The Land Unknown
Behind a barrier of Antarctic ice... a paradise of hidden terrors!
Year of Release: 1957
Running Time: 78 minutes (1:18)
Director: Virgil W. Vogel
Jock Mahoney ... Commander Alan Roberts
Shirley Patterson ... Margaret Hathaway
William Reynolds ... Lt. Jack Carmen
Phil Harvey ... Steve Miller
Henry Brandon ... Dr. Carl Hunter
A Navy expedition led by Commander Hal Roberts is sent to explore a mysterious warm-water region shrouded in the ice of Antarctica. When a fierce storm drives them into a cloud bank, their helicopter is disabled. Descending through the heavy fog into a deep chasm, they encounter a hot, tropical landscape of prehistoric terror! Untouched by the Ice Age and the imprint of time and evolution, a 20th century Mesozoic era awaits them, complete with ferocious dinosaurs and carnivorous plants.
While trying to repair their helicopter and forage for food, they discover they are not alone. The only female among them, journalist Margaret Hathaway is captured by the sole survivor of a previous expedition. Driven to madness by isolation and the terrors of life in the primordial jungle, this desperate man may be their only hope of escape from The Land Unknown.
The Land Unknown, remindin' us that search and rescue efforts may prove ineffective when flying above the cloud layer.
And speakin' of things that continue to elude detection, if anybody out there has a drive shaft for a 1982 Firebird - please get in touch with Edgar Mastrude and free me from the chauffeur's hell in which I currently find myself.
You folks know I'm not normally one to complain, but last Tuesday I hadda drive Bambi and Rowdy all the way to Mulepiddle County for the kid's wrestlin' meet, and I dunno what the little bastard did to the rear defroster, but now it only thaws a small section of glass that just happens to form a middle finger. Actually, I kinda admire his ingenuity, but as a practical matter it's a royal pain in the ass tryna back outta the Gutter Bowl parkin' lot with only 10" of visibility.
What's more, I have no idea who took a look at Rowdy's permanent record and decided puttin' im in simulated combat with anything short of a Terminator was gonna do good things for the school's reputation and/or liability insurance, but then the only time anybody ever asked me anything at an official school function it was to "leave quietly without further incident."
'Course Bambi made me stop at this fuelin' station called The Gas Chamber for a 72oz Bladder Buster from the soda fountain - resultin' in me havin' to stop three MORE times so she could release it back to its natural habitat, and suffice to say, by the time we got to the meet I was just a little hacked off.
"Better get goin', kid. Thanks to your mama and 'er Pepsi challenged plumbin' you've got about seven minutes to suit up," I grumbled.
"Don'tchu talk like that in front of my baby, you miserable sack of skank bait!" Bambi snarled roughly three-quarters of an inch from my face.
"Go on in honey, we'll be right behind ya. You just remember what I told ya and you'll do great," she smiled sweetly, beaming with white trash pride.
"What exactly *did* you tell him?" I asked, rubbin' the place Bambi'd grabbed me in an effort to drive her point home.
"To pretend the other boy owes him money," she grinned
I thought about tellin' 'er that kinda advice was likely to result in a second kid in juvie, but decided I'd rather keep the use of my wangdoodle and started lookin' for a parkin' spot adjacent to the nurse's station.
Now, I admit, I don't know a whole lot about the kinda wrestlin' where the object isn't to hit people with foldin' chairs while the referee's distracted by your surgically enhanced valet, but I can still recognize biased officiatin' when I see it, and I just wanna go on record as sayin' the steroid monkey refereein' these matches was crooked as a set of Ozark Mountain dentition. All them Mulepiddle boys were gettin' away with elbows, hair pullin', even the occasional bite, and although I didn't really care who won one way or another, a guy can only watch that kinda crapola for so long before he gets emotionally invested.
"Oh for cripes' sake! You chunkheaded, shrunken junked, sasquatchian fight fixer! Stevie Wonder coulda seen that rabbit punch! Pull yer cleftskull outta yer ass or get somebody with a little integrity out here! Don King's calendar's WIDE open!" I hollered from the bleachers.
Rowdy managed to pin the second kid decisively enough that even Referee Pills Lane couldn't avoid layin' the count on 'im, but by that point Rowdy'd taken so many cheap shots and hadda work so much harder'n his opponents that he had a Michelin Man-sized case of the rubber legs and things were lookin' pretty bleak goin' into his third match, so I decided to go down there and give 'im a little pep talk.
"I dunno where this sportsmanship crap came from alla the sudden, but the next kid's big enough to beat you clean, kid. We gotta even the odds here," I said as I passed 'im a salt packet from The Gas Chamber's condiment counter.
