Monday, June 11, 2018

Dino Flicks: The Land Unknown (1957)

This is an instance where the poster is better.
Yet again, I have to mention Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies as being where I first heard of this film; however, unlike a lot of the other movies I saw in that compilation when I was a really little kid, this one, even at that age, never impressed me. There were so many other movies featured on that tape that looked so much more interesting and cooler (whether or not they lived up to their individual trailers, though, is a whole other story), whereas this felt very generic and run-of-the-mill, in spite of the fact that this was long before I knew what those terms meant. I think the fact that it was featured very late in the compilation really hurt it, not to mention how, coming off of titles like The Lost World and The Land That Time Forgot, its very name felt underwhelming and so-so. It also didn't help that the creatures featured in the trailer were the definition of lackluster: a very sorry-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex (after I'd seen Jurassic Park, no dinosaur from early films was ever going to top that anyway, but that Cretaceous schmuck didn't stand a chance in hell), a couple of monitor lizards made to look gigantic (which I'd already seen in that trailer for the 1960 version of The Lost World) and which the trailer actually refers to as "Stegosauri," an okay Elasmosaurus, a brief glimpse of Pterodactyl, and a big, tentacled man-eating plant that I couldn't have cared less about. I saw a lot of the movies featured on that tape over the years, both when I was still fairly young and during my junior- and high-school years, but The Land Unknown was not high on my list of priorities at all. In fact, the only reason I ended up seeing it at all was because it's one of the movies featured in the Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection DVD set, which I bought in the summer of 2008, mainly so I could have movies like Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, and Monster on the Campus on DVD and to see others like Doctor Cyclops and The Monolith Monsters for the first time. When I did watch it, I was far from impressed and that opinion hasn't changed at all since. I debated about whether or not to make this an installment of Movies That Suck, as this is definitely not a favorite of mine and not one that I watch that often, but I ultimately decided not to, as it's not a movie that made me angry or was completely unwatchable, but it's not a good movie by any means. Not only are the monsters "bleh" and the low-budget painfully apparent in the effects and the sets, but the characters are some of the worst examples of how bland and unengaging people in these movies can be, there's no excitement whatsoever, and the story does nothing to make me care. It's a very vapid movie all-around, one that, even at just 78 minutes, far overstays its welcome.

The American Navy is mounting a geological and meteorological expedition to the South Pole, one of the objectives of which is to explore an unusually warm oasis that was first discovered in 1947. Accompanying geophysicist Commander Alan Roberts and helicopter pilot Lt. Jack Carmen on the dicey trip will be Margaret "Maggie" Hathaway, a lovely reporter for the Oceanic Press. The expedition departs that December, but the unexpected volume of the ice that their freighter has to plow through puts them behind by two weeks. The finally arrive at the beginning of February and Roberts, Carmen, and Maggie, along with machinist's mate Steve Miller, take off in a helicopter to explore the oasis. However, not long after they arrive, Carmen gets a message from the ship that there's a storm approaching and they must return at once. On the way back, they come across the storm front and, with no other alternative, Carmen is forced to ignore orders and try to fly through a break in the clouds in order to get around the storm. While doing so, a large, winged creature slams into the helicopter and sends them plummeting down far below sea level, where the temperature shoots up to 91 degrees and the air becomes extremely humid. They finally land in a misty, jungle-like landscape, which Roberts theorizes is due to heat from a volcano remaining suspended in the air. Carmen and Miller try to make repairs to the helicopter but are unsuccessful; even worse, they can't get through to headquarters on the radio and the battery is running low. They're forced to stay the night, and the next day, they hear a search plane flying overhead but the cloud cover keeps them hidden and the radio is too weak to contact them with. Before long, they discover that the lack of climate change has kept the place's inhabitants just as they were millions of years before: deadly, prehistoric monsters. Moreover, there's another man there: Dr. Carl Hunter, the lone survivor of a 1945 expedition, who has become wild and savage over time and covets Maggie. He offers to tell them the location of the plane wreckage from his expedition, which contains parts necessary to repair the helicopter, but only if they leave Maggie with him. They refuse, but when they repeatedly fail to find the wreckage themselves, they realize they're running out of time, as the expedition will leave at the end of the month and another may not be dispatched for years.

