Monster Bites - Mysterious Islands


Time for a small series review albeit a rather loosely connected one, as these are linked by the star Doug McClure and the director Kevin Connor rather than any actual narrative threads. Yes that's right, you might remember him from such films as The Land that Time Forgot, At the Earth's Core, and Warlords of Atlantis. What titles, and what poster art! But do these films really hold up, and do the events on the posters even appear in the films? Luckily for us they're available together as a boxed set so we can easily find out. Let's dive right into a series of stories obsessed with lost civilisations, secret islands and muppets posing as dinosaurs.

There are a lot of recurring motifs as things go along here, and it becomes obvious that in some ways these are all just the same film being remade each time. McClure plays a heroic expert of some kind on an expedition, there's a perilous journey in which things go awry, and then the discovery of a new continent or another world causes a lot of monster action and mild peril. The creatures all look very similar in design whether they're supposed to be prehistoric animals or mutated sea creatures, and there's always a damsel in distress and at least one poor bit player who gets eaten by the local fauna. They all have a similar kind of '70s charm, and the same sort of acting style and low production value.

In The Land That Time Forgot, we find our pal Doug during the First World War floating in a lifeboat after a German submarine torpedoed the ocean liner he was on. Luckily for the survivors he's in the submarine building business, and soon they come across the same U-boat just as it surfaces allowing them to take over. How incredibly convenient. There's a brief power struggle between the German sailors and the hijackers, and a spot of bother when they try and get help from a passing ship that is only interesting in shelling them. It's all pretty tense as they start to run out of fuel and efforts to trick McClure and friends by using a faulty compass are discovered. The limited sets, a lot of sea mist and some nice model work help too.

Trying to head towards a neutral port it seems as though they've accidentally drifted much further south than intended. With fuel and fresh water running low they decide to try and enter a strange island through a cave outlet that is just wide enough to let a submarine inside. What are the chances? Of course they soon discover that inside this place is natural marvel, a land where dinosaurs and ancient humans co-habit. There are a lot of silly creature feature moments, a lot of talk about evolution from people who barely understand biology at all, and also some ego clashes between the military and the other survivors as the castaway team spirit becomes fractured.

There's a certain naive charm to the whole adventure as the expedition comes across various rubber monsters. I get the feeling that whoever designed these things wrote the script. Oh that's meant to be an Allosaurus? Yes of course it is. Bless them. Certain characters decide to drink the local river water without any problem (despite looking at all the microbes in it) and later declare that it's easy to use crude oil floating in a swamp to make U-boat fuel. You have to admire their optimism I suppose. Like Horror Express there are times when you just have to let go and enjoy the period style pseudo science. Ultimately this all gets rushed and there's a silly climax involving a volcano just so a dramatic ending can be reached. It's often shoddy but it's mostly fun.

Moving past the direct sequel (The People That Time Forgot will have to be covered later) let's delve into the spiritual successor. In At The Earth's Core we find Peter Cushing as a Victorian scientist and McClure as his student and financier as they board a huge drilling machine dubbed the 'Iron Mole'. It's at this stage you start to wonder if these films were really made in the 1970s as at times it all feels like something from ten or even twenty years earlier. The sets look like the original Star Trek series and the drill looks like the one in Thunderbirds. The machine of course goes off track and leaves them in the so called 'Hollow Earth' realm of Pellucidar where the sky is pink, giant parrot monsters roam about, and more stone age people live in fear.

In this new uncharted realm there are fractured tribes being enslaved by a race of psychic ... bird creatures? They're not the same monster we see in the first act, but another species. These animal overlords apparently command a band of pig-men with their mental powers and make everyone's lives a misery in the process. Luckily the local humans all speak English so Doug McClure can rally them together in an battle against their oppressors. It's not clear why they didn't think of this for themselves, but everyone knows this storyline cliché. The real highlight is Peter Cushing doing his best doddery old scientist act as he bumbles around saying things like 'oh my goodness' and 'you can't entrance me, I'm British!' in another link back to Horror Express.

There are a lot of silly pig-man voice effects, and another scene in which the main characters all stand about looking mildly confused so we as the audience can watch two creatures battle one another. No dinosaurs this time unfortunately, just weird man rhino warthog hybrids. That's a thing apparently. Again you can't really take it seriously, after all this is a story where the apparent daylight inside the Earth's crust is explained in a throwaway line about magma currents. Flowing a few miles above? You're guess is as good as mine. There are scenes where the evil bird people have human women sacrificed to them for reasons that are pretty vague at best, and there's a lot of explosions in between caveman battles and hypnosis scenes. The fire-breathing frog moment is particularly good.

For a change of pace let's move onto Warlords of Atlantis, which is at least filmed partly on location with a few good sequences of open water and a lot of nice '70s decor inside the ancient kingdom of the title. This time around Peter Gilmore plays a historian looking for undersea secrets and Doug McClure is a diving bell expert. It's completely different from the others. The opening at least feels like a film from the decade in which it was made, which familiar faces like Shane Rimmer and John Ratzenburger amongst the ship's crew. After the diving bell finds a strange gold artefact trouble begins to brew as the sailors plan a mutiny, but things soon go awry after an encounter with both a sea monster (looking like the same head and neck prop they first met in The Land That Time Forgot) and a giant octopus.

Somehow the greedy crew and the two leads end up being dragged down in a sea current without drowning or becoming monster chow, and as they enter Atlantis any sense of logic is thrown out the window. There's some nice cinematography at least, and things have a darker visual style. The creatures however (this time atomic mutations!) still seem to have come from the same puppetry workshop. A few good matte paintings are employed at least, and the architecture inside the main city is appealing in a kind of angled marble slab sort of way. The same thing can't be said of the costumes the inhabitants are wearing, and it seems like the only interesting outfits were given to the faceless guards on patrol. The ruling classes get stuck with bad wigs and bad togas.

The villainous scheme this time around is even more vague than before as the Atlantean elites sit around in saunas while plotting a way to escape their underwater confines. The big plan involves taking slaves from shipwrecks and making them fend off monster attacks on the city, although they also want any top scientific minds for themselves to help their development. There's a lot of stuff about mental powers again and a scene in which Charles (Gilmore) wears a silly helmet as they show him their future plans ... which seem to involve real future events like World War Two and the atomic bomb. Are we supposed to think these kind of events were their doing? It's never really clear. Everything after this is rushed as McClure and friends barely fight back against their captors before escaping in the diving bell, which can somehow travel back up the stream that pulled them down.

Of the films covered here this is the weakest one despite all of the similarities. The structure is pretty weak and the third act feels in particular is very lacking even by the standards of the other two adventures. The mutineers keep surviving and the post escape set piece is completely superfluous. Even the tacked on romantic subplot is laughably brief, and there's never even a real sense of simple melodrama. All of these films have to be categorised as guilty pleasures of course, so a lot of these kind of complaints feel rather unnecessary in a way. But if you're really going to tackle a bunch of nonsensical b-movie action stories then some standards have to be maintained. If that's your idea of entertaining schlock then these three will at least deliver a certain level of amusing satisfaction.

Overall Score 3/5