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Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Land Unknown (1957)

Universal originally intended The Land Unknown to be a big budget Sci-Fi extravaganza, filmed in color.  What it ended up becoming was a small budget, black and white B-movie with laugh-out-loud special effects. The plot is simple:  A crew exploring Antarctica discovers a giant crater that is home to a prehistoric world, including dinosaurs.  Where it goes from there is classic “lost world” stuff with no big surprises.

The Land Unknown is nearly impossible to rate because parts of it are very good, while other elements suffer from lack of money.  Let’s start with the good stuff:  Director Virgil W. Vogel [Tons of TV credits to his name] shot his film mostly indoors at Universal Studios and does a decent job of trying to make painted backdrops and artificial shrubbery come to life.  To the film’s credit, the backdrops are painted beautifully.  It’s the kind of stuff you just don’t see in movies anymore and it has its own special charm.

Vogel also had a great cast to work with including the electrifying Shirley Patterson [It! The Terror From Beyond Space] who plays an adventuresome scientist who, unfortunately, morphs into the stereotypical 1950’s woman who screams, faints and has to be rescued by her man.  Sigh!  I also enjoyed William Reynolds [The Thing That Couldn’t Die] who looks a bit like a young Marlon Brando and has a strong presence on screen.

I was also impressed with the soundtrack which is beautifully composed and gives this film lots of energy and emotion.  Not surprisingly, an uncredited Henri Mancini [The Pink Panther] was the man behind the music.  Perhaps he did this anonymously so that the Universal could pay him less than his usual fee.

Now the bad stuff:  OMG the dinosaurs are HORRENDOUS.  Let’s start with the classic “giant iguanas wrestling” that we’re supposed to believe are dinosaurs.  It’s classic 1950’s stuff but that doesn't mean we have to like it.  Then, bless their hearts, there’s the T-Rex that is a man in a poorly constructed rubber suit with lifeless arms and a way-too-upright posture to be a convincing a T-Rex.  The swimming Plesiosaurus is even worse and looks like a bad ride at the county fair.  I know they had a limited budget but, WOW, the dinosaurs absolutely kill this movie, and not in a good way!

So, if you like cheese, then The Land Unknown is right up your alley.  It’s a rip-roaring good time.  However, if you like serious horror you will probably mourn the fact that if this movie only had a few decent special effects it could have been a really good movie.

RATING:  Very Good - direction, acting and cinematography  Bad - special effects

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

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