1967’s Night of the Big Heat is a strange animal, and I don’t mean the monster in it, though I will get to that later.
The first thing we see is some guy at the desk of some sort of facility. No idea where we are or what kind of science is being performed, but there’s two oscilloscopes and this guy is frantically adjusting the knobs on one of them. The screen of that one explodes and cue the opening credits. Just based on this, I’m going to assume we’ll be seeing a monster who hates sine waves.
So we’re not even at the title sequence yet, and I am already confused and frustrated. Was all that knob twiddling to prevent that oscilloscope from exploding? If so, why did that guy think it was going to explode? And why doesn’t he think the other one right next to him was going to explode?
Anywho, the opening credits reveal this is a Planet Film production. This was a short-lived UK studio that released only three horror films, all in the mid-60’s. I love UK horror of that vintage, even if this isn’t up to the standards of Hammer in its prime. Or Amicus in their prime. Or Tigon in their prime.
I understand how one could mistake this for a Hammer film. The case for the blu-ray says this stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. That is overselling it a bit, as Patrick Allen is really the lead, with Lee in more of a supporting role. Cushing is in it so little he is billed as a “guest star”. Still, you get Cushing and Lee to some extent, which is enough for me to warrant a viewing. Also, it is directed by Terence Fisher, who helmed the vast majority of that studio’s best output.
After the credits, we get Lee walking through the woods, investigating a camera on a small tripod. The film is missing and the camera looks battered, maybe even slightly melted. Is Lee hunting for Bigfoot? Specifically, one carrying a flamethrower?
He sets up a new camera, a long string strung between two trees at calf height, and a mirror situated on two sticks so that it stands upright. In my opinion, just further evidence he’s hunting for Bigfoot, though I’m not sure what the mirror is for. Maybe Sasquatch are really vain.
In what seems what an unrelated subplot, the island off Scotland where the film takes place is experiencing extreme heat, though it is the middle of winter. Unbelievably, this will be related to what Lee was doing in the woods. Also, it will eventually tie back into that weird pre-credits scene.
Then there’s the subplot of Allen, our star, dealing with a discarded mistress (Jane Merrow) who has arrived at his home in the guise of being his new secretary. So now we have a love triangle between those two and Sarah Lawson, playing his wife. Lawson’s character appears to deeply in love with husband, but that doesn’t stop Allen from playing kissy-face with Merrow. This plotline won’t have anything to do with the extreme heat and whatever Lee is hunting in the woods.
That heat is being caused by whatever Lee has been trying to get a photo of. We won’t see what that thing is until the end of the picture, but we do see numerous people get killed by it in the meantime. Whatever it may be, it is obviously low to the ground, generates intense heat and makes a loud whirring noise that does in the heads of its victims. I know if about did my head in.
One last thing, the intense heat and/or that sound it makes causes some, but not all, machinery and electrical equipment to explode, or at least be destroyed. So you have some cars overheating and becoming useless, but not others. You have some televisions, radios and, yes, oscilloscopes explode, but not others. I wish Consumer Reports would include this as part of this part of their product reviews—the propensity to explode.
Time to finally address the monster in the room. Given the great pains the movie goes to in preventing us from seeing the creature, I expected it to be hilariously bad. Actually, it is pretty decent: a gelatinous-looking thing with a pulsating glow. I was pleased to see it was of a fairly original design–something that looked truly otherworldly.
Despite the many potshots I have taken at Night of the Big Heat, I enjoyed it even if I wouldn’t recommend to those who aren’t completists for the films of Lee, Cushing or Hammer-adjacent studios. For most viewers, I would instead recommend Island of Terror, one of Planet Films’ few other releases, starring Cushing in the Lee and also director by Fisher.
Dir: Terrence Fisher
Starring Patrick Allen, Jane Merrow, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
Watched on Odeon UK blu-ray (all-region)