The Land Unknown was originally meant to be a big, A-level movie, shot in color and with a much larger cast of characters (kind of like what Irwin Allen would do with his remake of The Lost World a few years later). What's more, the director was meant to be Jack Arnold, Universal's go-to science fiction director who, at that point, had done profitable flicks like It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, and Tarantula, and had just come off of The Incredible Shrinking Man, a considerable critical and commercial success and often considered his best film. By all accounts, Arnold did start pre-production work on the film when, all of a sudden, Universal considerably slashed the budget (actor William Reynolds once said it was because they spent so much money in creating the Elasmosaurus prop), forcing them to shoot it in black-and-white instead and to pare down the cast. The film was still ultimately shot in CinemaScope, which does give it some feel of prestige, and the black-and-white looks really nice, but it was clearly no longer the epic that everyone thought it would be and, as a result, Arnold withdrew.

To replace Arnold, Universal chose Virgil Vogel, who'd started out as an editor in the 1940's, doing work on films like The Invisible Man, Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, and This Island Earth, and had made his directorial debut the year before with The Mole People. That movie was okay for what it was (I'd say it's better than this) but was also clear evidence that, as a director, Vogel would be nothing more than adequately competent and, as such, the low-budget and bland actors of The Land Unknown prevented him from making anything other than a movie that's very underwhelming. Movie-wise, Vogel only directed a handful: after The Land Unknown, he did a Swedish-American film called Space Invasion of Lapland that was reedited and released in the U.S. as Invasion of the Animal People, but after a 1965 movie called The Sword of Ali Baba, he left features entirely and spent the rest of his career working in television. He'd begun to work in television before, most notably on Wagon Train, but he'd go on to work very steadily all the way up to his death in 1996 at the age of 76, directing for shows like Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Police Story, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., Miami Vice, Quantum Leap, and Walker, Texas Ranger, just to name a few.

It's a good thing this movie has a small cast because I'm going to be struggling to come up with anything to say about this bland group of non-entities. Even though he's meant to be a geophysicist, Commander Alan Roberts (Jock Mahoney) knows an awful lot about the nature of the dinosaurs they come across in the titular setting, as well as the specific era in history it's stuck in and where the other animals in the place stand. He's also one of the most uninteresting, emotionless leads I think I've ever seen in one of these movies. Just about everything he says is in this same dull-sounding voice, even when he's trying to be the voice of reason, telling the other men when they're attempting to violently force Carl Hunter to tell them where the plane is that they're not going to get out that way, and when he's trying to be an authority figure and keep morale up, even sometimes doing so by outright lying. He himself never breaks down or loses his humanity, even just a little bit, making him feel even more like a robot. Besides their predictable and not at all believable romance, there's some sort of rapport between him and Maggie Hathaway, where she's trying to loosen him up from being overly scientific and analytical about everything, such as in this early exchange: "A few things, I can be quite romantic about." "Name one." "Well, women." "Oh?" "For example, although I know, basically, women consist mostly of water, with a few pinches of salt, and metals thrown in, you have a very unsalt-like and non-metallic effect." "I give in." If it's trying to lay the foundation for chemistry between them, it's failing miserably and just making me roll my eyes at how corny and badly played it is. (Incidentally, even though he's always called Alan, the character's first name is credited as "Harold," with a nickname of "Hal," in the closing cast list.)

