Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Frozen near closing time... Night of the Big Heat (1967)

There’s a sci-fi horror sub-genre involving dramas played out largely from the perspective of a village pub. The Doctor Who story, The Daemons, featured a possessed village and lots of pub action as did the cult kids’ serial Children of the Stones and no end of sixties films… after all, when the chips are down and your rural paradise is under threat of alien invasion, where better to be than the pub!?

This film was based on a book of the same name by John Lymington which had a number of screenwriters including Pip and Jane Baker who also wrote for The Doctor and for Jon Pertwee you can not only read the booming presence of Patrick Allen but also Peter Cushing who had just played the Doctor in two films.

Peter Cushing and Sarah Lawson
Director Terence Fisher makes the most of a limited budget with some superb atmospherics – not just in the pub – but also a pace that builds suspense slowly but inexorably until the inevitable disappointment of the monsters is revealed and the story winds up with almost indecent haste. The cast do pretty well with an uneven script and lines such as “you little fool!” (repeated twice) and “she was nothing more than a common slut, a slut I tell you… it meant nothing!" (or something like that).

The pleasure is in these familiar faces and their beer-swilling journey into mystery…

Angela arrives past the secret base...
...and in a very flash car!
There’s an interesting beginning as a young woman Angela Roberts (the lovely Jane Merrow – one of the faces of the Sixties!) drives her white sports car past a radio research station on the Isle of Fara. As she sweeps down country lanes, throwing her luscious hair back to the wind, we find Christopher Lee – the mysterious Doctor Godfrey Hanson – setting up cameras and mirrors. The camera cuts from he to she and you wonder if they will collide but no, Fisher cleverly has them intersecting down a lane, he just missing her speedster all after the real impact of the moment has been seen in the death of a tramp – killed by forces unknown near the Doctor’s camera set up.

Christopher Lee senses unnatural forces at work
Angela’s sports car breaks down, having over-heated and she gets a helping hand from Tinker Mason (Kenneth Cope) who explains about the extraordinary heatwave round these parts. Angela finally arrives at The Swan pub, where she is to be a secretary to a writer, Jeff Callum (Allen) who owns the premises with his wife, Frankie (Sarah Lawson). Walking past the predatory gaze of Tinker and his pal Bob Hayward (Thomas Heathcote) she enters the bar to find Frankie serving the local GP, Dr. Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing).

The locals are impressed with...
Jane Merrow and her lovely face
There’s something about the young woman’s attitude and, yes, the way she cradles one of Jeff’s hardbacks, that suggests she is more than a newcomer and, sure enough, as Jeff goes to collect her at the beach his face drops as he realises who has arrived.

Legs akimbo in a flowery bikini, Angela reels in her former lover… he won’t be escaping her that easily.

Dressed to impress
Jeff panics at the sight of Angela's bikini...
So, as Jeff wrestles with the old lust vs love quandary, strange sounds and mysterious events starts piling up: sci-fi horror, like life, is something that happens whilst you’re busy making plans.

The heat is intolerably high leaving the island’s inhabitants in a fog of slow-motion lizard logic as Ben Siddle’s sheep get fried and Bob perishes near a gravel quarry another frozen in terror as an unseen entity seems to burn the life from him.

As the heat rises in the love triangle between the published, publican, his wife and secretary, Jeff finds the time to find out what the secretive professor is doing and it’s not good news…

The professor reveals all
All the camera tech has been used in an attempt to identify an alien race who have made their way to Earth following the emanations from the islands radio transmitters. They feed on heat and have raised the temperature on the island as they push on to absorb more heat from animals, human and research station alike.

The evidence soon mounts to support the Professor’s ideas as one by one the locals get fried.

As Jeff and Frankie’s marriage heads for the rocks as Angela tells all, the reality of the invasion overtakes their concerns as the struggle just to survive takes over…

Preparing for the worst in the pub
Dusty verdict: Sometimes the dialogue creaks and sometimes the effects are less than special but this is an enjoyable film that maintains momentum.

Jane Merrow is one of my favourite actresses of the period and she does well even when her every appearance is accompanied by romantic easy listening strings from Malcolm Lockyer’s score.

The two Hammer legends are, of course, class acts and both don’t really have enough to do: Peter Cushing hanging around the bar as if he’s doing a favour for a friend whilst Christopher Lee just has to look earnest and mysterious (not a problem!).

Patrick and his jaw of resolution
Kenneth Cope’s character is overcome by the heat and lust for Jane M and tries to assault her whilst she may eventually find solace in the firm grip of the research station’s manager, Ken Stanley (William Lucas). Patrick Allen is dynamic as always and makes for a believable flawed hero, in spite of his un-pc description of his lover…

Jane Merrow 
The film – also known in United States as Island of the Burning Damned – is available on DVD and is well worth checking out if you’re seeking undemanding period sci-fi, a pretty girl in a fast car and the welcoming atmosphere of a country pub under threat of alien disintegration!

You can buy it from Amazon and the usual places…and on blu-ray too!

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