Tag Archives: caroline munro

At the Earth’s Core (1976)

Well, if we’re miles beneath the surface fighting ten-foot tall telepathic pterodactyls, we must be in an Edgar Rice Burroughs story. After the big success of The Land That Time Forgot, Amicus hired actor Doug McClure to come back to London to make another Burroughs adaptation. At the Earth’s Core was first published in 1914 and was the first in a series of seven novels about Pellucidar, a gigantic land inside the hollow earth. These were hugely influential in their day, and in a very early example of crossovers in fiction, Burroughs’ most famous character, Tarzan, had an adventure in Pellucidar.

Amicus lacked the resources to make a lavish and wild adaptation of the novel, only a cramped and low-budget experience in what’s plainly a stage at Pinewood Studios. But for the kids in the audience, this is equally horrifying and thrilling. In an odd coincidence, our son was asking me about Godzilla earlier this week, and I told him that I didn’t think he’s quite ready for that kind of monster movie yet. He assured me I was wrong and that he was brave enough for Godzilla, and then the prehistoric monsters in this thing had him wide-eyed, hiding, and ready to give up.

It is kind of a shame that the villainous Mahars are such B-movie simpletons, with basic motivations and tame nastiness. The film is kind of hampered by the problem of not having any villains who speak English, but the Mahars don’t do anything that any other baddie in any other movie ever does. At one point, Doug McClure’s local tribal buddy is tied to a rock and he’s given a spear to defend his pal from a monster for the pleasure and amusement of his captors like a fight before the emperor in a coliseum. I kept waiting for the white Mahar to give a thumbs down.

I tease, but this is really an entertaining monster movie. Doug McClure is superhumanly macho, Caroline Munro is gorgeous, and Peter Cushing is amusingly absent-minded and daffy, and the monsters are all ridiculous and rubbery, but just realistic enough to shock and amaze elementary school kids. There are desperate fights, a fire-breathing dragon, twisty mountain labyrinths, quicksand, and hot lava. Amicus wanted to make a movie for boys under the age of ten, and I can’t think of a thing they skipped. They even kept the smoochy stuff to a minimum.

I don’t have much to add to that. It’s true that nothing here really stands out as worth watching for grownups in the way that you could watch The Black Hole just for the set design and music, but this isn’t a movie for grownups. It’s a movie for kids in that great time before they start scoffing at fake blood and firework explosions. If you’ve got a kid that age in your home, you really need to watch this ridiculous, lovely movie with them.

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Starcrash (1979)

There are exactly two reasons anybody ever needs to watch Starcrash. Either they’re under ten and want to see laser swords and Vader villains and exploding spaceships, or they’re over ten and want to ogle Caroline Munro while she’s wearing several ridiculous, skimpy costumes.

Well, alternately, a person could be stuck trapped on a sofa between these audiences. Poor Mommy.

Starcrash is arguably one of those projects that began its long development before Star Wars, but nobody outside the producers’ immediate families is going to defend its originality. It even opens with a shot that’s been stripped right from Wars, only while the ships in that movie looked like actual spaceships, these look like toys. All of the miniatures here look like toys with the little leftover bits from model kits glued on them and given solid white or gold spray jobs.

No, what money there was in this movie, after securing the services of Christopher Plummer, Caroline Munro, David Hasselhoff, and a bunch of other people who look like they were on a two-week furlough from the steel mill, went into the location filming. Munro plays Stella Star, a pilot and smuggler who’s been pardoned by the Emperor of the Universe and commissioned to find his missing son. The search takes her and her crew to a beach planet, an ice planet, and a volcano planet, where they get into battles with space amazons and space cavemen, before confronting the evil Count Zarth Arn, which might be the best and silliest name for any of the screen’s Vader clones.

Speaking of best and silliest actually, and you won’t believe me, but my favorite part of this movie wasn’t actually Caroline Munro in her leather space bikini and boots, but the laser guns used by Zarth Arn’s troops. They have these absurd and delightful little red crosshairs printed on the barrels of their rifles and I chuckled every time I saw them.

For our six year-old, this was serious business and he adored this film. He liked it just fine until the climactic space shootout, and told us that his favorite part was “the end, when everything went boom boom boom. I liked everything else, but I really liked it when everything went boom boom boom!” There are lots of explosions as all the extras and stuntmen shoot at each other in a set that looks about the size of our apartment, but which nevertheless somehow holds about a dozen of these little torpedo ships which crash through the living room windows of the Death Sta– I mean whatever Zarth Arn calls his space station — but that wasn’t the really big explosion.

Our son also really enjoyed this movie’s obligatory robot. This sort of movie just wouldn’t be complete without one. It’s a police robot called Elle, voiced by Hamilton Camp in a possibly Texan accent. Like C-3PO, he worries and complains about everything from water to flying a floating city, but he also guns down amazons and cavemen.

With the battle almost lost, Emperor Christopher Plummer realizes that there’s no alternative but to execute the dangerous plan of Starcrash. The other really great thing about this movie is the wonderful way that David Hasselhoff replies “Fourth dimensional attack!” You’d think that something called a fourth dimensional attack would be a little more impressive than two model kits bumping into each other, though.

