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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

"Searing terror! Burning in its intensity!"


Whilst the rest of Britain freezes in deepest winter, the northern island of Fara bakes in usually hot weather. The crew at the Met station have no idea what is causing this heat but when people start to hear strange noises and are found scorched to death, the locals begin to suspect something deadly is at hand. A scientist on the island studying this phenomenon believes that the island is being used a beachhead for an invasion by aliens who need high temperatures to survive.


Terence Fisher was one of the core figures at the centre of Hammer Film Productions' emergence as the top horror-making company in the late 50s and early 60s. However, due to creative differences, he left the studio during the 60s to go and work elsewhere. It's during this time he made a loose trilogy of sci-fi films (the others being The Earth Dies Screaming and Island of Terror, both of which are two of my favourite films). The Night of the Big Heat is the third film he made and is just as strong as the other films, at least until the aliens turn up which ironically, was the problem the other two films faced. Based upon the 1959 novel of the same name, the script was originally meant for television but was tweaked for the big screen.

Night of the Big Heat sets up the familiar tropes: we are given the traditional isolationist community in peril, introduced to a few of the key local characters and an odd moment or two where some minor character is killed by an off-screen menace to build up the threat and tension. There's nothing different about the approach to the film than anything else of the period - keep the monsters out of sight until the very end is the key here. But a good job is done to keep us interested throughout - the pace is quite brisk and there is a foreboding sense of doom. We're in no hurry to see the aliens and for most of the time the buzzing noise that they make is enough to keep us just a little bit scared and curious as to what they'll look like. The constant sight of people being killed off by bright lights does get a bit laughable - they're humans, not vampires. Some of the science is also bordering on the nonsensical too but when it's delivered by Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, it sounds like scientific fact.

When you do see the aliens, they look awful. It's a total let down for the finale, especially as it is the point in the film where everything is supposed to come to a head, not descend into a farce. They seem to be the leftovers of the Silicates from Island of Terror, with a lightbulb slapped inside them to make them appear bright. If the slow, sliding monsters from that one did little to send shivers down your spine, then these creatures are worse. They get a lot less screen time than their predecessors and look a lot less manoeuvrable than before, taking away plenty of menace. Director Terence Fisher was always better with vampires than he was aliens and it shows in his approach to the extra-terrestrial threat. Things are wrapped up a bit too quickly given how long it took to get there but budget constraints clearly hampered things.

Filmed during winter, the actors were forced to wear damp shirts and had glycerine smothered over their faces to give the illusion that it's hot - and believe me you will sweat during this film just watching them. You can almost feel the heat burning from the screen at times. Peter Cushing keeps his suit on all of the time though which is a bit worrying especially as it's supposed to be really hot - you'd think the guy would be sweating a bit. It's unfortunate that Cushing is given such a limited part in this film but as usual, he is excellent. I've never seen him give a bad performance - ever. Even in some of the rubbish which he starred in, Cushing was always head and shoulders above the material.

Unlike the others in the cast, Cushing actually manages to make us believe everything that's happening. Christopher Lee as the arrogant and abrasive scientist Godfrey Hanson doesn't really work - he's such a complete and utter asshole but we're supposed to root for him? Lee doesn't convince as much as he should and needs to here but he admits in the DVD commentary that the script was changed so often that the actors tended to ignore it most of the time since the changes were even worse. Patrick Allen also has a big role here and I wouldn't have mentioned him except for the fact he's got arguably one the most recognisable voices from this era. Just like in The Body Stealers, Allen has managed to bag the role of a womaniser and the unconvincing love triangle plot that's forced down our throats with him, his wife and secretary. It's pretty pointless, doesn't go anywhere and doesn't add anything to the plot except pad it out and give Allen more females to play tonsil hockey with.

**Spoilers ahead**

This is one of the few films that I can recall where neither Lee or Cushing actually make it to the end alive.

**End Spoilers**


Final Verdict

Night of the Big Heat doesn't rank with the best work of Fisher, Lee or Cushing but it's still a great dose of British sci-fi horror from the 60s. If, like me, you're a Cushing and Lee nut, then you'll watch it regardless but for those who aren't, there is better work out there.


Night of the Big Heat

Also Known As: Island of the Burning Damned

Director(s): Terence Fisher

Writer(s): Ronald Liles (screen play by), John Lymington (based on a novel by), Pip Baker (additional scenes & dialogue by), Jane Baker (additional scenes & dialogue by)

Actor(s): Christopher Lee, Patrick Allen, Peter Cushing, Jane Merrow, Sarah Lawson, William Lucas, Kenneth Cope

Duration: 94 mins


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