Color, 1976, 89m.
Directed by Kevin Connor
Starring Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant, Godfrey James
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1976, 89m.
Monster magazines fell over themselves for years over this mid-'70s fantasy romp co-produced by AIP and England's Amicus Productions, looking for a new direction after wrapping up their successful string of horror anthologies. Kevin Connor, director of the last Amicus omnibus (From Beyond the Grave), was brought in to helm this in between his two other fantasy films with leading man Doug McClure, The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forget, with a script by Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky adapted from a novel by Tarzan scribe Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Of course, the film's eternal major selling point amongst all the monster mayhem turned out to be its female star, Caroline Munro, cast as scantily-clad subterranean slave girl Dia. Easily the most iconic genre pinup of the era (and perhaps of all time), she elevates the film several notches by virtue of her presence alone. Of course, she was also at her peak here in between gigs on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and The Spy Who Loved Me, and anyone curious to see why she's still so beloved among the creature feature crowd would do well to start here.
The story is basically the same deal as The Time Machine except with our Victorian heroes boring through the earth's crust instead of time itself. American engineer David Innes (McClure) is a primary backer behind the latest project of his favorite instructor, Dr. Perry (Cushing), who has a designed a "mole" machine capable of digging down through the surface of the earth to untold new depths. Their expedition takes them further than expected, however, and soon they're down in a land populated by prehistoric human-like beings called the Sagoths and their overlords, winged monsters called the Mahars. There's a little Journey to the Center of the Earth action here as they go through strange (and budget-constrained) new landscapes and encounter odd creatures, but the gist of the story is the attempt to free enslaved denizens from a life of slavery.
The soundstage vibe of At the Earth's Core is actually quite charming today as the film unabashedly wallows in rubber monster suits, clean furry outfits for all of its savages, and a ridiculous colonialist attitude that seems completely alien today. Connor keeps the action flying fast and furious even when it gets completely ridiculous (that frog!), and it's given a nice aural sheen by music composer Mike Vickers, a library music vet who previously worked on Dracula A.D. 1972 and a lot of softcore quickies. Cushing fans will find him mostly sleepwalking through this one, but Munro and the bland but always game McClure manage to make up for it as they stomp through caves, fire, and fire-breathing monsters aplenty.
MGM has released this film numerous times on DVD, first as a standalone "Midnite Movies" entry and then as a double feature with War-Gods of the Deep and a quadruple feature alongside The Phantom of 10,000 Leagues and The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes. It's generally looked fine on home video apart from the limitations of standard def in dealing with the fiery color schemes, with reds in particular tending to smudge. The HD rendering from Kino Lorber on its 2014 Blu-ray (with a DVD reissue as well) looks significantly better in terms of resolution during the underground scenes (the bulk of the movie), but more importantly, it also marks the first bona fide special edition of this title. The usual theatrical trailer is included here, but Connor appears for a solid new audio commentary (moderated by Bill Olsen) in which he runs down the entire production with a surprisingly clear memory. (He performed a similarly impressive job with Arrow's Motel Hell.) He also appears for a new 22-minute video interview focused more on his overall career, stretching from his early days in the British film industry through his later projects (including the nutty Cannon favorite The House Where Evil Dwells). The amazing Munro also gets a new video interview to herself in which she chats for nearly half an hour about working on the film (mostly about her co-stars and wrangling with all the beasties) with a few of her other projects from the era touched on lightly. A five-minute featurette about the making of the film (similar to the one for Sinbad that also floated around) is also included and makes for a great bonus as well. A very welcome release for a film that still hits the sweet spot for colorful, old school adventure.