For one thing, the film's sets and special effects are, without exception, deliciously shoddy. With its rubbery flora and fauna, that prosper under a bright magenta sky that tinges certain, but not all, scenes with a pinkish hue, the movie's fictional world is a visual treat. At one time or another, the viewer is presented with forests of giant plastic ferns, deadly plants - like glowing, toothy Venus fly traps with writhing tentacles - that are ready to devour any person foolish enough to approach them, hairy porcine monsters that are clearly men wearing costumes, and a similarly created dinosaur that seems to be a cross between a tyrannosaurus rex and a parrot. Then, of course, there are the Mahars, the winged, reptilian, but intelligent villains. They, like many of the film's monsters, are men in rubber suits, but they have their own unique charms as well. Not only can they fly by being hoisted about on wires, but they also have the ability to telepathically control their human slaves by making their eyes grow blue, producing a high-pitched buzz, and then winking. I cannot imagine how anyone watching At the Earth's Core could ever fail to be entertained by its images.
The movie is not only a treat to look at, however. It is also exciting in a goofy sort of way. The protagonists find themselves in one adventure after the next almost without interruption. In one scene or another, the viewer will get to see two pig-monsters dueling over which of them will get to eat the human one of the pair caught, cruel Mahars swooping down on their human victims in order to carry these away and devour them, and a concluding assault by the united human tribesmen on the Mahars' fortress-like but largely subterranean city. Most of the action sequences, however, let the moviegoer admire David's valor. Over the course of the movie, he is shown protecting Dia (Caroline Munro), a beautiful native princess with whom he has become infatuated, from a giant fire-breathing toad (although the poor thing is actually killed by Dr. Perry), battling, in hand-to-hand combat, a hideously deformed tribesman who wants to carry Dia off, and fighting, in a gladiatorial match, a giant, fanged hippopotamus-frog in order to protect one of his local friends. Actually, there are many, many more scenes of adventure besides these. The viewer is rarely given an opportunity to let his attention wander. I am not saying that these sequences are all skillfully realized (they are not), but they are never dull.
The quality of the acting, not surprisingly, generally matches the quality of everything else in At the Earth's Core. It ranges from mediocre to atrocious. Doug McClure is a largely forgettable nonentity. Peter Cushing is wonderfully hammy as the likeable and intelligent, but prissy and often befuddled Dr. Perry, and Caroline Munro, with her dark, sultry eyes and large, sweaty breasts, is consistently sexy as Princess Dia. While none of the leads gives an impressive performance, they are all entertaining, and all three do positively contribute to the film.
Although much of the appeal of At the Earth's Core results from its shoddy production values and clumsy acting, the movie is not without actual virtues. Most importantly, the director is able to conjure up a simple sense of genuine fun that is likely to carry the viewer away so that he finds himself delighted by the characters' adventures. The viewer is also sure to be thrilled by the Mahars' underground city, which is powered by streams of lava, by the creatures' strange, cackling, pig-faced, subhuman soldiers with their cute miniskirts, natty lizard-leather cuirasses, and well trimmed mutton chops, by Dr. Perry's investigations into the Mahars' unusual biology, by David's countless and often charmingly awkward fights, by Ms Munro's scanty costumes and ever glistening bosom, and by many other intriguing details besides these. The film might be silly, but if the moviegoer is able to let go of his own tendency to judge, he will find much to like.
At the Earth's Core really is one of the most fun movies I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. It is dreadful, but it is also a joy.
Review by Keith Allen
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