"Coach said that if you lose your cool you lose the match," Rowdy shook his head, handin' the packet back.
"That's uncharacteristically zen for a guy who once threw a bowlin' ball at someone for belchin' durin' his approach," I replied skeptically.
"Yeah, well, you did that on purpose," Rowdy chided.
"Look, this ain't about me. You gotta--" I started sayin'.
"I can't beat him! His dad's the referee!" he finally clarified.
Of course he was, I shoulda realized sooner. Chalk it up to high blood pressure, those jalapeno poppers from The Gas Chamber, or just bein' stuck in a car with Bambi Mastrude for an hour, but suddenly it all made sense. Goddamned Bro-Magnon was livin' vicariously through his offspring - well, that tore it.
"Alright, new gameplan. When the match starts, there's gonna be a brief commotion from right over there where your mom'n I're sittin'. There won't be a soul watchin' you, includin' Prince Kong over there, so when everyone turns to see what's goin' on, floor the punk. I don't care how ya do it," I instructed before headin' back to my seat.
Maybe it was wrong to sabotage a middle schooler's shot at glory, I mean, it wasn't the kid's fault his dad was cheatin' on his behalf due to his inability to sire another heir as a result of roid-induced impotence, but I'll tell ya somethin' - you stick me in a car and force me to listen to Bambi sing every song from ABBA's Greatest Hits album and somebody's gonna hafta pay the piper. So, with the 45 seconds I had before the bell, I went over the plan with Bambi, she agreed, and just as the match began she belted me as hard as she could.
"Get OFF me you pervert!" Bambi screamed, blastin' me with a roundhouse right and sendin' me sprawlin' two rungs closer to the gym floor and into the backs of an elderly couple in the process of splittin' a footlong chili dog.
Just as I'd hoped, the entire gymnasium, includin' the ref and his kid, spun around to see what'd happened and Rowdy grabbed daddy's boy and head-butted 'im right in the nose, droppin' 'im like an anchor baby on the Arizona border and allowin' Rowdy to score the slowest 3-count in history after the entire crowd turned back around and stared at dear ole dad until he had no choice but to do his job. I'd like to take credit for this stroke of genius, but the real heroes here are Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart, so if you're readin' this, go ahead and take a bow, guys.
I hadda hide in the backseat of the Topaz while the Chickawalka boys celebrated to avoid havin' my spleen ripped out by a P.O.'d gorilla in a zebra print tank top, but Bambi was so happy she didn't even try to grope my gear shifter on the way home, so I have no regrets. Well, 'cept buyin' 'er another drum of pop on the way home that caused a drain delay every time I hit a pothole and hadda stop to let 'er water another sagebrush bush. I also regret not drivin' off while she was squatted in a ditch doin' 'er business, but that's it.
After bein' surrounded by frothing, loudmouth helicopter parents all I wanted to do was scrub the Hormel residue outta my hair and catch a creature feature, so I nuked the leftover greaseburgers Juanita wrapped up for me from Saturday night at the Grime Time, rolled Apollo outta my butt divot, and stuffed The Land Unknown into the VCR. This one can't really compete with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth or One Million Years B.C. in the fur-kini department 'cause it was the 1950s and back then we were all still pretendin' we didn't wanna see stone-age appendages so God wouldn't get upset and do anything drastic like turn us into pillars of salt or zap us over to New Jersey. Fortunately, what it lacks in cave babe cleavage it makes up for in Championship Lizard Wrestlin', and I think you'll find that, without Raquel Welch and Victoria Vetri hangin' around threatenin' to spill outta their prehistoric push-up bras, it's a lot easier to soak up all the subtle saurian subtext comin' atcha - stuff like this, for instance. First, if you travel back in time far enough it does eventually become possible to find a sexy woman named Margaret. Second, cockfighting was a lot more interestin' 100 million years ago before evolution turned the dinosaurs into feathered alarm clocks. And third, either maintain a sensible distance or be prepared to find out why the helicopter was given the nickname "chopper."
