Monster Mixtape: The Silicates

It’s that time of the year again. There’s a slight chill to the late summer evenings. Leaves are starting to bring out their fall colors. Each day is just a bit shorter than the last. We can all feel what these changes signify. No, not going back to school, but that it’s the season for monster movies! Between now and Halloween I’ll be highlighting ten of the best toothy, sharp-clawed, and mutated aberrations to shred the silver screen. Some are old classics, others are newcomers, but all are awesome.

“His body’s all like… like jelly.” Let’s talk about the silicates from Island of Terror.

I admit this one’s a little bit of a sentimental favorite. While mostly-forgotten now, 1966’s Island of Terror seemed to be on television at least once a month when I was a kid. I didn’t appreciate how painfully British the film’s dialog is during those early views, but the bone-sucking silicates creeped me out. And they still do.

The tentacled, seemingly-indestructible blobs didn’t fall from space or slither out of the sea—they are man-made monsters. In what is probably one of the most spectacular failures in the annals of fictional science, an experiment to distill a cancer cure instead creates silicon-based lifeforms that can dissolve the skeletons of their victims with powerful enzymes delivered through their tentacles, slurping up the calcium-rich slurry with all the social graces of someone trying to get the last bit of milkshake through a crazy straw.


The slug-turtle-things – dubbed “silicates” by Dr. Stanley, played by scifi veteran Peter Cushing – aren’t the swiftest killers. They slide along slowly, announcing their arrival with a weird susurration that sounds something like a Dalek’s digestive tract. But that’s part of what makes them so troublesome to the scientists and townspeople who’ve holed themselves up on Petrie’s Island. The ravenous invertebrates play by zombie rules – you don’t need to be quick if there are a lot of you and your prey holes itself up in the one spot it foolishly thinks is safe. Given that the silicates divide into two every six hours in a process that looks like they’re exuding chicken noodle soup, they quickly outnumber the island’s residents.

More than that, the silicates prove themselves to be quite enterprising in their efforts to snag prey. Sure, they get a few easy meals as our heroes seem to put themselves easily within tentacle-length reach, but the silicates are also adept at climbing into trees and onto roofs, plopping down onto the townspeople from above. And it certainly helps when your prey is a group of people living on an island who stubbornly refuse to leave it.


But it’s what the silicates leave behind that’s so creepy. Plenty of movie monsters bite, rip, and tear, but the idea of having your insides reduced to soup and swizzled up is one of the more upsetting inventions in the ranks of b-movie horror. The idea of being eaten is bad enough, but the thought of being drunk – in the worst sense of the word – is enough to make me check the basement twice for silicates when I have to venture down there.

Brian Switek is the author of My Beloved Brontosaurus (out in paperback from Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Written in Stone. He also writes the National Geographic blog Laelaps.


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