StudioCanal Announces the Release of Four Amicus Studio Classic Titles
Posted by silverfox1967 on August 28, 2012
At The Earth’s Core
Okay, so first of all – I think this story is an absolute classic! When I first saw this film (decades ago!), I was inspired to get all of the Pellucidar novels, which I consider to be the best of all the Edgar Rice Burroughs books. Unlike his other tales of a man raised in the jungle, or a man who travelled to Mars, or even an island where time didn’t follow normal rules, ERB created in Pellucidar an incredible eco-system at the centre of our earth. This eco-system was filled with a menagerie of weird creatures. The books’ premise was simple: a scientist and an engineer develop a machine that travels by boring into the ground. Instead of achieving super-fast trans-continental underground transport, they travel to the Earth’s core, only to discover that it contains its own world, inhabited by creatures beyond their imagination.
The transition to the movies wasn’t quite as victorious. As per all of Connor’s films, the effects and sets are incredibly ropey by today’s standards. Thinking about it, they were pretty ropey for 1976, when you consider that Carrie, The Omen, King Kong, Logan’s Run and The Man Who Fell To Earth were all out the same time. The sets were plasticky, and practically all the creatures were men in rubber suits – very TV Dr Who of the time – reflective of the B-movie budget. It’s a shame that Harry Hausen wasn’t drafted in to do the monsters, as that would have made a monumental difference. But the story and the characters all make the film, and so if you want a slice of 70’s kitsch – then this is it!
For me, Earth’s Core is the best of the four British films made by Kevin Connor between ’75 & ’78, which included The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot and Warlords of Atlantis. The cast was headed by Doug McClure, the B-movie king of his time (best known as Trampus from TV’s ‘The Virginian’), who starred in all four of Connor’s movies. But we also had the likes of Peter Cushing as the quintessential English inventor/scientist Abner Perry (was it any wonder he was the obvious choice to play Dr Who on the silver screen?), and the gorgeous Caroline Munro, Britain’s own sci-fi B-movie queen, complete with stereotype native costume & flashing cleavage.
Edgar Rice Burroughs gave us a wealth of sci-fi & fantasy books, and while many consider it the pulp fiction of its time, I consider him unfairly under-rated compared to Wells, Verne, etc probably because he was an American. The recent John Carter of Mars did very badly in the cinema, through very poor marketing, although I personally thought it was brilliant, and I hope they muster the courage & cash to produce a sequel. But if there is anything in ERB’s back catalogue that’s ripe for a remake, it’s At The Earth’s Core.
The Land That Time Forgot
Kevin Connor’s first excursion into ERB concerned the protagonists of a fictional early WW2 incident: a German U-boat sinks a British ship at sea, but not before a few survivors escape on a life-boat. They are taken captive by the German vessel and manage to not only take over the submarine, but destroy a German cargo ship at a rendezvous spot. This, however, ensures that they are without supplies (including fuel), and after the German crew sabotage the sub’s compass, the ensemble find themselves lost somewhere between South America and the Antarctic. Agreeing upon an uneasy alliance between the German & British crews and to be led by an American (McClure), they find a cave entrance to a glacial island with down-stream fresh water and decide to follow it to its source. Here they find a place where time literally co-exists with itself. In moving up & down the river, they find various species (dinosaurs, plants, humans) all in different stages of evolution. They set up camp to try to refine crude oil as fuel, but not before they discover the that the island itself is volcanically unstable, and although time has been forgotten, it is also running out…
When this film opened in ’75, it was a major British cinematic event. Dinosaurs (and more) on-screen with plucky British heroes, a token American and Nazis! I remember watching everything that came on TV about this film: Chris Kelly’s Clapper-board, Michael Rodd’s Screen Test – it just looked spectacular. It had Trampus from The Virginian, British thespians like Susan Penhaligon & Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley (before he was ‘The Master’) and ‘real’ dinosaurs – not stop-frame animation, or iguanas with extra prosthetics glued onto them.
Of course, nearly 40 years on and its effects haven’t aged well, but the storytelling and acting are still first-rate. I’d actually forgotten how clever the story was, witty & humourous in places, and genuinely human, like when the two crews decide to (temporarily) settle their differences and work for the common good of surviving. Like the Earth’s Core, this series is also ripe for a remake, although it could well be argued that TV’s Primeval and the Jurassic Park franchises have now set the bar quite high on this sub-genre. That said, enjoy it for what it is – it’s still a well crafted monster tale.
DVD Extras: Interview with Director Kevin Connor, Interview with Susan Penhaligon
Warlords of Atlantis
Connor’s final fantasy effort (and collaboration with Doug McClure) was actually a departure from Edgar Rice Burroughs. My memories of this weren’t good – I recalled being somewhat confused by the storyline, and as it was ’78, I’d already been spoiled by Star Wars, CE3K & The Spy Who Loved Me the previous year, so I was pretty unforgiving. That said, I was really pleased on re-watch to discover how simple and enjoyable the storyline really was. Scientist & engineer go to the Bermuda Triangle and, using a diving bell, discover Atlantis. Atlantis is populated by aliens (who arrived there before it sank into the sea) who capture ships in the ‘Triangle,’ using the crews as slave labour after they have surgically modified them with gills.
Here, McClure returns to the formula of Earth’s Core: the engineering half of a partnership with a British scientist (this time Peter Gilmore – presumably picked because he’d earned his sea-legs on the Onedin Line). The rest of the very capable cast includes Cyd Charisse (clearly in the twilight of her career here), John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) and everyone’s favourite UK resident American, Shane Rimmer. The story is ambitious; rather than straightforwardly beating the aliens and escaping, the film explores the hierarchy of the Atlantis society and matters of intellectual superiority. And by this one, his fourth film in this vein, Connor had polished up his effects and cinematography techniques: it’s much bigger & grander in scale than the other three movies. It’s still, to me, the weaker of the four and doesn’t automatically demand a remake after this watching – it’s definitely less about the monsters, and more about the story. That said, if you’ve seen the others, then this is a fitting romp with which to end this little sub-genre of British fantasy B-movies.
They Came From Beyond Space
It’s a shame that StudioCanal released this, and not The People That Time Forgot instead. If nothing else, they would have had a brilliant Kevin Connor box-set that I know many people would go out and buy. Instead, the above three classics have been released in tandem with this turkey!
Okay, to be fair, there is a clear decade between this and the other three films, and it probably was quite successful (in its own way) back in 1967, but it has not aged well at all. In short, imagine a very weak double episode of TV’s The Avengers, without the charisma of Steed & Mrs Peel, in which the earth is invaded by aliens in a very localised ‘home counties’ offensive. The aliens themselves are a bunch of theatre luvvies (‘darlings!’) armed with powers requiring the lowest-budget effects and dressed in outfits that the BBC originally rejected for Gallifreyan extras!
I actually had to watch this film in three parts to get through to the end. It’s not that it’s “bad”‘ - it just doesn’t give you any reason to watch it.