Amicus Borrows Burroughs, Cushing & McClure Burrow Deep Below



Consumed by me many times as a child, it was still forever confused with the diptych The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and The People That Time Forgot (1977) – all three are film treatments of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, all were made on man-in-monster-suit budgets by Hammer rival Amicus Productions, all were directed with cheese-enthused aplomb by Kevin Connor, and all star beefy everyman Doug McClure, who looks like he could bowl you under the table then buy you a beer to laugh it off. But the thread that tied the three into one essential story for my little boy imagination was the overpopulation of massive, lumbering monsters. What should have helped make this one stand apart from the Time Forgot movies is the lack of straight-up dinosaurs in favor of several races of bizarre, hybrid creatures that make a zipper soup out of fantasy and Greek mythology: giant parrot-headed lizard men, battling sumo-rhinos, and monolithic, hypnosis-savvy bat overlords…a low-budget menagerie of pre-ahistoric horrors straight off a little boy’s stack of drawing paper.Peter Cushing is inventor Abner Perry and Doug McClure is mining heir and playboy David Innes. Together, with much turn-of-the-century fanfare and ballyhoo, they drill their behemoth “Iron Mole”, looking every bit like a mammoth mechanical pencil, on a test run into a mountain when things go awry and they end up digging through crust and magma into a heretofore unknown civilization in the center of the globe where humans are enslaved by huge, winged Mahars in a hollowed-out world the locals call Pellucidar. Outside of my nostalgia for this brand of unabashed sci-fi adventure, the draw here is the presence and performance of Cushing, who trades his usual straight-backed, prim-mouthed intelligence for a broad, bumbling comic display that somehow matches the purple wackiness of the art direction with a kind of refined yet over-the-top looniness that makes it okay to not take too much of it seriously. It can give you a kind of nostalgia whip-lash to think of the effects indulged in here, and this Cushing character, coming only one year before turning up as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. Meanwhile, McClure bulls his way into every movement, every line, like an off-the-rack Shatner, his style aligning more with the basic driving instincts of the monsters that loom over him. He’s the id that punches through a line of munchkin Klingon John Oateses and chases after local girl Caroline Munro with the same fat-handed gusto.This sort of hollow earth stuff had been around forever, but first made popular in a large way by Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864. Burroughs took the mantle, coloring the effort less as a gambit of scientific curiosity and more as a means toward colorful adventure and deeply tactile world-building. This film and its weary budget can never match the ranging pulpiness of Burroughs’ imagination, but Connor does well enough with Mike Vickers’ warbling moog and the deep strata of weird sound effects, from slurping, shrieking beasts to grinding metal machines and beeping, ham-radio-like, mutant-bird telepathy to make the viewer, in most cases an engaged child, feel more or less like they’re in a land unseen by surface dwellers.This is Kino Lorber’s re-release of the film on DVD (also available on Blu-ray), with good picture presentation, or as good as it needs to be for this sort of sick-day kiddie fare. The disc retains a couple of rather lengthy and engaging interviews with, separately, actress Caroline Munro and director Kevin Connor, as well as a short 1976 making of featurette. A commentary/interview with Conner is still included, moderated by oddly awkward Bill Olsen. All extras are vividly informative on the making of this gem of low-budget monster-fu.

Images are screencaps derived from Kino Lorber DVD.