Screenplay by Clive Exton.
Image from the trailer (Left)
The main focus of the film revolve around an outsider coming to a remote isolated village that has a community that has seemingly shunned the modern way of life. Doctor Del Shaw, an investigator from the British ecological watchdog group nicknamed Doomwatch, is sent to this insular fishing village on this island of Balfe, to file a report on the effects of a recent oil tanker spill. There he becomes fascinated with the mysterious behavioural disorders of the locals who display rudeness and random aggression and a strange genetic prevalence of thick lips and sloping brows. Investigation shows that the villagers have been suffering over a prolonged period from hormonal disorders, which are being caused by leaking drums of growth stimulants that have been dumped offshore. The islanders, as a result have been eating these fish and are in turn developing acromegaly, a disorder of excessive hormonal growth, usually the result of family interbreeding, which produces aggression and eventually madness. Rather than seek help from the mainland they hide those who are deformed from any newcomers to the village and Doctor Del Shaw uncovers the horrific truth.
Ian Bannen (Doctor Del Shaw),
Judy Geeson (Victoria Brown),
John Paul (Doctor Quist),
Simon Oates (Doctor Ridge),
Jean Trend (Doctor Fay Chantry),
Joby Blanshard (Bradley),
George Sanders (The Admiral),
Percy Herbert (Hartwell),
Shelagh Fraser (Mrs Straker),
Geoffrey Keen (Sir Henry Layton),
Joseph O'Conor (Vicar),
Norman Bird (Brewer),
Constance Chapman (Miss Johnson),
Michael Brennan (Tom Straker),
James Cosmo (Bob Gillette),
Cyril Cross (George),
Geoff L'Cise (Don),
George Woodbridge (Ferry Skipper),
Jerome Willis (Lieutenant Commander Tavenar),
Jeremy Child (David Broome),
Brian Anthony (Brian Murray),
Rita Davies (Mrs Murray),
Walter Turner (Mr Murray),
Paddy Ryan (Grandfather Murray),
Reg Lever (Sam),
James Mellor (First Man),
Eamonn Boyce (Second Man),
Paul Humpoletz (Third Man),
Pam St. Clement (Young Woman),
Katherine Parr (Middle-Aged Woman)
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Produced by Tony Tenser
Photography – Kenneth Talbot
Music – John Scott
Makeup – Tom Smith
Art Direction – Colin Grimes
Running Time: 92 minutes
Doomwatch was filmed around Polperro and Mevagissey in Cornwall that stood in for the fictional island of Balfe.
Watch the Doomwatch Theatrical Trailer on Youtube here
The DOOMWATCH feature film was produced by Tigon British Film Productions Ltd under licence from the BBC in 1972 is based on the BBCtv series of the same name and released internationally. It was produced between the second and third series (the same year the TV series ended). The script by Clive Exton was from a story by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler after they had negotiated a deal with Tigon shortly after they parted ways with the TV series due to very public creative differences with producer Terence Dudley.
The characters from the series only appear briefly (in laboratory bound cameos) and were played by their original BBCtv counterparts (John Paul and Simon Oates, who does get out of the office for a spot of diving and small roles are given to Jean Trend and Joby Blanshard.) but they were largely sidelined in favour of giving the action to Ian Bannen and genre stalwart Judy Geeson (a very moral schoolteacher) as new characters and a main billing for George Sanders playing the Admiral.
The main stars Ian Bannen as Dr Del Shaw, a scientist for DOOMWATCH, and Judy Geeson as the school mistress are sent to a remote Cornish island where pollution getting into the fish diet the locals survive on is causing horrific mutations.
The script from Clive Exton explores some themes already covered in the series, primarily the thoughtless dumping of dangerous waste in the sea. The navy have dumped deadly chemicals in a deep trench off limits to shipping, but when a cowboy outfit dumps radioactive canisters there too the navy's drums split open, which is almost identical to Dennis Spooner's TV episode “Burial at Sea” and also features elements from “The Islanders” TV episode by Louis Marks. The feeling of isolation created on the island is palpable and Peter Sasdy's direction is as skillful as ever. It was shot in 1971 and released in March 1972.
The new star of DOOMWATCH on the big screen is actor Ian Bannen, who was later nominated for an Oscar for the film "The Flight of the Phoenix".
The feeling of paranoia is realised well, and there is some excellent photography work. In particular the underwater scenes and those on location. There is a beautiful shot focused through a glass of water with a gun-toting man seen distorted through it running along a cliff-top.
The film has a credible and scientifically grounded script, playing on emerging environmental concerns at the time and a decent budget. Tigon decided perhaps mistakenly to market DOOMWATCH as a horror film, even though it has no real monsters. In typical DOOMWATCH style the film is thought provoking stuff, but not particulary scary and had the same feel as the BBCtv series. The Director tries to push the story into being a horror film by creating a siege with the hero fighting off attacking acromegaly sufferers near the climax, but it feels a bit forced.
