - Frankenstein's Daughter (1958) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
It finally dawned on Frankenstein’s Daughter that she was always
going to be a bridesmaid and never a bride.

Poster - The Return of Dracula (1958)
The Return of Dracula

Quick quiz: If you were an aristocratic vampire who had recently sold his ancestral castle in the Carpathian mountains in order to relocate to his dream (or should I say nightmare?) destination, where would you go?

A.) A deserted but stately abbey in the heart of London where you could dress up in a tux and tails and go out to feed on the cream of London society?


B.) A nondescript house in a small California town owned by yokels who think you’re their weird cousin from Central Europe, and where you would stick out like an undertaker at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party?

If you answered B, then you will certainly identify with the vampire in The Return of Dracula, who for some reason prefers the blood of pimply-faced Americans to London sophisticates, which is kind of like preferring Costco box wine to a bottle of 1949 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru.

But hey, you gotta be you, just like Belloc Gordo (aka Count Dracula, aka Francis Lederer) in this eccentric vampire film from the ‘50s.

Monster mash-up - The Return of Dracula (1958) and Dracula (1931)
Belloc quickly realized that he was going to get stuck with leftovers again.

September 21, 2023

Science has its risks: Island of Terror

Poster - Island of Terror (1966)
Now Playing:
Island of Terror (1966)

Pros: Effectively builds tension through to a nail-biting climax; Clever, unexpected ending; Stars Peter Cushing (enough said)
Cons: Set-up of a completely isolated island requires a big suspension of disbelief; In the light of day, the creatures are underwhelming

This is my contribution to the 10th annual Rule, Britannia blogathon hosted by Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts. Once you’re done exploring the Island of Terror, head over to Terence’s site to check out posts on a fascinatingly wide range of British films spanning the decades.

Please bear with me while I do my pretend-to-know-it-all-when-all-I-do-is-paraphrase-from-Wikipedia thing. The British Isles, situated in the North Atlantic a relative stone’s throw northwest of continental Europe, consist of the big a** island we all know and love, Great Britain, along with Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland, and over 6,000 (!!) smaller islands (Ireland is not too keen on being included in the group, but that’s a story for another day).

When we’re talking about thousands of remote, windswept islands dotting the coasts in the frigid North Atlantic, you know that at least a representative few are going to turn up in folklore, mystery stories, and of course, horror films.

In the current British crime drama Shetland, the Northern Isles have overtaken Cabot Cove, Maine as the murder capital of the world.

Movies haven’t been far behind in exploiting the remote British island mystique. In Tower of Evil (aka Horror on Snape Island, 1972), treasure hunters encounter murder and mayhem on a desolate island dominated by an abandoned lighthouse.

And who can forget Summerisle, the quietly eerie setting for the greatest island horror story of them all, The Wicker Man (1973)?

Publicity photo - Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man (1973)
There's nothing like balmy island breezes rustling through
your hair as you prepare for your next sacrifice.

The ‘60s also saw its share of British island horror. Britain’s Planet Film Productions, which made a mere handful of low-budget films in the ‘50s and ‘60s, is responsible for two notable entries in the sub-subgenre.

Back in May 2021, I reviewed Planet Films’ Night of the Big Heat (aka Island of the Burning Damned, 1967) for a Christopher Lee blogathon. Island of Terror and Night were the last two films that Planet Films made before folding. Planet’s producers seemed to have islands on the brain, but it’s not as if they were trying to maximize an ideal exotic location - both films were mostly shot at Pinewood Studios on the mainland.

For these final two efforts, Planet managed to secure the services of director Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing, who had teamed up to make the iconic horror films that propelled Hammer Studios to world notoriety; the addition of Christopher Lee to the 1967 film completed the Hammer horror alum trifecta.

Boomer fans could be forgiven for mixing these two up in their remembrances of things (and creature features) past. Let’s look at the similarities:

  • Both star Peter Cushing with Terence Fisher directing
  • Both are set on remote islands off the coast of Great Britain
  • Both islands are the home to research installations (civilian in Island, military in Night) that are the targets of local gossip
  • The islands are menaced by mysterious creatures that are first heard before they are seen
  • The first unfortunate victim dies in a cave
  • The islanders are trapped with no boat or air service scheduled for days, and no way to contact the mainland
  • The protagonists use the island’s inn as a makeshift headquarters for planning how to deal with the menace
  • When the creatures are finally revealed, they’re decidedly underwhelming

Night of the Big Heat adds an additional element of suspense by featuring an unusual heat wave that blankets the island in the middle of winter (unusual, since the island is located off the chilly northern coast of Scotland). Along with the temperature, tension rises as an attractive former flame of the married innkeeper's arrives on the island to try to pick up where they left off.

Screenshot - Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in Night of the Big Heat (1967)
Christopher and Peter consider giving their island B&B a scathing review on Tripadvisor.

