B-Movie Inspiration: Island of Terror
I was browsing social media when I ran across a picture posted to a group dedicated to the old sci-fi media magazine Starlog.
It was a creature from some old movie that resembled a bulbous starfish with a single tentacle jutting out is front. Immediately drawing me in, I had to do some research to find out where it came from. This creature was a Silicate from a movie called Island of Terror, a 1966 British horror film starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, and Carole Gray. I am a huge fan of Peter Cushing movies and this was a good example of an imaginative gem that probably flew under the radar for many.
Most of the movie takes place on a remote island called Petrie’s Island, off the east coast of Ireland. We learn in the first act that the island does not have phones to the mainland and limited means to reach it via boat. It is a very isolated community of farmers and fisherman. We first observe some scientists lead by oncology researcher Dr. Lawrence Phillips as they work on a cure for cancer in a secluded castle laboratory on the island. It is during their conversations, these scientists mention their other co-workers in Japan – a plot plant for later. Something catastrophic happens in the lab and it fades to black. Later on the island, bodies begin to turn up. They seemed to have died horrifically as every bone in their bodies was liquified. The island’s physician – Dr Reginald Landers (Eddie Byrne) – ends up recruiting two London scientists – Dr Brian Stanley (Cushing) and Dr. David West (Judd) to help solve the mystery. Along with them is the wealthy jetsetter Toni Merrill (Carole Gray).
Once back at Petrie’s Island, the helicopter used to reach the island must return to the mainland for plot reasons, leaving the group effectively stranded on Petrie until the helicopter or a boat can return. West and Stanley learn of Dr. Phillips work, paying a visit to his lab. This reveals that Dr. Phillips and his colleagues are dead and boneless as the other bodies. From Dr. Phillips’ research notes, the protagonists learn that in his quest to cure cancer, they may have accidentally created a new silicate based lifeform.
The creature now obliquely revealed, we begin to see more and more islanders killed. In each case, we hear a strange alien sound and see a tentacle take out each. Eventually dubbed silicates by the heroes, we learn that they kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies as part of their feeding process. The silicates are very resilient and incredibly difficult to kill. Landers fails to kill one at the castle with an axe when they first encounter them and later try to kill them as they approach the village, with bullets, gasoline bombs and dynamite with no effect. Additionally, these creatures divide like cells every few hours and the heroes determine there could be thousands or more on the island before too long.
In the scenes that follow, we see the creatures in the forests and in the fields, slowly crawling towards to the village seeking food. These scenes were pretty good considering the period, but I could imagine what they could do today with something like this. In these shots, they may have been 4 or 5 on screen at one time but to really get the horror, I wanted to see dozens moving frantically seeking food. As you can imagine for the period, they were like little slugs crawling along the ground at a very slow pace. However, there were some cool moments as they revealed the creatures could climb trees and drop down on victims.
Finally, one silicate turns up dead, apparently after having ingested a dog that was contaminated by a rare isotope called Strontium-90 from Phillips’ lab. This may have been vaguely implied at in the beginning, I am not sure. It did seem out of nowhere to me. The heroes hatch a plan to gather more of this isotope at the castle and contaminate a herd of cattle, setting a trap for the hundreds (look more like dozens) of silicates that are now on the island. This in the long run succeeds, of course, with a few harrowing moments among panicking townsfolk trapped in the town meeting hall while the creatures attack from all sides.
The story ends with evacuation and medical teams coming to the island and the heroes realizing how fortunate they were that this outbreak was confined to an island. Planted earlier in the movie, this sets up an epilogue of the movie – a visit to the satellite programme in Japan. The scientists there are attempting to duplicate Phillips’ work with the inevitable result. It ends with a scientists entering a room, you hearing the familiar sound of the creature, and a scream. Fade to black.
The theme of this story is a standard science gone wrong trope. It’s one of my favorites to use in my sci-fi and pulp horror games. These stories are born of man’s hubris and arrogance that he alone is master of the cosmos and science is the means to master it. I am using this in my current con Reich Star campaign (Man in the High Castle meets The Expanse). It also had a Lovecraftian feel to it, given the setting and the type of creature. For budgetary reasons, these creatures were a little disappointing, but my mind simply goes to what they could have been with the right budget and today’s special effects. Todays practical effects alone could make these things terrifying. Adding in a little CGI, and these things could be awesome. I love a good monster movie. A monster movie with tentacles and you will have me watching from beginning to end.
I love the isolation aspect of this. This can easily be “survive the night” type one-shot adventure in any horror, sci-fi or fantasy setting. Some scientist or wizard messing around with the wrong things only to open a gate into another realms of strange creatures that devour your bones (or some other aspect of your body). The inspirations are fairly obvious. Any island or island-like locations would do. In sci-fi, it could be an asteroid colony. This is the perfect pulp horror story, easily insertable into a game like Call of Cthulhu. In fantasy, it could be anywhere. Isolation is quite common in fantasy.
The creature itself could be anything but I like the creepiness of this particular creature. I would even use the sound they used in the movie if I could isolate it on my phone. I would add more tentacles just for effect. I would also alter the mitosis process to add a little more horror to it but the ticking time-bombs aspect to that would remain. It’s all a ready-made adventure waiting to be exploited in a role playing game setting.
The one thing I would change is probably the final solution as it seemed more coincidental than anything.