SYNOPSIS A freak heat wave in the depths of winter sends temperatures soaring and sets nerves on edge on the remote Scottish island of Fara.
Novelist Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen), who owns and runs the Swan tavern with wife Frankie (Sara Lawson), is knocked for six when his former lover Angela (Jane Merrow) arrives on the island hoping to rekindle their one-time affair. But when a farmer’s sheep herd is found burned to a crisp, Jeff turns to local physician Dr Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing) to try to uncover the reason for the sudden change in climate.
But it’s surly scientist Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) who has uncovered the truth: alien creatures are attempting to raise the temperatures to match those of their home planet as part of a spearhead before their invasion of Earth.
With the temperatures about to reach boiling point, all looks lost for the helpless inhabitants unless a weakness can be found to defeat the unseen creatures…
THE LOWDOWN Based on John Lymington’s 1959 sci-fi novel Night of the Big Heat was adapted by Ronald Liles for TV then rewritten for the screen by Pip and Jane Baker, who Doctor Who fans will be familiar with as they penned two serials in the 1980s featuring renegade Time Lady Rani (played by the late Kate O’Mara).
The British sci-fi was also the second film that Hammer stalwart, Terence Fisher, directed for Planet Film Distributors – the first being 1966’s Island of Terror (a much more superior affair and a real guilty pleasure of mine). Despite having to work with a low budget, a short shooting schedule and not being familiar with the sci-fi genre, Fisher does his best to create a sense of claustrophobia as the events unfold (like an Agatha Christie mystery) and the islanders get all hot and bothered in the unnatural November heat as the aliens (who we don’t see until the end) carry out their reconnaissance.
However its the film’s poor special effects that lets the side down: the screen merely bleaches out when the inhabitants are incinerated, and the protoplasmic aliens’ aren’t half as exciting as Island of Terror’s bone-dissolving tentacled silicates – here, they’re just big balloons with glowing lights inside that turn into deflating Yorkshire puddings when a storm hits, finally destroying them.
As a consolation prize you do get Hammer pals Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (in their last film together with Fisher): although Lee’s scientist does get the lion's share of things to do than Cushing’s doctor, who basically props up the bar of the Swan tavern in an sweat-stained suit until his big death scene.
The film was released as Island of the Burning Damned in the US in 1971 in a double bill with Godzilla’s Revenge, and was shot at the legendary Pinewood Studios, with the tavern’s exterior scenes being filmed at The Swan Inn in Milton Keynes.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE The OEG Blu-ray region free release features the 1967 sci-fi in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with LPCM mono audio. The quality of the transfer is a huge improvement on the digitally restored 2004 UK DVD release, but there are a couple of scenes that suffer from hot spots and scratches. The audio quality, however, is excellent, making Malcolm Lockyer’s superb score really swing (it really should be released in a double bill with Island of Terror – anyone?).
The release also benefits from the inclusion of the audio commentary, moderated by Marcus Hearne, featuring an enthusiastic Christopher Lee and screenwriters Pip and Jane Baker that originally appeared on the 2004 Masters of Horror DVD release; as well an episode from the 2012 British Legends of Stage Screen documentary series, in which Lee looks back at his life and career. The lack of gallery and trailers, however, is an oversight.
Night of the Big Heat is out on Blu-ray in the UK from OEG (Odeon Entertainment) from 14 July
Island of Terror gets a digitally remastered release from OEG on 22 September http://youtube.com/v/wvoe7OfY8C0
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