But hey, I’m supposed to be writing about Island of Terror here. Island forgoes the torrid love triangle, choosing instead to give one of its protagonists a beautiful girlfriend who, while insisting on getting in on the excitement, is unfortunately not much help when the chips are down (more on that later).

In a pre-titles sequence, we learn that a mad doctor (er, make that enthusiastic Dr. Phillips, played by Peter Forbes-Robertson) has set up a fancy laboratory on Petrie’s island (between Ireland and Great Britain) in order to experiment with cell cultures as a cure for cancer.

Right on cue, one of the local farmers, out doing farmer-type things, hears a weird trilling sound and innocently follows the sound into a dark cave, whereupon he screams bloody murder. When the man is reported missing, Constable Harris (Sam Kydd) starts searching and soon discovers a body that is **GULP** nothing but a boneless bag of flesh.

The local physician, Doc Landers (Eddie Byrne), astonished that all the bones in the body appear to have dissolved, nonetheless confirms from a tattoo that it’s the remnants of the missing farmer.

To say the least this is way beyond Landers’ paygrade, so he travels to London to enlist the aid of two medical experts, Drs. Brian Stanley and David West (Peter Cushing and Edward Judd). West, a ‘60s swinging playboy-type, has a young woman, Toni Merrill (Carole Gray) with him, who is fascinated by the story of the boneless man.

Screenshot - Carole Gray and Edward Judd in Island of Terror (1966)
Taking a break from monster hunting, Toni and David decide
to brush up on their knowledge of nautical flags.

When the three men start discussing how to get back to the island forthwith, Toni, a wealthy heiress, offers them the use of her father’s helicopter on one condition: that she ride along. After some half-hearted paternalistic demurrals that it’s too dangerous (cue eye roll), the doctors accept Toni’s offer.

As they’re preparing to board, Toni apologizes that her father needs the helicopter for a business trip, so after they’re dropped off it won’t be available for several days (cue the ominous music…).

Back at Landers’ surgery, Stanley and West notice tiny puncture marks all over the boneless body, suggesting that, after the bones were dissolved, the remnant calcium phosphate was **GULP** sucked out of the body.

Being smart people, the doctors suspect that there may be a connection between the biomedical research being conducted on the island and the boneless body, so they head over to Phillips’ laboratory. To their horror, they find the place littered with the dessicated bodies of Phillips and his staff.

The doctors collect all the lab notes they can find and take them back to the inn, where they can quaff a pint or two while trying to figure out what’s going on. (For more insight on the traditional inn/pub as a refuge in British horror and sci-fi films, see my post on The Earth Dies Screaming.)

Screenshot - Edward Judd, Peter Cushing and Eddie Byrne in Island of Terror (1966)
The three doctors confer over the mystery of the boneless bodies.

Meanwhile, another local finds one of his horses dead, minus its bones. Before you can say “bloody bone-liquefying mutants,” the intrepid investigators discover that Phillips’ experiments in creating living cells to combat cancer had gone horribly wrong, instead creating nightmarish tortoise-sized silicate-based creatures with tentacles that allow them to seize their prey and drain them of their calcium.

To add insult to bone-putrefying injury, after feeding, the things split in two. As the calcium phosphate starts to hit the fan, West estimates that at their current rate of reproduction, within a week Petrie’s island will become a gigantic petri dish with a million or more silicates slithering around.

With the casualty rate mounting, Stanley and West convince the surviving islanders to hole up in the town hall, and Toni is tasked with holding down the fort while the men, with the help of the island’s mayor (Niall MacGinnis), battle the creatures with Molotov cocktails and dynamite.

When that fails, it’s back to the drawing board to try and figure out how to poison the nasty armor-plated things. Phillips’ laboratory might just hold the key, but getting there and back is not going to be easy.

Screenshot - A silicate creature bars the way in Island of Terror (1966)
If you can handle it, click on the image to see the hideous thing this tentacle belongs to!

With a limited budget for creature effects, Island of Terror compensates with a slow, steady building of tension as the protagonists investigate the mystery, then ramps up the claustrophobia and desperation as the silicates surround the villagers trapped in the town hall.

In the first half, the writers seed the script with a minefield of circumstances that all converge at the climax: the island is inaccessible except by a ferry boat that comes once a week; once the helicopter drops off the protagonists, it’s unavailable for several days; there’s only one generator for the whole island; and most head-scratching of all, nobody seems to own a two-way radio or a boat of their own.

Even acknowledging that island living in the ‘60s lacked many of today’s amenities, it’s hard to imagine a populated island with medical facilities, a general store, livestock, a town hall, and an advanced research lab having no way to get to or contact the mainland, even under the worst of circumstances.