The movie begins at a seminar about the recent discovery of a temperate hot spring at the south pole that's on the verge of transitioning into a timeshare pitch until this foxy lady (Maggie) walks in and Captain Carnie Val Barker hasta call a recess while the janitor mops up everybody's drool. Before Maggie's presence can shift the purpose of the gathering from Arctic exploration into a riot over the Navy's inadequate shore leave policy, the Captain starts up a short film featurin' an Iditarod trainin' montage and test footage of experimental X-Games military planes snowboardin' around the Arctic wastelands before finally comin' to the point and providin' proof of the existence of Baja Antarctica. Entrusted with the care and feeding of Maggie on this mission to explore the paradox is the Naval Intelligence Corps (Commander Alan Roberts, Lt. Jack Carmen, and mechanic Steve Miller), a responsibility bestowed upon them on the basis that ice, when properly thawed, falls under their jurisdiction. Also all the other branches of the military're off protectin' America from Communist scum and don't have time to fart around on field trips where there ain't anybody to shoot. Next thing, the expedition goes plowin' through the continental ice sheet like Motley Crue through a hotel room fulla groupies till they're close enough to launch a helicopter and buzz Burgess Meredith and Danny Devito's family reunion for funzies, only after awhile the Frigidaire General orders 'em back to base 'cause there's a storm comin' and President Eisenhower needs the copter back ASAP to deport some particularly stubborn Mexicans hidin' out in Minnesota. Too late though, 'cause the Sikorsky's already passed the point of freezer burn and by now they're bein' flanked by hostile pterodactyl border guards that force 'em down into a crater with enough swamp gas to explain away every UFO sightin' from here to Amsterdam. While Steve surveys the damage, Alan and Maggie go explorin' and durn'near get eaten by some prehistoric kudzu before realizin' the reason the place's so muggy is due to volcanic activity bubblin' up from beneath the surface like a hot tub after all-you-can-eat chili night at Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks.
The Frost World ain't all it's cracked up to be and nobody's real keen on stickin' around to peer review Arthur Conan Doyle's notes, but when Steve tries repairin' the damage to their whirlybird spinarooni unit he ends up breakin' it 'cause he missed the day in shop class where guest lecturer M.C. Hammer discussed the finer points of stopping to determine when it is, and is not, hammer time. The next mornin' another Mesozoic rooster-in-progress flies overhead screechin' its unsolicited wake-up call throughout The Land Before Timex, only this one flies a little too close to the ground and gets mangled by a hungover Grouchasaurus who proceeds to pick a fight with his roommate and next thing ya know we got a coupla riled reptiles rollin' all over the jungle tryna chomp each other's brains. It's durn near impossible to get any sleep with all that ruckus goin' on, and this rumble rouses the mighty Fraudzilla, who decides to crash the party and chase the mammalian menace back to the chopper, only he gets a little too close for comfort and Jack hasta kick the copter's rotor blade on and hack off a slab of primordial rib till Rex gives up. A few weeks go by and the crew start findin' Dinty Moore cans strewn all over the place like somebody scooped up a homeless encampment and relocated it down here so middle America wouldn't hafta feel uncomfortable passin' by on the way to their Audis, 'cept while the guys're tryna figure out what happened to their Beanie Weenie stash the lizard of Oz busts up their investigation and distracts 'em long enough for a homely erectus to snatch Maggie and escape in his wicker Aroliner. Turns out the Joe Magnon with the bamboo bass boat (Hunter) is the sole survivor of a previous expedition, and he's just been hangin' out in his Bedrock bungalow for the last ten years waitin' for the postal service to deliver his mail-order mamacita so he'll have somebody to wash his breechcloth. Hunter's pretty easy to locate with the scent of skink tartare waftin' outta his Cretacean condo, but when the guys arrive to give 'im a tarpit swirlie he offers to trade the spare parts from his own downed craft in exchange for Maggie's cockpit. Jack and Steve wanna take the offer but Alan's gettin' unmistakable New York Mets/Bobby Bonilla vibes from this supposed bargain and tells Hunter to go gather some poison ivy and stuff it up his throwback butthole.
'Course after another month of bein' chased around by Mondo Gecko and havin' 'er gams groped by Lovecraftian tentacle trees, Maggie starts havin' thoughts of female chivalry and decides to go flog the trog's hog to secure her companions' escape. This seems rational enough, but when she starts paddlin' over to Hunter's lodge the Schloch Ness Monster surfaces and Hunter hasta come blow into this conch shell that sounds like Louis Armstrong havin' a brain aneurism in the middle of "You Rascal You" to scare it away, only it don't work and he ends up havin' to make like Saint George and ram all his mosquito repellin' tiki torches down the monster's throat till its tongue gets scorched like a teenager poppin' Totinos pizza rolls straight outta the oven. Steve notices what's goin' on from the far shore and climbs into Hunter's hut to reclaim the booty, but Hunter lights an American Gladiators pugil stick on the hibachi grill he keeps in the livin' room and the two of 'em joust with torches until Steve gets the upper hand and starts usin' Hunter's torso as an ashtray tryna make 'im give up the location of the stolen helicopter parts. When Alan makes it over to the cave and sees what's goin' on he throttles Steve and goes into Smokey the Bear mode before Hunter's chest hair ignites and burns the entire forest to the ground. Hunter's grateful for the continued use of his internal organs and decides to hand over a map to the chopper parts even though he now realizes his chiseled jaw and Jurassic parka are no match for the straight-edged charms of Alan. Unfortunately, before the guys're able to get the replacement oscillizer hummin', the osteoporosis stricken Grannysaurus Rex creaks 'er way over to the copter as they're tryna take off, stymying any chance of escape or amiable diplomatic solution to the conflict between man and saurian. Gonna pull the plug on this diarrhetic diatribe right here before the endin' gets blabbed, but I will confirm that we ain't seen the last of Nessie yet, and she's still in the mood for a manburger and femme thighs.
