Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Land Unknown
At some point, Universal’s golden era of B-movies started to wind down. Premises of other worldly creatures and strange new worlds with odd monsters began to diminish. No longer where they the norm by the time the 1950s ended. Instead they got campier and goofier well into the start of the 1960s when A-list horror movies were rare or starting to blossom like George A. Romero’s Dead series. I can’t exactly pinpoint when the decline happened but I can say The Land Unknown is proof the B-movie era was starting to wear thin at the time.
The story isn’t completely new and can be described as a near poor man’s take on The Lost World. A group of scientists discover a small area in Antarctica’s waters that is strangely warm. They go to investigate via helicopter flight but unfortunately the rotors break and find themselves low on fuel. Once they land, our group find themselves surrounded in thick jungle from the prehistoric age along with its inhabitants. And this is where the movie either gets interesting or laughable the way you look at it.
The creatures in this strange world are dinosaurs but the effects are so cheap that you can’t help but stare in amazement or disbelief. Lurking in these strange trees include a giant monitor lizard that is green screened, a pterodactyl on a wire, a large sea serpent puppet that could qualify for a Gerry Anderson tv show, a carnivorous plant that is held by wires and dips its victims into a weird dip on its head to eat them and one Tyrannosaurus rex suit. And that very much sums up the special effects as well as the rest of the movie.
Supposedly, The Land Unknown was going to be directed by Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space) and was going to have a bigger budget. Jack envisioned this film as an A-list science fiction movie and knowing his directing style, it could have been salvaged. But Universal made some big budget cuts and Jack left town giving the directorial duty to Virgil W. Vogel who would later do episodes of Mission Impossible and Bonanza. It also didn’t help that the studio already spent its money on the special effects to the point it couldn’t be filmed in color like planned. Perhaps that is for the best.
I feel bad seeing there is a unique charm to these puppets and keyed-in lizards, but find myself laughing in disbelief. There is effort to the sets to provide something there to interact and walk around. But most the time, I feel like I’m watching an episode of Land of the Lost with a slightly bigger budget. The story is your typical explorers lost in an new world motif and it doesn’t help when your actors are obviously green screened in when they are running from a man in a T. Rex costume. I’ll give the effects this much; they really tried. I can’t say the effort wasn’t all for nothing. In fact, its best to have an attempt in effort than none at all.
But then the story gets more ridiculous. Henry Brandon plays a scientist that was stranded in the world for a long time and has sort of
become this Tarzan-ish jungle man. He controls the creatures with a conch shell and supposedly tries to act as a chief to them by means of destroying their eggs for population control. It also gets more absurd when he demands the female scientist to stay with him in the prehistoric world for exchange in helping them. I can understand this character is probably disillusioned but really think about it? If you were stranded for that long and gone nuts, I wouldn’t want to stay in a world with prehistoric beasts when help comes along. It comes out of nowhere and almost gets a little Lord of the Flies-ish.
And I can already imagine how many will be put off by the old “there’s only one female in a group of male scientists” motif just for this plot line and sadly plagued others like This Island Earth. But at least in This Island Earth, Faith Deomergue’s character as Ruth was giving things to do and served a purpose to the story. Shirley Patterson’s character in The Land Unknown, however, is giving little to do outside of being in the middle of the men’s situation and playing with a cute creature that later becomes plant food for no reason. Ironic how she later be casted in It! The Terror From Beyond Space and given a little more to do.
Overall, The Land Unknown did have a lot of promise for its time. But critics didn’t like it and I don’t recall this movie being a flop or even a huge hit either. At this point, the B-movie era was starting to wind down and this was proof. Cheap special effects, hokey acting and really convoluted plot lines. This is no means a terrible movie and some have defended this movie as underrated which is a good thing. Films of good and bad will have an audience no matter what they are. And to be honest, I do see this as a bit of a guilty pleasure just for its ludicrous execution. Land Unknown had a lot of promise but due to the studio powers that be got cut back on a lot of limitations. Then again, it is a harmless film to watch outside of the anti-feminist tone which plagued other B-movies at the time. And for something filmed in CinemaScope, at least the camera work tries to make great use of the wide aspect ratio. Filling everything with something cheesy and well crafted for what its worth. I know a film like this is not to everyone’s liking but its worth watching if you want good old cheesy fun and cheap yet ambitiously attempt effects. Besides, when your movie has a man in a dinosaur suit, I think you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Posted on October 5, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged Antarctica, B-movies, cheap effects, Henry Brandon, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Jack Arnold, Shirley Patterson, The Land Unknown, The Lost World, This Island Earth, Tyrannosaurs rex, Universal Pictures, Virgil W. Vogel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.