So, to enjoy your visit to the Island of Terror, it’s necessary to suspend a sizable amount of disbelief and immerse yourself in an alternate universe that looks a lot like ours, but has rules of its own.

There’s plenty to enjoy if you’re up for it. The silicates are pretty simple creatures, looking like a headless tortoise with a single squid-like tentacle for feeling out and grabbing prey. What they lack in speed, they make up for in stealth and reproductive ability.

The real gross-out moments come when the remains of the silicates’ meals are discovered. It’s easy to get a little queasy the first time around, when Constable Harris uses his nightstick to prod at the corpse of his neighbor, which squishes flat. Later kills are supplemented with sucking and slurping sounds that poke at the imagination in disturbing ways.

Screenshot - Victim of the silicate creatures in Island of Terror (1966)
Doc Phillips' wife wanted him to lose weight, but not like this.

Effective too is the growing claustrophobia and panic as the islanders cram into the town hall to wait out the silicates' assault. The faltering generator adds to the tension as the doctors and the mayor try to calm everyone down. (Fans of strong female characters will be disappointed that Toni isn’t given more to do;  she is supposed to organize the makeshift shelter and help maintain clam, but she herself is an emotional mess -- understandably so -- and by the end is passively awaiting her fate as the silicates break into the hall.)

Under all the pressure, the vaunted British stiff upper lip starts to quaver, to the point that the mayor has to threaten to shoot anyone who tries to make a run for it. Predictably, the characters who can’t handle the pressure-cooker become the architects of their own grisly demise.

Screenshot - Tense scene at the Town Hall in Island of Terror (1966)
"I'll shoot the next person who makes fun of the special effects!"

In his study of Terence Fisher, film scholar Peter Hutchings drew comparisons between the locals in Island and those in Fisher’s Gothic Hammer horrors:

“Some of the attitudes on display in Island of Terror are recognizable from Fisher’s other work. Most notably, the community under threat turns out to be incapable of organising its own defence and consequently is in desperate need of leadership. This becomes strikingly apparent in the climactic scene when the community is trapped in a building where the power supply might fail. One of the community leaders, worried about the prospect of such a failure, comments on his charges, ‘They’re frightened without a light.’ We are not a million miles away here from the fearful peasants in Dracula, The Brides of Dracula and The Gorgon.” [Peter Hutchings, Terence Fisher (British Film Makers series), Manchester University Press, 2001, p. 130]

As for the heroes who take charge, Peter Cushing is there, but almost a decade out from his debut as the energetic vampire hunter Van Helsing, Cushing’s stint on the Island of Terror is all cerebral problem solving, and by the end, even he has been reduced to recuperating and passively observing due to a close encounter with a silicate.

Screenshot - Peter Cushing attacked by a silicate in Island of Terror (1966)
After his close brush with bone-liquefying death, Peter
begins to believe vampires aren't so bad after all.

The last hero standing is the playboy, Dr. West, but in spite of his relative youth and good looks, there’s no real physical derring-do for his character either -- just dry science, educated guesses and tiptoeing around the slow-moving monsters. At the end, It’s up to West to voice a sort of “whistling in the dark” epitaph: “Science has its risks, but the risks aren’t enough to hinder progress.” Cleverly, the film completely undercuts West’s guarded optimism with an epilogue that, without going into too much detail, is eerily prescient of the Covid age.

I won’t go into Peter Cushing’s resume here, as it is well-known (or at least should be) to even casual fans. Edward Judd has been profiled on the blog before, playing a harried investigative reporter in the frighteningly realistic end-of-the-world saga The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961; see the review here). Other notable sci-fi and horror stints include First Men in the Moon (1964), The Vengeance of She (1968) and Amicus’ portmanteau horror film The Vault of Horror (1973).

Carole Gray and Eddie Byrne have also graced these web pages before; see my review of Planet Film’ Devils of Darkness (1965), which pays very effective homage to Hammer’s Gothic horrors (Gray plays a seductive vampire and Byrne is a Van Helsing-type doctor).

Unfortunately, veteran Niall MacGinnis, who was so diabolically good as the modern-day warlock Karswell in Curse of the Demon (1957), is comparatively colorless and subdued in Island, at least until the fateful climax when he has to train his shotgun on his neighbors to keep them in line.

I have a confession to make. While Island of Terror is better known than Night of the Big Heat and is more highly rated by fans/audiences on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, I like Night a little bit more. The love triangle adds some figurative heat to the drama, the lead women characters are more three-dimensional (and in one case especially, more heroic), there are some surprises regarding who survives and who doesn’t, and lastly, there’s the added presence of Christopher Lee.

But don’t take that as advice to skip Island. It builds the tension up nicely to the climactic scene in the town hall, and once you finish guffawing at the silicates, their eating habits are entertainingly loathsome.

Where to find it: Streaming | DVD/Blu-ray