At the Earth's Core (1976)

Doug McClure and Peter Cushing star in this exciting fantasy adventure from Amicus Studios. Cinema Club R2 DVD.

The Film

American David Innes (Doug McClure) and his friend Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) proudly launch their invention before the press in a Welsh Valley. An iron mole, it is designed to explore into the depths of the earth. However, the test launch goes awry and the device proceeds at and incredible rate deep into the earth, finally coming to rest in a strange new land that Perry concludes is actually inside the earth. The men soon discover a huge, unknown creature bearing down on them and trying to escape they are captured by a group of strange ape men, and soon find themselves with a group of native human captives. Taken to the city of the world's rulers, the Mahars, the pair are put to work with a number of other slaves. However, David is able to escape, and unites with a man named Ra to try and take down the Mahar city...

After the sucess of The Land that Time Forgot (1975), the principle funders AIP quickly commissioned a second film and so once again a novel of Edgar Rice Burroughs' was adapted. Written in 1914, At the Earth's Core is one of a number of inner earth exploration stores, a genre made famous (although not started by) Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth - to this theme Burroughs adds a far more complex story of tribes and conflict within a dramatic and expanded landscape. Unfortunately the Amicus production lacked the budget for such an epic tale, and the book was considerably re-written by Milton Subotsky.

Fortunately the end script is effective, and in many ways superior to the original novel - gone is the cliché element that sees Innes and Perry as the sole inventors and builders of this giant ship, instead it seems to be a big industrial effort, equally the book's rather vague ending is wrapped up in much more effective and dramatic cinema style. However, the pacing is rather quick in many places and keeping the film to a 90 minute run time means that a lot of plot elements are rather hurried over - the dramatic mole ride from the surface, excitingly described in the book is quickly brushed over, as are all the explanations for how life exists inside the world and just whereabouts it is. Compared to the previous Land that Time Forgot, the script here is far more effective at explaining and characterising the film's cast - Perry is a life long scientist (explaining his ability to quickly learn the Mayar language and his recognition of the various pre-historic flora), he is naturally eccentric, and although a believer in brains over brawn, is prepared to use force if necessary. Innes is a failed geologist, but from a rich background he had the money to fund this project, explaining his presence here, and a large man he is more concerned with brawn than brains. These better rounded characters mean that there are some very tense scenes, and the audience really cares about what happens to them.

After his rather generic direction of The Land that Time Forgot, Kevin Connor gives a much better turn here. The low budget nature of the production that was very evident in the previous film, is less noticable here thanks to the complete fantasy setting, allowing for far more creative design of sets and monsters - although still not as impressive as the heights of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion work, the rubber suit monsters are well merged with the live action and do things that stop motion would be hard pressed to achieve (see the fire-toad below). The soundtrack is noticably strange, composed by Michael Vickers (a member of British jazz group Manfred Mann) it is a light synthesised score, often remniscent of Claudio Simonetti's score to Italian fantasy film Conquest (1983), or Florian Fricke's work for Werner Herzog. It works well with the other-worldly nature of the story, and provides a welcome break from the repetitive orchestral scores of many earlier films.

Peter Cushing was the obvious choice to play the eccentric English professor and the role seems to have been perfectly written for him (as indeed it probably was). Stealing every scene in the film, he is obviously enjoying himself, flapping his umbrella at an approaching monster and in the film's best line, proudly declaring You cannot mesmerise me, I'm British! before going cross-eyed. Doug McClure gives a surprisingly impressive turn here, playing well alongside Cushing and suiting the rough and tumble action scenes. The attractive, and scantily clad Caroline Munro gives a decent performace as the native Princess Dia, but doesn't get much to do. The rest of the cast are decent.

Although rather rapidly paced, the storyline works well, bolstered by a superb performance from Peter Cushing and some decent direction that makes up for the low budget. Interestingly the entire film has the ambience of an early Doctor Who serial and probably could have worked as a third Amicus Doctor Who film, with some minor alterations. Some good family entertainment and a generally enjoyable film, although don't expect too much. Recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Doug McClure - American television and movie star best known for his work in The Virginian.
Peter Cushing - The Gentleman of Horror who appeared in dozens of Amicus and Hammer productions.
Directed by anyone interesting? Kevin Connor - a lesser known British director who filmed most of the Amicus fantasy films, and is still working today, recently directing the impressive Frankenstein (2004) mini-series.
Any gore or violence ? Some deaths, no blood.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Recommended to fantasy film fans, and certainly of interest to fans of Amicus and Peter Cushing.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is good with strong colours and minimal print damage, only mild grain.
Audio Original English audio - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original Theatrical Trailer.
  • Brief manual scrolling still photo gallery.
  • Brief text biographies for actors Doug McClure and Peter Cushing, director Kevin Connor and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Availability Released as a single disc as detailed here, or the same disc is available as part of the Doug McClure Collection boxset.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD in Germany, and as part of the Midnite Movies series from MGM in the USA, in a double-bill with the AIP/Vincent Price fantasy film War Gods of the Deep (a.k.a The City Under the Sea), the print there is presented 1.85:1
Cuts? Fully uncut. The print used is English langauge.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th December 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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