The DOOMWATCH film was made by Tigon British, a small company that were trying to become players in the Anglo-Horror arena and imitate the success of Hammer Films. They made a handful of modest budget horrors, including Witchfinder General (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1969), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970) and The Beast in the Cellar (1971). With DOOMWATCH, Tigon employed director Peter Sasdy who had made a distinctive impression at Hammer with Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Countess Dracula (1970) and Hands of the Ripper (1971), among others.
The Director Peter Sasdy’s other genre outings were:– Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Countess Dracula (1970), Hands of the Ripper (1971) about Jack the Ripper’s daughter, the immortality syndicate film Nothing But the Night (1972), the excellent Nigel Kneale ghost story TV play The Stone Tape (1972), the Satanic impregnation film The Devil Within Her/I Don’t Want to Be Born (1975) and the proto-Virtual Reality film Welcome to Blood City (1977).
DOOMWATCH is a government funded scientific department set up to investigate pollution and environmental concerns. Dr Spencer Quist who is in charge of a team of scientists including Dr Del Shaw. Quist sends Dr Shaw to the small island of Balfe, off the Cornish coast to see how the coastal environment is recovering from an oil spill the previous year. When Dr Shaw arrives he finds the locals unfriendly and wary of him. After Dr Shaw has spoken to including the pub landlady, a Mrs Straker, we discover she has a sick husband upstarirs who is kept locked in his bedroom in the dark and although we don't see him her words of concern suggest he has developed some horrendous condition.
Dr Shaw gets a room at the boarding house in town for an overnight stay and meets the town's schoolteacher Victoria Brown who has been living amongst them for two years and still feels she is considered as an outsider who is only just beginning to become accepted. She appears to know some of what is going on but is reluctant to tell Shaw anything that would turn the islanders against her and becomes evasive when he starts asking her too many questions. Shaw collects some shoreline samples and sends them back to DOOMWATCH's London HQ for analysis. The scientists there discover in the samples an unusually high concentration of a protein which acts as a pituitary growth hormone and its presence defies explanation.
|Doomwatch - German DVD Release|
Dr Shaw goes out on a fishing boat to catch fish to see if they are affected and discovers that fish in the area are all larger than average. He finds that there is a prohibited area on the opposite side of the island which is roped off to keep boats away. Shaw contacts Quist who discovers that it is an area where the Royal Navy had dumped canisters of low-level radioactive waste about eight years beforehand although this is a secret and a cover story for the prohibition was issued - but the Admiral in charge assures them that the canisters are corrosion proof for at least 150 years.
Another DOOMWATCH member, John Ridge joins Shaw and goes on a dive to investigate if these canisters are still sound. Ridge finds the Navy's canisters but also hundreds of other unidentified drums which have a code number on. Some of these unknown drums have burst due to the nearby radiation creating gas in the canisters and popping them open. The Navy deny all knowledge of these other items and Quist tracks down the code number to Doran Chemicals Ltd which is a reputable research firm. The chairman Sir Henry Layton tells Quist that the canisters' reference number indicates that they come from a consignment of an experimental growth hormone his firm were developing called PGH that had experimentally produced impressive results in the growth of livestock but when manufactured in bulk the molecular structure broke up and the animals treated with it became unpredictable and prone to frenzy. The reason could not be determined and the research was abandoned and the manufactured stock sent to a waste disposal firm to be destroyed.
But when Dr Shaw visits the disposal firm and challenges the manager he finds out that they had decided to save money by dumping the non-dangerous and perfectly sound canisters at sea in the prohibited area. Shaw finally pieces the mystery together:- fish are swimming amongst the leaking PGH drums and then being caught and eaten by the islanders who are developing the acromegaly disease through external ingestion of the growth hormone. Shaw holds a town meeting and tries to convince the islanders that their suffering can be treated and it is not hereditary or divine judgement and they can be cured. He meets with anger and opposition when the islanders realise they must be taken to the mainland for treatment that may take up to a year with specialist equipment because they fear the breakdown of their community more than the disease which has affected three quarters of them. Eventually Shaw convinces them that is it the only way as their community will die for certain if nothing is done about their illnesses. At the end of the film a big medical evacuation is taking place as the islanders prepare to leave their homes.
Overall its a great loss that the film doesn’t feature more of the TV cast as this would be what the audience were expecting (see the film poster below). Even so, the film is a worthy addition to the legacy that is DOOMWATCH. Despite the cameos of the main cast, in the UK and Europe the takings were good, but due to the film not having an initial release in the US until four years later they suffered because of it. The film was renamed “Island of the Ghouls”. The film was released as an unclassified VHS in the early 1980s and several times on DVD since.