Starcrash was released in America by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures after the original producers, AIP, judged it too poor a movie to bother. It’s been a cult classic for almost forty years of mocking – some friends have been shouting “Fourth dimensional attack!” at inappropriate moments since the early nineties – and it finally made its way to Mystery Science Theater 3000 three months ago. I very much doubt my wife will ever sit through this film ever again, even with Jonah, Tom Servo, and Crow to help us through it.

Incidentally, the unmistakable miniature work and silly Christmas light star systems in this film would, you’d think, be unique enough that nobody would think about using them anywhere else, but two years later, the visual effects all turned up again in a really dopey movie called Escape From Galaxy 3. It was apparently marketed in some countries as a sequel to Starcrash, but it certainly isn’t!

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The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Fifteen years after making the first, and, to most people, the definitive Sinbad movie, Ray Harryhausen was back with a movie that many seem to suggest is one of the lesser films in his career. But man alive, I think it’s terrific. It may not be as great as Jason and the Argonauts – what is? – but I enjoyed this even more than the original Sinbad movie, and John Phillip Law, who plays Sinbad in this one, is really fun.

I casually mentioned to our son before we sat down this morning that he should pay attention to two of the actors in particular. Tom Baker, of course, we’ll be seeing much more of in the future. Here, he plays the villainous Prince Koura, an evil magician with designs on the throne of Marabia and far more, and he’s really fun. At no point does Koura do anything heroic or appear as anything other than a black-hearted sorcerer. He’s completely hypnotic, and it beggars belief that he was so short of work in 1973 that he was thinking about calling it quits. Eight years later, work would be a little scarce because of typecasting and something of an industry reputation for being, shall we say, mercurial and temperamental, but every casting director in London should have been phoning him in ’73.

And then there’s Caroline Munro, and I’m planning to see her at least twice more for this blog this year, and possibly a couple more times if I decide to write about James Bond and Hammer movies down the line, when our son’s a little older. I think she was one of the most gorgeous actresses around in the seventies, and I’d watch her in anything, so it’s kind of helpful that she kept making such fun movies that decade.

One of those Hammer films was Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, which was among those films that Brian Clemens made during his brief period working in features between his TV series The Avengers and Thriller. Since Munro was under contract with Hammer at the time, Clemens was encouraged to cast her in Kronos, and was so impressed with her that while he was working on the story for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Scheer, he lobbied for her to take the lead female role. Honestly, there’s not a great deal to her part here, but she looks terrific.

The most curious casting, though, is Sinbad himself. John Phillip Law had been earmarked for greatness just a few years before this, and in 1968 alone had starred in three different cult films: Barbarella, Danger: Diabolik, and Skidoo. But while these odd films have fans today, at the time, they were all box office bombs. He was a sex symbol, but his career had stalled. This film was a hit, but it didn’t get him any meaty roles. He worked through the seventies, but mainly in cheap Italian action movies. I think it’s a shame that he didn’t come back for the next Sinbad movie four years later.

But you want to know about the special effects and what our son thought. As befits a Harryhausen movie, anything can happen here, and some of it is completely unpredictable. Other things are ever-so-gently telegraphed by what we know from previous Harryhausen films and what we’ve seen Koura do. I was unfamiliar with this movie and didn’t even look at the package art with more than a glance because I dislike spoilers so much. This wasn’t a case like Jason and the Argonauts where I spent the entire film waiting for that mob of skeletons to get reanimated. When Koura and his henchman get kidnapped by a green-painted tribe of cultists who worship Kali, they make the horrible mistake of bringing him into a cave with a ten-foot tall statue of their goddess, made of stone and with six arms. She’s there on the cover of the DVD, but that’s not why I knew she’d come to life. It’s the way the camera let me know it was coming.

Our son’s favorite monsters, meanwhile, were a pair of hideous, winged “spies,” brought to life from paper and Koura’s blood. His favorite scenes were the two bits where these creatures were killed. He especially loved seeing the second one brought down.

Overall, this whole film was one of the best and most entertaining scary experiences that he’s ever had. He says that he really liked this movie, but insists that it was not exciting. It was just plain scary, full stop. Between all of the monsters and the last-second escapes, he was in heaven, but he was also under his blanket. One thing’s for sure: he was never bored, not at all. There’s just enough humor for an occasional gag, but the stakes are pitched just perfectly for kids: abstract “good” versus “evil,” with no ramifications or subtlety. When a new pair of monsters shows up for one of the last battles, and Koura intervenes on behalf of the evil one, it’s the closest thing to a complicated allegory in the film. Otherwise it’s just wild, delicious popcorn made by a very talented team and we enjoyed it a lot.

Incidentally, there’s a very odd little bit of foreshadowing for a movie that hadn’t been made yet. Douglas Wilmer co-stars here as the magical Grand Vizier of Marabia, and wears a golden mask that completely hides his identity throughout the film. I briefly wondered why in the world you’d cast such a familiar name and face as Douglas Wilmer and then hide him under gold for a whole picture, and then I remembered that’s precisely what happened in 1980, when the makers of that Flash Gordon movie cast Peter Wyngarde as Max von Sydow’s right-hand man and hid him under gold as well! If you ever wonder why, I think they got the idea from here.

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