Tuesday, June 10, 2014

At the Earth’s Core (1976)



          Difficult as it may be to imagine today, when seemingly every major movie includes sci-fi elements, there was a time when fantasy-themed feature films were so rare that nearly every one of them developed a cult following. This phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining why At the Earth’s Core isn’t universally derided as an embarrassment for everyone involved. Based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, this exceptionally silly co-production of U.K.-based Amicus Productions and U.S.-based American International Pictures features monster costumes that look like they were made for a high school play, background paintings and set dressings that one might expect to find in an old Star Trek rerun, and dramatic situations so infantile that it’s amazing actors were able to play their scenes without constantly bursting into laughter.
          Highlights of At the Earth’s Core include scenes of giant winged lizards leaping from their resting places atop a lava pit so they can grab female humans with their talons—that is, after the lizards have finished hypnotizing the unfortunate ladies with their telepathy powers. And in perhaps the film’s finest moment, a ridiculously fake-looking dinosaur lifts a human with its jaws—at which point the film cuts to a miniature shot of the dinosaur chomping on an inert figure that looks like a Barbie doll in caveman clothes. Oh, and the primitive humans living in a primordial realm nestled deep inside the earth all speak English. On the plus side, British horror-movie stalwart Peter Cushing gives a quasi-amusing supporting performance as a dotty old scientist who treks through the earth’s core with his trusty umbrella always close at hand. Pip-pip, old man!
          The larky plot begins in Victorian England, where British scientist Dr. Perry (Cushing) and his American backer, David (Doug McClure), pilot the maiden voyage of a manned drilling machine. The machine malfunctions, taking Dr. Perry and David into a cave near the earth’s molten core. Our heroes are soon taken captive by the Mahars (the aforementioned lizards), but then David decides to liberate the subterranean humans whom the Mahars use as slaves. Helping motivate David’s decision is the presence of a sexy cave woman, Dia (Caroline Munro), since it appears he’s also eager to liberate her from her clothes. All of this stuff trudges along in the familiar way—battles, setbacks, heroism, betrayal, et cetera—and each special-effects scene is goofier than the preceding. About the only genuinely effective element of the film is the largely electronic score by Mike Vickers, which complements the filmmakers’ trope of using tricked-up mechanical noises as the “voices” of underground monsters. FYI, At the Earth’s Core is the second of three fantasy pictures that onetime TV star McClure made for Amicus. Although the other two movies, The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and The People That Time Forgot (1977), form a continuous story, At the Earth’s Core is a stand-alone.

At the Earth’s Core: FUNKY

7 comments:

Unknown said...

All time favorite ridiculous movie!

William Blake Hall said...

"Warlords of Atlantis" (sometimes "of the Deep") (1978) rounds out all this Doug McClure silliness.

AndyHunt said...

Fantastic movie. Silliness in abundance, but it knows it, and it knows we know it.

Cushing retired to Whitstable on the Kent coast in his later years, not far from an aunt of mine. according to all who knew him, he was a charming and kind man, without a hint of 'celebrity' about him.

Alan Beauvais said...

Excellent music score. I've always yearned for a soundtrack.

Xteve said...

This is definitely one of the sillier Amicus productions, with Peter Cushing essentially repeating his dotty old man characterization from the Dr. Who movies of the mid sixties. Doug McClure essays his usual jut-jawed B-movie leading man performance. Worth looking at for the spectacularly beautiful Caroline Munro, and there are some neat steampunk elements to the design of the digging machine, but the special effects, especially around the dinosaurs, are pretty cringe-worthy. I remember watching this as a kid in the cinema and it was pretty shoddy, even then.

Guy Callaway said...

When your imported "star" is Doug McClure, well, it's best just to give up..but I'm glad they didn't.

Alan Beauvais said...

I asked Doug McClure at a 1989 Q & A (at the then-brand new Disney-MGM Studios in FL) what it was like working with the legendary Cushing. He said he was one of the sweetest, most humble persons he ever worked with.