Doomwatch Film DVD Review by Andrew Darington
On 18th March 1967, super-tanker 'Torrey Canyon' rammed the Seven Stones reef between the Scilly Isles and Land's End, spilling 31,000,000 tons of crude oil into the sea, and this devastated wildlife and beaches. The war to limit the ensuing eco-disaster dominated TV news, becoming the first high-profile celebrity environmental disaster. Prior to that, 'green' issues were strictly the preserve of weirdo hippies, suspect underground magazines, and beardy-eccentrics, forming no great part of national awareness.
On 1st June 1974, the Flixborough 'Nypro' chemical plant in North Lincolnshire leaked a toxic cloud of cyclohexane, which ignited in an explosion that killed 28 people, with tremors that could be felt 25 miles away. By then, occupying the time-space between the two incidents, we'd been warned. By then we'd seen Doomwatch. Three TV series built around a crack squad of watchdog boffins assigned "to combat worldwide pollution problems" by dealing with sinister environmental threats posed by the scientific community. The eco-warriors confront The Plastic Eaters when a plane dissolves in midair, they encounter human embryo research, deal with an experimentally mutant-breed of intelligent killer-rat, and then "we could be on the verge of an epidemic, with absolutely no effective drugs to fight it" in the episode No Room For Error.
Yet "beneath the display of social conscience" critic John Brosnan detects "the hoariest of SF clichés." If it was science fiction, it was tapping into growing stirrings of unease at the unrelenting advance of out-of-control technology, and seemed creepily close to science fact. Devised by former Doctor Who apparatchiks Gerry Davis with scientist Kit Pedler, the implication - that unrestrained research produces a ratio of more evil than good, carries the same moralising charge as the mad-scientist movies of the 1930s. Yet it snagged with the mood of the time and achieved a record 12-million viewers rating for its debut series. At the time, movies spun-off from TV were doing great box office - everything from The Sweeney to On The Buses, so following its final acrimonious TV series (Kit and Gerry were 'absolutely horrified' by the direction Terence Dudley had taken it), there was the widescreen variant, with a familiar plot dressed up with a green-friendly denouement.
The regular TV-cast were not considered big enough star-draws - although they do put in occasional 'meanwhile, back-in-the-lab' appearances, so the focus shifts to newcomer Dr Dell Shaw (Ian Bannen) in his trendy Breton white corduroy cap. He's investigating the after effects of a 'Torrey Canyon'-style tanker-spill, and the detergents used to clear it, on gastropods, bivalves, plankton and seashore life on the island of Balfe off the coast of Cornwall - with stock newsreel footage of a heaving oil-slick sea, and limp bedraggled seabirds caught up in it. Like Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man he runs into hostility from islanders in the isolated fishing village. "They're a strange close lot," warns the ferryman, with even the vicar and policeman being deliberately obstructive. Then fighting dogs lead him to the body of a dead girl buried in Bothy woods, a body that - naturally, disappears.
Determined to solve the mystery he's attacked by a monster-man in a barn, and meets mutant Brian who's "gone ugly." It soon becomes apparent the villagers are "bound together in suffering" by trying to conceal malformed people in dark shuttered rooms and outhouses. Shaw teams up with another 'foreigner', reluctant schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson), to discover that their disfigurements are not the result of inbreeding, supernatural dabblings, or divine judgment, but chemical poisoning from eating giant turbot caught in the prohibited area around the nearby Castle Rock. They're suffering from acromegaly, or gigantism, resulting from a toxic concoction of Ministry of Defence radioactive-waste and pituitary-growth hormones outsourced and dumped in the sea by 'Keston Disposals'.
As a movie, this all makes for a fun extended TV episode, with little in the way of bonus horror content or great dramatics, although Sasdy directs effectively and the fine Max Harris score is by turn dramatic and poignant. And in his penultimate film role, George Sanders features as a suave naval deskman. As early as 1937 he'd announced "I will have had enough of this world by the time I am 65. After that I shall be having my bottom wiped by nurses and in a wheelchair. So I shall commit suicide." True to his prediction, he killed himself, aged 65, the same year as this movie. The movie in which, after the final monstrous confrontation, Shaw persuades those who fear he wants to "kill the island," to end their proud isolation and allow help from the mainland. The closing sequence shows the results. The islanders are right - in their own way, for their lifestyle has been destroyed. But then, it had already been wiped out by the intrusion of modern world's pollution. Nowhere, it says, is safe. And - as the term 'doomwatch' became tabloid shorthand for all manner of weird occurrences, things would only get worse. Chernobyl was still some way into the future, as was the Bhopal disaster...
