Based on a novel by John Lymington, Night Of The Big Heat brings together a few main Hammer stalwarts (although it's NOT a Hammer film) for a slice of sci-fi horror that's enjoyable enough, even if it feels like everything could have been improved by bringing the talented Nigel Kneale on board.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing have two of the main roles, which is really all you need to know. Oh, if you MUST know more then I'll tell you. The film is set on a remote island, Fara, and everyone is getting a bit hot under the collar due to an inexplicable spell of hot weather. REALLY hot weather. The locals have a variety of explanations for the insufferable heat, but the truth may be even stranger than they could imagine. Meanwhile, Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) finds himself in a bit of a pickle when a woman that he once had a passionate affair with (Angela Roberts, played by Jane Merrow) turns up on the island and tells his wife (Sarah Lawson) that she is to be Callum's personal assistant. Which causes temperatures to rise even further.
It's Terence Fisher in the director's chair, and Ronald Liles on screenplay duties, so I have no complaints with the technical side of things here (well, apart from the special effects in the last third of the movie, but I'll refrain from saying any more for fear of spoilers). Everything is competent, at the very least, and actually builds to something worthwhile and interesting, after a slightly wobbly start. The characters are introduced in a way that will have many modern horror audiences rolling their eyes and/or laughing aloud, but as relationships are more firmly established, and the strong sense of community is draped over everything, it all becomes easier to enjoy and get caught up in.
And then we have Messrs Lee and Cushing, two fine gentlemen who add bonus points to any project that they're involved in. I may be a big fan of Lee, but I'll watch Cushing in absolutely anything. Watching the two men work together is always an absolute delight, and their performances here more than make up for the relative weakness of Allen in the lead role. Merrow and Lawson also help, portraying two very different women who both seem too good for Allen (well, until he steps up in time for the finale). Kenneth Cope is always good to see onscreen, but that's simply down to my affection for the old seasons of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) that I used to watch.
What works against Night Of The Big Heat is the fact that it doesn't actually allow any of the characters to make much headway until a rushed, and sometimes preposterous, third act. Some may complain about the pacing, but I have no issue with that. This isn't a film full of jumps and shocks. It's about a small island that finds itself dealing with something strange, something that may have repercussions for the rest of the world, and it just wouldn't be believable if everyone raced along at a pace more in line with city dwellers.
An easy film to recommend for fans of the talent involved, but it won't necessarily become an instant favourite.