Plot: what horrors lurk on the fog-enshrouded rocks of Snape Island?
Tower Of Evil (or Horror On Snape Island as it was originally called and Beyond the Fog when it was reissued in 1980) is one of those little British horror ditties that oozes with atmosphere. It might not exactly be innovative but what it does it does well. It came at the right time too. British horror comes in waves and with the old guard petering out due to a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with their slower paced style no longer being deemed fashionable) new blood was needed. And blood is what Tower Of Evil has. Filmed from a story by popular novelist George Baxt, photographed by veteran cinematographer Desmond Dickinson, and headlined by Barbara Steele heir apparent (and LWO favourite) Candace Glendenning Tower Of Evil has one foot in the future and the other in the past. It has all the charnel atmosphere of a classic gothic, leans ever so slightly into the psychotronica/psychedelia before exploding into a veritable orgy of terror and suspense with all blood and boobs you could want. Not too shabby for an unassuming little shocker filmed in four weeks in Surrey, England.
The terror and suspense subgenre evolved as a natural progression from the German krimi and the earliest examples of the Italian giallo. As near as we can tell it was a genre primarily exercised in Great Britain and North America as the Mediterranean European countries had their own well-established traditions in cinematic terror by that point and they only required slight adjusting to fit the changing political – and social climate. Once the krimi got rid of its police procedural aspect and the Brits left the sleuthing to Sherlock Holmes what you were left with were just ordinary people in extraordinary situations. The times were different. Hammer - once so revolutionary for updating the Universal Monsters with its instantly recognizable lush Victorian style – had become stuffy, too slowpaced, and, well, a bit old-fashioned. Amicus Productions always played second fiddle to the house of Hammer and they were on the way out too. At the dawn of this bold and defiant new age Tigon Films was on the rise. Enterpreneuring directors and producers Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren had their finger on the pulse and were about to claw their way through the old guard. British horror had grown old and was in dire need of rejuvenation. The man to do that was that very same Pete Walker. After a few jolly sexploitation romps the most logical thing to do was to infuse the British horror with a hefty amount blood, boobs, and extreme violence. Die Screaming, Marianne (1971) (with Susan George) would form the template for that. Tower Of Evil clearly looked to it for inspiration. What starts off as an atmospheric little gothic horror soon sheds its skin in favour of sheer terror and suspense.
One night sailors John Gurney (George Coulouris) and his son Hamp (Jack Watson) are inexplicably drawn to the fog-enshrouded Snape Island. Making their way through the the thick mists they stumble across several broken, mutilated, and dismembered bodies of a few kids. The elder of the two stumbles upon a naked, living member of the party. The girl, startled by John’s appearance and obviously mad with terror, stabs him in self-defense. The stabbing incident leads the authorities to the island. A preliminary interrogation yields that the lone survivor is displaced American Penelope Read (Candace Glendenning) - bloodspattered, naked, and screaming murder – who came to England to attend a jazz festival and witness to a massacre that left her friends mutilated and dead. Naturally pretty Penny is detained as a likely suspect as authorities deduce that she must be responsible for the slaying since there was nobody else on the island at the time. Penny, left in a state of catatonia from the horrors she was privy to, has since been securely locked up in a psychiatric hospital on the mainland in the care of Dr. Simpson (Anthony Valentine). The doctor will attempt to jog her memory by using state-of-the-art technology and hypnosis. Penny spins a mad tale of how her and her friends Mae (Seretta Wilson), Des (Robin Askwith) and Gary (John Hamill) were slain by unseen assailants materializing from the shadows.
