Sci-Fi Spectacular!: At The Earth’s Core (1976)

at the earth's core I’ve been on a 70s sci-fi kick lately and have not been disappointed with a single one of my viewing experiences. I’m sure there’s a kind of reverse bias, but I love anything from that era that really went for it with story and special effects. I think about movies with wild concepts like this that are made these days and many of them either cut out some of the more difficult sounding scenes or tackle them with CGI that doesn’t look that great and doesn’t help. In At The Earth’s Core you’ve got everything from Pterodactyl-like protectors to a giant dog-like thing attacking the movie’s star with the oh-so-fantastic movie star name Doug McClure. Sure you can tell when the actors are working with a projection and that the monsters don’t work as well as they probably could have, but to me, that’s a lot more charming and real than CGI. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.

I should probably talk about the movie’s story at this point in my review, shouldn’t I? McClure plays David Innes a rich guy bankrolling his one-time professor Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) in an experimental drilling vehicle that’s supposed to break though the Earth’s core. As the pair take the machine on its first test run, they both pass out and wind up in a world within the modern world filled with the aforementioned monsters, but also normal humans like the lovely Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me, Starcrash) who luckily speak English. After a series of mini-adventures that split our leads up for a bit, they return in an effort to help free the people, stop the monsters and return home. It’s the kind of movie that might have been pretty common in the 70s, but one I haven’t personally seen much of. I actually just realized that it’s basically my beloved Planet Of The Apes under the ground with bigger monsters, but I’m still okay with that.

So, in addition to being an ambitious film effects- and story-wise, I also had a lot of fun with the characters. McClure is kind of a swaggering, old timey tough guy with buckets of charm, enough to make you think he might have a chance with Munro, even though he bares more than a passing resemblance to John C. Reilly. Better yet is Cushing, an actor I unfortunately have very little experience with aside from his turn as Grand Moff Tarkin. I know he’s a well respected actor who personified Sherlock Holmes for plenty of people for decades, but I loved his turn as the goofy, exasperated and supremely proper professor. Sure it’s an over the top character, but that can be fun when performed by an actor who really gets the idea and knows how to keep the balance.

I had a great time with this movie and hope anyone else who checks it out on Netflix will too. I don’t say this often, but I’d actually like to see this movie or one like it, made today. Just build lots of rad practical sets, snag some quality stars and make sure the CGI looks solid and I think you’d have a hit on your hands.

Halloween Scene: Humanoids From The Deep (1980) & Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

Though clearly influenced by Creature From The Black Lagoon, I watched Humanoids From The Deep (also called, more simply Monster) first which is why I’m reviewing it first. I’ve got the rad new Shout Factory DVD version and had moved Creature up to the top of my queue. Though I hadn’t planned it, they made a great double  feature as they both feature undersea creatures and their interactions with humans on both land and sea. One really gave me the creeps with it’s underwater stalker while the other was mostly just cool because of the last 20 minutes or so.

It probably comes as no surprise, but Humanoids didn’t have any scares. It does have a good deal of bloody violence and boobs (which were apparently filmed by a second director after Barbara Peeters refused to shoot additional material just have more nudity and was fired). The effects are pretty fantastic too, especially the teenager whose face gets eaten off by the creatures. But, the coolest part of the movie comes at the very end when the creatures come up on land and start killing and maiming residents of the town at a carnival. One thing that always bugs me about slasher and monster movies is that the killers are always too focused. Why do they pass by perfectly killable potential victims and just zero in on one yahoo? If you’re a murderous monster, you should be an equal opportunity one and go after everyone possible. That basically happens here.

The plot’s a little gross and not just because of the kills. See, these creatures come from the deep because a nearby cannery gave salmon some weird hormones. Some of those salmon got out into the wild and mutated into these monsters who don’t just want to kill, they want to bone human women. As you might expect, that doesn’t work out so well for the women.

After watching Creature, I realized that a lot of the shots and sneak peeks at the monster (clawed hands groping around, but nothing else) were taken from the older film, but I kept getting flashes of Jaws which was also an influence on this movie. There’s even a scene kind of like the one where the shark destroys the dock and the guys struggle to get back up to safety. Ah well, it really is worth it just for that last scene at the carnival in my opinion.

The older, black and white film actually gave me the willies. I have some very specific fears about the water that don’t keep me out of it, but are always floating around in the back of my head any time I’m in a lake or ocean. Sure, there’s the one about something else being in the water, like a creature from the Black Lagoon type or a shark, but I’ve got a weirder fear about seeing a dead body under water while SCUBA diving. Mind you, I’ve never been diving, let alone inside something that could have a body in it, but scenes like the one in Jaws where the head pops out of nowhere really give me the creeps. I guess I’d be freaked out by coming across a dead body in any situation, but being under water makes it worse because, you know, you can drown.

Anyway, I mention all that as a way of explaining why this 56 year old movie creeped me out. The scenes with the woman swimming on top of the water and the creature swimming underneath her? Oh man, that got to me. Then again, so did pretty much every moment where she was in the water. Heck, even just seeing the creature sitting and waiting under water was creepy. I grew up on a lake where I got used to seaweed creeping up on me, but the longer I’m away from it on a regular basis, the more skittish I get in the water. It’s not like I won’t go in at all, it’s just on my mind more because I’m apparently turning into a crazy person who believes there’s a Creature from Devil’s Lake (though that does have a pretty good ring to it).

The plot follows some scientists as they try to find where a claw-like fossil came from by heading to the Amazon. Once they come across the living equivalent of that hand, one of the scientists wants to kill it and attacks the creature with a harpoon while the nicer scientist (who’s with Julie Adams, who’s the rare horror starlet who’s super hot without being super slutty) wants to learn from it and later, get the hell out of there. Once the underwater stuff gave way to the tried and true struggle between nature being left to its own devices and man wanting to control nature, my interest slipped away. That is until the end when the creature grabs Adams and dives to an underwater cave that has air.

I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the story because I read Art Adams’ version of the story in Art Adams’ Creature Features last October, but it was still worth watching. I wish I could have seen it in the original 3D, but I’ll take what I can get. This also checks off another classic Universal Studios monster movie I haven’t seen. There’s two more Creature movies that I thought were included on the disc I got from Netflix, but apparently they’re on another one. Maybe I’ll get to them later this month.