At the Earth’s Core (1976)
Release Date: July 16th, 1976 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Kevin Connor Actors: Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant, Andee Cromarty
eleased after “The Land That Time Forgot” (1975) but before its sequel “The People That Time Forgot” (1977), “At the Earth’s Core” (1976) is sometimes considered an unofficial chapter in director Kevin Connor’s series of films based on the works of famous author Edgar Rice Burroughs. This would mark the second of four films in which he worked with actor Doug McClure (the fourth being 1978’s “Warlords of Atlantis,” which is an original screenplay), utilizing a lost world theme to showcase adventure, cavegirls in peril, and dinosaur/monster/ barbarian mayhem. And despite low production qualities, the presence of the glistening Caroline Munro (perhaps most famous as a Bond girl) gives the film a titillating quality that the rubber pterodactyls and oversized dueling boars can’t muster.
Jovial, chipper, unprepared Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing, in a role completely opposite from his merciless, serious, Grand Moff Tarkin a year later in “Star Wars”) is an English scientist all set to give his new Iron Mole drilling vehicle a test run. Backed by U.S. financier and novice explorer David Innes (Doug McClure) as copilot, the duo begins burrowing through a Welsh mountain (with massive nose cutters capable of boring 78 feet per minute), witnessed by onlookers and reporter Dowsett (Keith Barron). The enormous mechanism tunnels well beyond their intended destination, heading dangerously close to the Earth’s core, where the heat causes the occupants to pass out.
Luckily, David regains consciousness to steer the vessel upwards away from the melting point and into a cooler mantle. Before it can return to the surface, the Iron Mole overheats and the two find themselves stranded in a strange land with a neon pink atmosphere – not on Earth. “From my observations, my dear friend, I can positively state that we’re under it – at the Earth’s core!” exclaims Perry, after glancing around the shrubbery for a matter of seconds. Their first encounter is with a giant, beaked, upright monstrosity with Godzilla-like, bouncy, muscle-less rubber feet, effortlessly traversing towering mushroom-laden terrain just like the aforementioned Japanese nemesis trampled through Tokyo. After narrowly escaping, they’re captured by wrinkle-faced dwarfish humanoids – soldiers for the ruthless mind-controlling Mahars.
Arranged like a “Planet of the Apes” in the center of the Earth (culminating in a Robin Hood rebellion), the inner world known as Pellucidar is run by a subhuman, brawn-before-brains series of species. The lesser evolved creatures use brute force to control the more advanced humans, who are little more than cavemen. How fortunate that the various stone-age tribes all speak English. The top of the food chain is the Mahars, humungous reptilian gargoyles that move slowly and use telepathy to dominate and direct their enslaved legions of workers. There are also more mindless things roaming the land, such as titanic mutant javelinas that fight one another for food of the human kind, a fire-breathing frog, and man-eating, tentaculated plants. The man-in-a-suit creature effects are frequently laughable, and yet still the primary reason to see such a low-budget, fun-filled sampling of cinematic schlock.
“At the Earth’s Core” also features a sexy love interest, Dia (Caroline Munro), a princess that Innes must do battle for – against Hoojah the Sly One (Sean Lynch) and Jubal the Ugly One (Michael Crane) – and who continues to throw around seductive glances. She couldn’t be less fitting for the setting, though the eye candy is a relief from the hordes of sweaty male inhabitants – and definitely no worse than Cushing in an aggravatingly annoying role (maybe the worst of his career). Boasting a largely electronic score, juvenile dialogue, mediocre acting, some surprisingly entertaining monsters, and unintentionally hilarious fantasy adventure, it’s likely the most well balanced of Connor’s early films.
– Mike Massie