Alrighty, the old volcanic thermal pocket hidden in the Antarctic ice allowing dinosaurs to carry on free from detection millions of years past their expiration date trick - take THAT science. Fooled every last one of you eggheads. 'Course, if we're gonna give a pass to the idea that evolution stood still for a hundred million years, does it really matter where the dinosaurs've been hangin' out all that time? Doyle had 'em on an isolated plateau in South America that we'd just never noticed before, so if we're gonna be plot Nazis lets at least be consistent and talk about what a hack that try-hard was too. Go ahead, I dare ya. Try pitchin' that assessment to your British Literature professor and see where it gets ya. It's no Lost World, but in the early planning stages, The Land Unknown was originally envisioned as a big budget picture with state-of-the-art special effects and color film. Unfortunately, Universal decided the movie goin' public of America hadn't been good boys and girls that year and gave us Marshmallow Mateys instead of the Lucky Charms they promised. That said, if you've seen The Beast of Hollow Mountain you know color film isn't a silver bullet that's gonna fix every problem, but once you're familiar with the backstory, watchin' The Land Unknown can be a bummer if you spend too much time dwellin' on what might have been. You could do a lot worse, but as a general rule you want either Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animation bringin' the dinosaurs to life or titles that don't take themselves especially seriously like Caveman, Planet of Dinosaurs, or Dinosaurus. In those days the best strategy for this subgenre was to either go big or go camp, because in-betweeners like this flick tend to slip through the cracks despite serviceable production values.
In any event, let's go ahead and excavate these fossils and find out how well they've held up against the elements. The premise, as I mentioned earlier, is every bit as plausible as radiation creating colossal creatures or just about any other Macguffin utilized in 1950s cinema, so if you're gonna quibble about it, at least be consistent. I'm not gonna pick that particular fight, but it hasta be acknowledged that there ain't a whole lot goin' on in this movie, and it prolly woulda been a good idea to shave about 10 minutes and introduce the character of Hunter sooner than they did, 'cause until he joins the story we basically we got four people squishin' around the jungle waitin' to be rescued. It's like the prehistoric equivalent of watchin' somebody try to pass time in the airport after their connectin' flight to Cincinnati gets canceled.
The acting is solid despite minimal character development for our plain wrap heroes, though it does warrant mentioning that the writer took the unusual (and for the time, original) approach of making the female character the chivalrous one, as she offers up her own freedom in exchange for a means of escape for the rest of her shipwrecked comrades. It must also be said that it's highly atypical for a majority of the male crew members to agree to such terms in order to save their own skins, considering a move like that was, and is, always seen as being both immoral and cowardly. So despite the cast being somewhat one-dimensional, it can at least be said that many of its members play against their archetypes in a way that doesn't conform to audience expectations and even build a little added suspense as a bonus. Henry Brandon stands out as the marooned, wild-eyed Dr. Hunter who's plainly seen some shit since his copter went down in a real bad neighborhood, but everyone else is merely adequate.
Heres who matters and why: Shirley Patterson (World Without End, It! The Terror from Beyond Space), William Reynolds (The Thing That Couldn't Die, Cult of the Cobra), Henry Brandon (Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, The War of the Worlds 1953, Buck Rogers 1939), Douglas Kennedy (The Amazing Transparent Man, The Alligator People, Invaders from Mars 1953, The Ghost Breakers), Phil Harvey (The Deadly Mantis, Monster on the Campus, The Thing That Couldn't Die, The Monolith Monsters), Ralph Brooks (The Angry Red Planet, It Came from Outer Space, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, The Black Castle, Hold that Ghost), George Calliga (The Fly 1958, The 27th Day, Abbott and Costell Meet the Mummy, Cult of the Cobra, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man), Tom Coleman (The Unknown Terror, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Scared Stiff 1953, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Rocketship X-M, Spook Busters, Zombies on Broadway, The Invisible Man Returns), Kenner G. Kemp (Ben, Marooned, The Strangler, Tales of Terror, The Lost World 1960, A Bucket of Blood 1959, The Brain from Planet Arous, Them!, The Maze, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Scared Still 1953, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Destination Moon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939), Bing Russell (Satan's School for Girls, A Taste of Evil, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, The Deadly Mantis, Tarantula, Cult of the Cobra), Bert Stevens (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Lost World 1960, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, The Colossus of New York, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Revenge of the Creature, Phantom of the Rue Morgue, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Maze, The War of the Worlds 1953, The Black Castle, Red Planet Mars, When Worlds Collide, Lost Continent 1951, Rocketship X-M, I Married a Witch).
