Dr Abner Perry, accompanied by his American financer, David Innes, is about to put to the test his latest invention, The Iron Mole, a huge drilling device. However, things don’t go according to plan and instead of safely burrowing out through the side of a Welsh mountain they find themselves in a subterranean world populated by prehistoric beasts and warring tribes, ruled over by the powerful telepathic Mahars. The task soon falls to our intrepid duo of saving the enslaved humans, and returning to dear old Blighty of course!
A co-production between American International Pictures and Amicus, At The Earth’s Core is a cheap and cheerful adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, scripted by Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky. It retains all the familiar elements of his books; heroic adventurers in a lost world, strange prehistoric beasts, enslaved tribesmen with odd names such as Gak and Ra, and not forgetting an alluring local girl for our hero to romance. No stranger to this sort of thing is Doug McClure – he also appeared in two other Burroughs adaptations, The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot – and he brings his usual ‘talents’ to the role of David, in other words a typically wooden hero who gets into scraps with various beasts and falls for the charms of a tribal beauty. He’s not exactly the best actor in the world but there is a likeable everyman quality about him. Contrasting with this man of action is Peter Cushing as Dr Abner Perry. Cushing always gave everything to his roles, regardless of the quality of the film, and in At The Earth’s Core he provides another memorable interpretation, investing Dr Perry with an eccentric, slightly pompous air, totally British through & through, always armed with his trusty umbrella. Apart from providing all the plot exposition and saying “David!” a lot he gets the best lines; commenting on the inhabitants of this primeval world, “They’re so excitable. Like all foreigners!”, then when faced with the mesmeric powers of the Mahars he proudly states, “ You can’t hypnotise me, I’m British!”
Although there is an interesting psychedelic tone created for this lost world with the bright purple sky, funky giant mushrooms and a tribe that look like extras from the cast of Hair the most obvious flaw in this movie is its special fx, or rather lack of them. The intimidating monsters which confront our heroes are nothing more than men in rubber suits, and the whole film does feel like an episode of Doctor Who. As such there are few thrills to be had when, for example, David has to battle against the imposing horror of what appears to be a green rubber hippo, or save the delectable Dia from the wrath of a big plastic fire breathing frog. The evil Mahars that rule over this strange world look like prehistoric parrots, hardly the most threatening of adversaries. However the film does have one very special effect, in the form of Caroline Munro as tribal princess Dia. Munro was often found in this sort of film and in this sort of role, and little wonder! Here she is in all her heaving bosomed, skimpy costumed glory, looking longingly at McClure who suddenly finds things are looking up in this alien world when he meets her. A commanding presence viewers may find their minds wandering to thoughts of her during the rather flat action scenes which are directed with seeming disinterest by Kevin Connor. He was responsible for McClure’s other adventures in the worlds of Burroughs and went on to direct Warlords Of Atlantis, a similarly themed Victorian sci-fi adventure that is arguably the best of the bunch.
At The Earth’s Core is, despite its cheap cheesy and rather amateur feel, still a mildly enjoyable movie which stays true to its literary pulp adventure roots. Its appeal is more than likely due to nostalgia as many a thirtysomething adult was weaned on such adventures on a wet Sunday afternoon. Modern audiences, brought up on a diet of big budget fx extravaganzas would find the whole thing pretty laughable. Despite its shortcomings the plot is basically sound, Burroughs could really tell a great yarn, even though all his stories were essentially variations on the same theme. Maybe the time is now right for modern filmmakers to plunder his novels and bring to the screen big budget versions of his many adventures.