At the Earth’s Core (1976)
This fantasy film clearly aimed at youngsters hit a bullseye when I was indeed a youngster seeing this on TV in the late 1970’s. Even then I knew exactly who Peter Cushing was though having no real sense of time, I immediately realized he was nowhere near as agile and spirited as he was when playing Van Helsing or The Baron that I had already seen on late night TV. The film also represented the first time I became aware of just who Caroline Munro was. A couple more years, a couple more viewings added to seeing her in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad alongside The Spy Who Loved Me and a crush was born.
Earth’s Core is an adaptation of the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs and while not a direct sequel represents the third film that Amicus producer Milton Subotsky brought to the screen originally written by the man who gave the world Tarzan. The others being The Land That Time Forgot released in 1974 and it’s direct sequel, The People That Time Forgot which hit screens in 1977. One thing that all three films do have in common is Kevin Connor directing and the casting of Doug McClure in a lead role.
Wasting little time, the film opens with Cushing’s elder scientist and his young associate, McClure, testing a large drilling machine that is meant to pass through a mountain on a test run. With the pair at the throttle controls, things go south. Literally as their machine spirals downwards to the Earth’s core. By the time they surface they discover they are not on the surface but have arrived in an inner cavern beneath the Earth’s crust. One where a prehistoric world still exists.
Cue the guys in the silly rubber dyno suits.
Danger lurks everywhere and when fleeing from the giant sized monsters with a hungry look in their eyes, Peter and Doug, will be taken captive by mutant looking apemen. Apparently humans are used as slaves in the cave city where lava rivers flow like water. Fortunately for Doug he’s chained in line right next to the girl with the gorgeous figure and a smile to match. Little does Doug know that by protecting her from another who gets a bit to violent, she is now his woman. Believe me. He could have done a lot worse and even better, she’s a Princess among her people in this world of dinosaurs and mutants.
Slave labor lies in wait and then there’s these man sized birds who have a penchant for the flesh of good looking slave girls. Fortunately Caroline appears to have escaped for the time being and while Peter sets about studying his captors, Doug sets out to escape after seeing four beauties sacrifices.
“They’ve got to be destroyed.”
It’s while escaping that Doug will make a key friend whom he saves from a giant sized Venus flytrap. Turns out Doug is going to be the warrior the different tribes have been waiting on. He’s Spartacus reborn. And just like Kirk Douglas had Jean Simmons by his side, Caroline will resurface so that Doug will also have a female companion to occupy his free time.
While Peter Cushing may have appeared to be rather frail on screen I’m glad to report that he takes up the bow and arrow and with Robin Hood like precision he too gets involved in the revolt against the ape men and those damned birdmen with the giant beaks and oversized tongues. These birdmen have the power to hypnotize their victims before swooping in to carry them off to their rocky perches. This leads to an amusing scene that reminded me of one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing quotes. When brought before the carnivorous creatures Peter proudly declares, “You cannot mesmerize me. I’m British.” This reminded me so much of his proclamation in the classic cult thriller Horror Express when he and pal Christopher Lee are questioned about being monsters.. “Monsters? We’re British!”
Cushing injects a fair bit of humor into his frail, bumbling Professor. Perhaps not so frail after all but rather another smart performance from “Props Peter” as he goes walking about the prehistoric world carrying his umbrella which doubles as a harmless weapon when needed. His on screen chemistry with McClure works thanks to a playfulness between the two and the younger man’s never ending attempts to protect the elderly scientist from harm.
McClure would work with director Connor again on the films Warlords of Atlantis and The House Where Evil Dwells while Cushing made a brief appearance in the director’s Arabian Nights that starred Christopher Lee in 1979. As for Miss Munro, she remains a favorite of the genre and one of the great Queens of Hammer thanks to her appearances in the studios, Dracula A.D. and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. Thankfully she makes the rounds of fan festivals where she can meet her many admirers, yours truly included.
Like the other Amicus/Burroughs productions, At The Earth’s Core is also available on blu ray thanks to Kino Lorber with plenty of bonus materials. It’s also out on DVD as part of the popular Midnight Movies series released a few years back. If you happened to see it as a youngster than maybe like me it offers a nostalgic viewing. If I ever have grandkids I can see myself introducing all three of these Amicus/Burroughs films to them at a young age hoping to give them some tame scares and memories of their own to look back upon. The movie poster? No idea but this one’s not for sale. Maybe someday I’ll leave it to those grandkids.