Mainstream credits: Jock Mahoney (Yancy Derringer on the TV series of the same name, The Range Rider on the TV series of the same name), William Reynolds (Ned Scott in All that Heaven Allows, Agent Tom Colby on The F.B.I.), Henry Brandon (Scar in The Searchers, Silas Barnaby in March of the Wooden Soldiers, Chaney in Assault on Precinct 13), Douglas Kennedy (Steve Donovan on Steve Donovan, Western Marshal), Phil Harvey (Blaine in Touch of Evil), Bing Russell (Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza).
The special effects are without question the thing holding this flick back from obtaining a better reputation, and this is entirely due to the film's budget falling short of its ambition. One look at the Tyrannosaurus and Elasmosaurus (that's the water critter for the folks without Paleontology degrees) makes it clear that the effects crew had high hopes, and while there are some shots where they don't look all that bad, the process just wasn't in place to make believable dinosaurs without the use of stop motion animation. Additionally, the strings used to animate the man-eating plant and model helicopters are often visible, and unfortunately, there're quite a few sequences where the toy helicopter is unmistakable as being just that. The monitor lizard brawl, on the other hand, while distasteful (animals were very clearly harmed in the making of this film), is actually really effective, as they managed to get the forced perspective just about perfect. The composite shots and rear projection blending human castmembers with the monsters are also well-executed for the time, and in spite of the mediocre work on the dinosaurs I feel it's worth mentioning that the crew could have just scrapped them and pulled the old sillhouette routine and not shown the dinosaurs in order to save face, but that's not what happened. We paid for monsters, and by God they delivered monsters, so even though the movie is gonna take a hit from a technical perspective, it more than makes up for that ding in entertainment value.
The sets were constructed on the Universal lot, and although they're a bit small, the matte paintings match up perfectly and help to create a more expansive world. It looks as though a good portion of the budget was likely expended in this area because limited as some sections may be, it couldn't have been cheap after the inclusion of so much water. With the exception of the opening that takes place inside a situation room and the subsequent aircraft carrier sequence, the only enclosed set is Hunter's cave, and while basic and minimalist, it benefits from the black and white photography and works well enough. The stock footage is hit and miss, with the ship's journey to the Antarctic coming across as both contemporary to, and congruent with, the crew's voyage across the sea. The wildlife film with the seals and penguins looks much more dated and suffers from film scratches present in no other part of the movie and consequently were not a wise inclusion; particularly given their irrelevance to the story. Still, a commendable effort by the production designer and construction crew, and much better than you'd expect if your only point of reference for the movie are stills of the creatures.
The soundtrack, for which there are no credits, bears an uncanny resemblance to the music from This Island Earth, and the IMDB seems to confirm this as a possibility with all three composers of the This Island Earth soundtrack also being listed as contributors to The Land Unknown. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of 65-year-old film scores, but if these aren't all direct steals from the music used in that film, they could be tracks that were composed for it and simply not used. Two of those composers were Henry Mancini and Hans Salter, whose combined works include around 400 compositions. Mancini was responsible for the tunes from The Pink Panther, Peter Gunn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Wait Until Dark, as well as lower budget fair like Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Monolith Monsters, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space, The Thing That Couldn't Die, Nightwing, and Lifeforce. Salter, meanwhile, contributed music to numerous Universal classic monster movies, such as The Mummy's Hand, Man Made Monster, The Wolf Man, Son of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. It's still a soundtrack from a 1950s monster movie, but it does succeed in producing respectable atmosphere, particularly during the creature attack scenes where they crank the brass section and drums up to eleven.
Overall, with the exception of the special effects, The Land Unknown is technically sound and entertains both intentionally, and at times, unintentionally. I think if they'd shaved five to ten minutes from the running time that might have nudged it up to a passing grade, but despite falling a little short, it's still watchable and deserves a larger audience than it has garnered to date. Hopefully Turner Classic Movies is currently, or will eventually, give this flick a little airtime 'cause it's not a bad way to spend 78 minutes on a Sunday afternoon.