Read’s parents hire private detective Evan Brent (Bryant Halliday) to conduct his own investigation into the events that left their daughter incarcerated. The rumours of a hidden Phoenician treasure of untold magnitude convinces local aristocrat Laurence Bakewell (Dennis Price) to mount an expedition to the island. On the promise of riches Bakewell hires four archeologists - explosives and demolition expert Adam (Mark Edwards), his ex girlfriend and Phoenician art expert Rose Mason (Jill Haworth), and bickering couple Dan Winthrop (Derek Folds) and his wife Nora (Anna Palk) – while Brent parlays his way into joining the expedition on grounds that he finds the evidence too circumstantial and that further investigating is needed. The team charters the Sea Ghost captained by Hamp and his nephew Brom (Gary Hamilton) and set course for Snape Island. Once the scientists have settled in and the necessary practical arrangements have been made old feuds, romantic and otherwise, are rekindled. The centerpiece of the island is the Tower Of Evil (actually a lighthouse, but roll with it) and before long the men and women of science have other things to worry about than who did what between the sheets with whom. None of which deters them from breaking apart in groups and exploring the darkened chasms and alcoves of their mountainous abode. One by one the scientists fall victim to an unseen knife-wielding assailant as the bowels of the mountain spill forth the worshippers of Baal going to drastic measures to protect their malefic deity’s shrine and buried age-old treasure.
For a modest little genre exercise Tower Of Evil has quite a star-studded cast of British greats, young and old. To start with the most obvious, who doesn’t love Candace Glendenning and Robin Askwith? Four years later Candace would star in the Norman J. Warren diabolism sleeper Satan’s Slave (1976) alongside Michael Gough. Askwith was a regular in sexploitation and would soon become one of the implacable pillars in British comedy thanks to appearances in The Canterbury Tales (1972), Carry On Girls (1973), and the evergreen four-part Confessions (1974-1977) series. Just a year later Glendenning and him would reunite in Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show (1973) along a bevy of bosomy British belles. Seretta Wilson was, much like Jane Ryall (later Lyle), also a Brit that somehow ended up acting in a Greek movie. Much like Ryall she too was one of those homely-looking hippie chicks prone to wearing way too small midriff-baring tops and peeling them off just as quickly. Anna Palk was no stranger to shlocky horror as she had starred in The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), The Skull (1965), and The Frozen Dead (1966). Tower Of Evil marked her last theatrical appearance before she turned to television.
John Hamill was a model who had starred in the Freddie Francis prehistoric monster disaster Trog (1970). Jill Haworth was a former Broadway actress who had starred in Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Haunted House of Horror (1969), and was two years away from the amiable Freaks (1932) imitation The Mutations (1974). Mark Edwards had starred in Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) (with Valerie Leon). Bryant Haliday was not an actor by trade. He was the co-founder of Janus Films, and with his distribution company he introduced North America to the arthouse of Michelangelo Antonioni, Sergei Eisenstein, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and François Truffaut. George Coulouris, Dennis Price and Anthony Valentine appear in cameos. In 1972 Price was an over-the-hill bloated drunk and recovering gambler still reeling from his 1967 bankruptcy. In his twilight Price could be seen in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Twins Of Evil (1971), Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972), and Theater of Blood (1973).
If anything Die Screaming, Marianne (1971) signaled that the days of Hammer were over. Who has time, or need, for ancient castles, curses, and hidden monsters when everyday life posed a whole host of new threats and dangers for regular people? As always with British horror the women all are beautiful and a combination of beloved screen veterans and young starlets. Most of them wear mod-fabulous mini skirts and high heeled boots, the kind of fashionable attire no serious practitioner of science would ever wear for an expedition due to its sheer impractability. There’s knickers and knockers aplenty. When we first lay eyes on young Penny she’s stark-naked, cowering in fear and covered in blood. Did Walker got his idea to introduce his Penny (not played by Glendenning) in his The Flesh and Blood Show (1973) here? In fact Tower Of Evil is all about equal opportunity as it relishes just as much in the undressing of the guys as it does of the girls. Also not important and pretty much a character in their own right are the mist-shrouded Surrey locales. In between the rampant bloodletting, the severing of multiple extremities, and the acres of skin Tower Of Evil is a feast of familiarity with enough new thrills to keep it all exciting.