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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

Warlords of Atlantis (1978)

"An incredible tale of terror and suspense... above and below the sea."


Professor Aitken, his son Charles and family friend Greg Collinson are on an expedition to search for Atlantis. During one of their deep sea missions, a giant octopus attacks their boat and drags them and the crew to the bottom of the sea where they are taken to one of the five remaining of the seven sunken cities of Atlantis. The others are thrown in with the slaves but the Atlanteans are interested in Charles and the intellect he possesses. As they attempt to recruit him to their cause, Greg and the crew try to find a way to escape before it's too late.


During the 70s, British company Amicus, most famous for their horror anthologies, made a quartet of cheep and cheerful fantasy films which all featured American actor Doug McClure and were directed by Kevin Connor. Encouraged by their success with The Land That Time Forgot, the studio forged ahead and made a couple of like-minded films which were based on Edgar Rice Burroughs books and then this last outing, which is not based on a Burroughs book. However it's easy to see where its inspiration comes from as it follows the same formula with Victorian-era scientists journeying into a mysterious world of monsters where all of the natives speak English. It's rainy Sunday afternoons for which the likes of Warlords of Atlantis were made.

Warlords of Atlantis has visions above and beyond it's budget which is a real pity because it's contains the most challenging themes of these Amicus films with an obvious socio-political tone running through the film. The Atlanteans are not human but in fact come from Mars and intend to manipulate humanity to their own ends. Their world is seemingly that of a Utopian society. All is not as it seems as there is a slave element to this world with undesirable humans being forced to defend the cities from the ever-present threat of giant mutated monsters. Echoes of a totalitarian regime ring true when Charles is subject to a glimpse of 'the future' with footage then being shown of the upcoming world wars and then token footage of the Nazis and Hitler - these guys always crop up in this sort of mind-erasing/mind-reading scene (see Flash Gordon, A Clockwork Orange, etc).

I'm giving it way more credit than it's due. Intentions may be one thing but actually getting them onto the screen in an entertaining and interesting way is another. The script half-heartedly attempts to give the whole thing some structure but it's basically a series of set pieces linked together with the flimsiest of story. By the time the characters arrive at Atlantis and find out what the deal is with the situation, it's time for them to escape and head back to their ship. I mean look at the easy way that the crew finally manage to make it out of Atlantis. The film states on a few occasions that it's dangerous beyond the city walls but our main characters seem to have no trouble in crossing a swamp and making it back to their ship as if they were popping out to walk the dog.

Atlantis itself is simply a couple of ropey-looking matte paintings and the special effects for the monsters look ridiculous nowadays but they've got some low budget charm to them. There's some cheesy rubber eels, some plastic piranhas which stage hands look to be throwing in the direction of the cast and some very slow-moving lizard/mutant things. It's a wonder they ever manage to eat anyone because they move so slowly that you'd need to be tied to the spot to get in harm's way. The rear projection is obvious a mile away but at least the cast try and make the best of the situation. Doug McClure is always a good sport for reacting to things that aren't there.

Ah, Doug McClure! It didn't matter what sort of character he's supposed to be portraying in these fantasy films, you know that you're watching Doug McClure because he virtually plays himself. Either as a rich businessman in At The Earth's Core or simply a civilian who knows a lot about submarines in The Land That Time Forgot, McClure rarely sticks to the attributes we'd expect of such ordinary characters. Instead, he's quick to step into the role of action hero and gung-ho leader, throwing punches around whenever the situation calls for it. To give him credit, he's always up for it in these films and adds a nice spark to proceedings. He may not be able to convince anyone that he's trying to be anyone but himself but at least he throws a mean punch. Conveniently, the slaves all speak perfect English so McClure has little trouble in rallying them to his cause. He also gets the girl (as always) as one of the slaves takes a shine to him. To say that the romantic sub plot is even a sub plot at all would be to do it an injustice as it ends in the most abrupt manner.

Michael Gothard, a dodgy-looking German actor who is most famous for a role as a baddie in Bond film For Your Eyes Only, is the unlucky person to have to dress up as an Atlantean. Whoever designed the costume must have lost a bet because it looks absurd and, coupled with the daft haircut he's been given, it certainly does little to prevent spontaneous laughter with the viewer. He's well suited for the part of an alien though and I wouldn't trust this guy as far as I could throw him. Fellow Bond alumni Robert Brown (who would go on to play M in Dalton's two James Bond films) appears as a slave.


Final Verdict

Warlords of Atlantis is Z-grade fantasy filmmaking at it's most innocent and charming. There's no swearing, no blood, no boobs and not much hardcore violence. I grew up on films like this and whilst it's artistic merits and filmmaking pedigree is ropey at best, there's something likeable about it that's hard to ignore.


Warlords of Atlantis

Director(s): Kevin Connor

Writer(s): Brian Hayles (screenplay)

Actor(s): Doug McClure, Peter Gilmore, Shane Rimmer, Lea Brodie, Michael Gothard, Hal Galili, John Ratzenberger

Duration: 96 mins


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