At the Earth’s Core – UK, 1976

at the earths core

At the Earth’s Core is a 1976 fantasy science fiction film with monsters produced by Britain’s Amicus Productions. It was directed by Kevin Connor (Motel Hell; The People That Time Forgot; The Land That Time Forgot; From Beyond the Grave). It was based on the fantasy novel of the same name by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first book of his Pellucidar series.

The movie stars Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, Caroline Munro and Philippa Herring.

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Dr. Abner Perry, a British Victorian period scientist (Cushing), and his US financier David Innes (McClure) make a test run of their Iron Mole drilling machine in a Welsh mountain, but end up in a strange underground labyrinth ruled by a species of giant telepathic flying reptiles, the Mahars, and full of prehistoric monsters and cave people.

They are captured by the Mahars, who keep primitive humans as their slaves through mind control. David falls for the beautiful slave girl Princess Dia (Munro) but when she is chosen as a sacrificial victim in the Mahar city, David and Perry must rally the surviving human slaves to rebel and not only save her but also the freedom of the slaves…

Even bearing in mind that this monster mash was aimed at a youngish audience, Milton Subotsky’s script is painfully simplistic: Peter Cushing’s doddery old Brit inventor (almost a repeat of his 60s performance for Amicus as Doctor Who) refers to Doug McClure’s character ‘David’ so many times it’s laughable (we didn’t count but one website mentions 66 times!).

The use of cheap back projection is distracting but the rubbery men-in-suits monsters are actually strangely endearing and the flying (!) reptile Mahars with their controlling eyes actually gave this reviewer the creeps when I saw this in the cinema back in the 70s. And they even explode when they are killed! McClure huffs and puffs (literally, he can’t take a cigar out of his mouth in the opening scenes) and seems bemused by sultry Caroline Munro, who shines in a role that’s sadly underwritten.

Meanwhile, former Manfred Mann guitarist Mike Vickers provides an discordant score that lends the proceedings an unsettling edge it doesn’t really deserve. My nine year-old son just watched this with me and when asked what are the best bits he asserted the battle scenes and the jokey ending when the drilling mole comes out in front of the Whitehouse. Post-Watergate, perhaps this was Subotsky’s canny political subtext, or actually just a crappy way of making this illogical fantasy fare more appealing to a US audience looking for reference points beyond former TV cowboy McClure’s token appearance.

Despite its shortcomings, At the Earth’s Core is undemanding, slightly surreal fun. And there’s no harm in that.

Adrian J Smith, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“Peter Cushing is on (over the) top form brandishing his trusted umbrella whilst uttering such classic lines as: “You can’t mesmerise me – I’m British!” and: “They’re so excitable – like all foreigners”. Doug McClure’s ‘David’ gamely battles various men-in-rubber-suit-monsters; a man-eating plant bearing a remarkable resemblance to the singing plant in Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of Little Shop of Horrors...” Paul Worts, Contains Moderate Peril

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“Still, the sets, colorful lighting, rubber monsters and (actually quite effective) sound design all work together to give the film a strange, otherworldly atmosphere that kind of works in spite of the budgetary shortcomings, resulting in an almost hallucinatory quality; taken on the level of a kind of trippy 70s fever dream, the film remains pretty diverting stuff. ” The Stalking Moon

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“Daft stuff, but the telepathic crow-creatures are impressive, and there’s enough idiocy to keep corn-collector’s happy.” Anne Billson, Time Out (London)

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“Enjoyable hokum, directed with a straight faceby one-time editor Kevin Connor and acted with enjoyable zest by Cushing. Special effects and monsters are only moderate and all too often the wires holding the flying creatures can be seen.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982

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Main cast and characters:

  • Doug McClure … David Innes
  • Peter Cushing … Dr. Abner Perry
  • Caroline Munro … Dia
  • Cy Grant … Ra
  • Godfrey James … Ghak
  • Sean Lynch … Hoojah
  • Keith Barron … Dowsett
  • Helen Gill … Maisie
  • Anthony Verner … Gadsby
  • Robert Gillespie … Photographer
  • Michael Crane … Jubal
  • Bobby Parr … Sagoth Chief
  • Andee Cromarty … Girl Slave
  • George Hilsdon … Reporter [uncredited]

Related:

The People That Time Forgot – UK, 1977

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