At the Earth’s Core (1976)

At the Earth's Core (1976)

They’re in it DEEP now!

A Victorian scientist and his rich American engineer and financial backer test out a new machine called the Iron Mole which can drill into the Earth’s crust. They hope to find untapped resources beneath the Earth’s surface but what they find instead is a cavernous world of gigantic monsters, primitive human slaves and winged monsters that rule over this kingdom.

 

At the Earth’s Core never really convinces anyone of its good intentions to bring life to the Edgar Rice Burroughs story. Instead we get bombarded with horrible giant plastic monsters, men in rubber suits and cheap explosions on miniature sets. The second Burroughs adaptation brought to life by Amicus Studios, it’s clear that the budget was even lower for this than it was for The Land That Time Forgot. But who really cares? This is perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment for kids (and adults who watched it as kids!) as its fun, stupid, has not-so-scary monsters, the plot isn’t overly complicated and there’s lot of silly action. It’s a fine nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up on this type of film.

The plot is based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs story but that’s probably about as close to the source material as you’re going to get here. The opening scenes in which the Iron Mole is constructed and then heads into the Earth do define the Victorian fantasy pulp era to a tee but then as soon as they get out of the machine and into this acid-tripped world, the film goes off into uber-cheese mode. They then spend the rest of the film going from one scrape to another, getting captured, escaping, being captured again, being attacked by ridiculous-looking monsters and then maybe getting captured again. It’s all in good fun though and it’s harmless and juvenile fun. I don’t know how much actors would have cost to hire in those days but I bet the budget was blown on the trio of Peter Cushing, Doug McClure and Caroline Munro . They are all decent genre actors and were definitely above the material presented to them here.

Peter Cushing is on top form as usual and his presence alone lifts this film from its gloom. His performance is slightly twisted from his usual cool, calm and reasonable man of science. He’s more eccentric this time as if he were playing Dr Who again and the performance does get a bit irritating at times in a ‘granddad who won’t shut up’ kind of way. His fish-out-of-water scientist character is a little goofy but it’s good to see him play against type for a change.

Doug McClure is his usual gung-ho self in this type of film where he just fights and beats up anything that stands in his way. He makes a decent action hero though – he’s a believable ‘everyman’ like Bruce Willis was in Die Hard – someone caught up in the wrong situation. McClure usually has an annoying habit of understanding the native people in these films almost instantly, despite the fact they speak different languages. But here the natives speak well-preserved English and communication is not really much of a problem. It’s clear to see where these two characters will fit into the film – McClure will be the one busting skulls and going from sticky situation to sticky situation whilst buying time for Cushing to figure it all out scientifically. Caroline Munro is the princess, bearing some amazing oil-soaked cleavage but little else (although when you look as good as this, I don’t see the reason to have any other purpose in a film).

It’s a pity that the budget didn’t stretch far enough to do the job of creating this fantasy world. The sets look pretty cheap and you can tell they’re on a soundstage with some poor matte work. In addition to the blatantly obvious rear projection, the film feels claustrophobic as Kevin Connor clearly didn’t want to open up his shots simply because it was a small stage!  The colours are slightly hallucinogenic at times – but it does give you the impression that this is a completely different world and the red/purple sky eerily reminds you that they are in the centre of the Earth as there is no sun. Maybe someone was smoking a little too much weed when they designed the colour scheme.

The dinosaurs do look extremely pathetic too – it’s as if the Japanese had leftover kaiju suits from the Godzilla and Gamera series and Amicus found them in a bin somewhere. The rhino monsters are arguably the worst giant monsters I’ve ever seen on film and their fight scene is ridiculous. But it’s all in good fun though and the film doesn’t really try to do anything too demanding with its budget constraints. These special effects sequences are not made with much in the way of skill or creativity but at least they’re not dull as the creatures get well fed or do some fighting of some kind.

 

There’s no denying that At the Earth’s Core is a bad film in every sense but its fun and innocent and manages to charm and keep you entertained for more than it should. A camp, guilty pleasure in every definition.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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