An oil company tanker sinks off the shores of Balfe Island. They add detergent to the oil to increase the dispersion rate. The environmental agency called “Doomwatch” is tasked with inspecting the sea life around the island to see how they are being affected by the pollution. Doomwatch sends Dr. Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) to investigate and take samples of the animal and plant life around the island.
When Shaw gets to Balfe island he is met with an ice cold reception. The islanders don’t take kindly to strangers. Shaw finally gets accommodations with Miss Johnson (Constance Chapman). Also staying with her is the local schoolteacher Victoria Brown (Judy Geeson). The next day Shaw begins taking samples around the island. When someone steals his sample jars he realizes something is not right on the island of Balfe. Shaw decides to stay a few more days to find out what is going on. While out in the woods he finds two dogs fighting over something. When he digs where the dogs had been he finds the body of a child buried in the woods. Shaw races off and gets Constable Hartwell (Percy Herbert). When they return the body is gone.
That night Shaw follows three townspeople who he sees sneaking into the woods. They bring food to someone locked inside an old barn. Shaw sneaks into the barn to try to find out who is inside and why. He is attacked by someone who looks deformed. The next thing he knows he is back in his room with a bandage on his head. Victoria tells him he was found on the beach. Shaw finally convinces Victoria to help him find out what is going on with the islanders.
While out catching fish to send back to Doomwatch for tests they pass an area offshore that is off limits. Back at Doomwatch they find out that the Royal Navy was dumping something there up to six years ago. They refuse to say what it was. The scientists at Doomwatch find a modified growth hormone in the fish. The Navy maintains that all they dumped was some slightly radioactive waste that was securely contained.
Other canisters also dumped in the area tell another story. The chemical is an altered growth hormone that affects the pituitary gland. The company that the chemical company hired to handle the disposal of the chemical has been dumping it with the Navy’s radioactive waste. The waste causes the canisters to burst distributing the chemical where the fish have been eating it.
The villagers come from a closed society and believe their troubles come from inbreeding or God’s will. Because of this they are not open to discussing the issue with outsiders. Unless Shaw can convince the islanders to get medical help, the island will be doomed to die.
“Doomwatch”, AKA “Island of the Ghouls” in the U.S., was released in 1972 and was directed by Peter Sasdy. It is a British science fiction horror mystery. The film is based on the British television series “Doomwatch” which ran from 1970 to 1972.
This was an interesting movie, very watchable with some decent plot devices. Labeling it as a horror movie is a bit of a stretch unless you include environmental disasters as part of the genre. The plot of the film is something that, under the right circumstances, is not out of the realm of possibility. In that respect it is also not exactly science fiction. Scientists mucking around with chemicals sometimes leads to societies worst nightmares.
Science Fiction stories about pituitary malfunctions (acromegaly) were a big hit in the forties and fifties. “Tarantula” 1955 was the big one, as was “The Monster Maker” 1944 and “A Light in the Window” 1942. Famous people who suffered from the disease of acromegaly were actors Rondo Hatton, Richard Kiel and wrestler Andre the Giant.