Doomwatch (Peter Sasdy, 1972)
reviewed by Jack Smith at www.cultmovieforums.com
92 minutes (12) 1972
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail
Originally broadcast between 1970 and 1972, the science-fiction themed BBC series Doomwatch is today widely acknowledged, particularly here in its native United Kingdom, as one of the defining cult television series' of the early seventies. Originally created by the writing duo of Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler who had previously worked together on Dr Who during the sixties, Doomwatch was billed as being "science fact" as opposed to science fiction and centred upon a group of scientists put together by the government to investigate disasters and macabre events bought about by ecological issues and misguided scientific research gone wrong. Featuring numerous familiar faces of British television such as John Paul as the groups leader Dr Spencer Quist, Robert Powell, Simon Oates and John Barron, Doomwatch ran for three series between February 1970 and August 1972 and proved to be a ratings winner for the BBC. However, due the BBC's policy back then of wiping master tapes following transmission, regrettably many of the 38 episodes originally broadcast are now considered missing and in all likelihood lost, including most of the third and final series.
Although Tigon's Doomwatch film did make room for the BBC television series' regular stars John Paul, Simon Oates, Joby Blanshard and Jean Trend, in what some viewed as a controversial and perhaps ill-advised move Exton's script relegated their respective character's into the background while seasoned Scottish character actor the late Ian Bannen starred as a new Doomwatch scientist who discovers mutation's bought about by pollution on a remote island off the West Coast of Britain. As was usually the case for most Tigon production's, Doomwatch was put together on a limited budget and was shot on location at Polperro and Mevagissey in Cornwall. However, despite boasting a cast which featured in addition to Bannen and the Doomwatch series regulars, attractive blonde horror regular Judy Geeson and several British acting stalwarts such as George Sanders and Geoffrey Keen, Doomwatch was coolly received for the most part and is not generally remembered today with as much fondness as the Doomwatch television series. Meanwhile according to Andy Boot's excellent book Fragments Of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Movies, Doomwatch also initially failed to secure a theatrical release in the United States, where the BBC television series was not as well known. However, Doomwatch was later issued in the US under the somewhat misleading title Island of the Ghouls and subsequently played on a triple bill alongside John Hayes' low budget horror efforts Grave Of The Vampire and Garden Of The Dead, where it must have stuck out like a sore thumb..
As things stand Doomwatch never becomes anything less than watchable, but still winds up in a somewhat deflated, anti-climactic fashion nevertheless. Meanwhile Exton's attempted sympathetic portrayal of the island folk is unintentionally hamstrung by the presence of a scene in which the locals collectively and angrily rebuff Shaw's offer of medical help from the mainland, due to their irrational belief that he is trying to destroy their community. This scene frankly only serves to make the populace of Balfe seem stupid, blinkered and ungrateful, significantly eroding any sympathy the viewer may previously have felt for them in the process. Fortunately however, much of that sympathy is promptly restored by the films climactic revelation of the worst afflicted islander's who all sport a suitably loathsome, pitiable appearance thanks to the highly esteemed Tom Smith's appropriately lumpy facial make-up. However, it must be said that the shock impact of the eventual revelation of the worst deformed islanders is rather telegraphed due to the fact that the make up work has been shown on the cover of practically every VHS and DVD release of Doomwatch to date.
So to summarise, it has to be said that while Doomwatch ultimately remains something of a missed opportunity by any standard of judgment, Peter Sasdy's film is still in all fairness , probably a slightly better film than what its poor reputation might suggest. Indeed, during the first half of Doomwatch, Sasdy generates and maintains a discernable and genuinely involving sense of escalating tension around the familiar thriller motif of a prying outsider encountering hostility upon entering a remote, isolated island community. Therefore it is really a shame that in the films latter stages, Clive Exton's script changes tack so dramatically, favouring social and ecological awareness over the dramatics most viewers will no doubt have been hoping for. While Doomwatch certainly never becomes dull, as a result of this admittedly intelligent yet misguided approach, its final act certainly comes across as rather flat and anti-climactic to say the least. Meanwhile it goes without saying that some fans of the preceding BBC series may have a hard time overcoming their hostility towards the fact that its cast are demoted into the background, despite the high quality of Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson's lead performances. So in conclusion Tigon's big screen Doomwatch spin-off stands as a flawed yet reasonably engaging British thriller, but nothing more.
Doomwatch was first released as a US region one DVD in 2001 from Image Entertainment as part of their "Euroshock Collection". Image's DVD was a bare bones affair which featured a full screen presentation of the film. Doomwatch was then later released on UK region two DVD by Prism in 2003. Prism's DVD release whilst presented in full screen features an excellent quality presentation of the film itself and also delivers a few extra's including the films original trailer, cast filmographies and some very detailed and informative textual notes on the film penned by the one and only Kim Newman. While both the Image and Prism DVD's now seem to be out of print, the Prism DVD can still be picked up fairly inexpensively online.
Doomwatch Italian Poster