Margaret "Maggie" Hathaway (Shawn Smith, whose real name was Shirley Patterson) is another uninteresting caricature of a person: the typical spunky, go-getter type of female reporter who thinks she's up for whatever they encounter at the South Pole but, when they end up in the Land Unknown, she becomes nothing more than a damsel-in-distress. She seems more interested in getting to know the men she'll be joining on the expedition (she even tells Captain Burnham when he offers to introduce her, "I always love to meet me,") than doing her job, especially Commander Alan Roberts, whose steely, analytical facade she repeatedly attempts to crack through in order to get closer to him. Once they get stranded, she has all the time she could ever want to do so, as she finds herself needing to be rescued not only from the dinosaurs but also from the crazed Carl Hunter, who covets her and intends to make her the bargaining chip in the others' escaping before it's too late (her first interaction with Hunter does show some intelligence on her part, as she engages with him in order to distract him when he sees the others coming to her rescue). Despite the love affair that develops between her and Roberts, as the days dwindle and they're unable to find the wreck themselves, Maggie decides to give herself up to Hunter to ensure that the others escape. While Lt. Carmen and Steve Miller have no qualms about that, Roberts is staunchly against, prompting Maggie to break away from him and go to Hunter herself, almost getting killed by an Elasmosaurus in the process. Ultimately, after Roberts stops Carmen and Miller from torturing Hunter into talking and he then gives them a map to the wreck, she stays with him and nurses his wounds from a fight between him and Miller. Despite Hunter still wanting to keep her for himself, he ultimately takes her to the helicopter once it's fixed, which leads to him being whisked out of the valley himself. On the way home, Maggie and Roberts talking about another expedition to the South Pole the next year, this time as a "honeymoon." Maggie says it wouldn't be possible, adding, "Who'd stay home with the baby?", which I think is meant to suggest that she's pregnant, as she then mentions something about "this time next year" before embracing Roberts in a passionate kiss. But, like I said before, I couldn't care less if I tried.


Lt. Jack Carmen (William Reynolds), the helicopter pilot whose attempt to fly around a storm front ends up stranding them to begin with (it's not intentional, of course, but regardless), is initially smitten with Maggie when he first meets her at the briefing in Washington, telling her, "Ma'am, you just say the word, and I'll fly you up to the moon." But once they end up stranded, with no way to contact or signal any passing planes, and their open window to escape narrows more and more, he seems to suggest that he's willing to allow Maggie to go with Hunter. He doesn't come out and demand it but he does tell Roberts at one point that they should let her make up her own mind when he continues to refuse Hunter's ultimatum. And he's also not above allowing Steve Miller to torture Hunter to get him to reveal the wreck's location, the two of them only backing off when Roberts intervenes. Miller (Phil Harvey), the machinist, is the member of the group who starts to panic and crack early on, after his attempt to straighten a bent tube in the helicopter's rotor ends up breaking it. He attempts to use the radio to contact headquarters behind everyone's back, which uses up more of the battery and leads to Carmen's being unable to contact the passing search plane the next day (a mistake he never confesses to), he's freaked out by the sight of a dead Pterodactyl while he's out looking for fresh water, he begins to blame Maggie for their impending deaths when they're unable to find the wreck, and he gets into a fight with Hunter, intending to use a lit torch to torture him into telling them where the wreck is. Again, Roberts' intervention is the only thing that keeps him from going through with it, and afterward, when Hunter surrenders the map to the wreckage, Miller uses one of the parts to make the necessary repairs to the helicopter.

The one character who is kind of interesting is Dr. Carl Hunter (Henry Brandon), the lone survivor of a previous expedition who's been living in the valley for over ten years and, after everything he's been through, has become cruel, savage, and half-insane. The first sign of his presence is a bizarre, horn-like sound that drives away the Tyrannosaurus Rex when he's about to attack the group's helicopter, which is later revealed to be a large shell Hunter uses (he blows through it and uses the noise to keep the dinosaurs at bay), and when they then find that their food supplies have been ransacked and stolen. His first appearance is when he kidnaps Maggie when she gets separated from the men during an attack and takes her to a cliff-side cave he lives in on the other side of a stretch of water. When Maggie awakens and is faced by him, she discovers that he's the one who stole their food and he cruelly says, "The whole valley is mine. Everything in it belongs to me, including you." He also lies to her and tells her that the monsters killed her friends, but she then sees that's not true when she looks outside and sees them coming to save her. When she talks to him in order to stall for time, Hunter proves how crazed he is when, upon being asked how long he's been in the valley, "Time has no meaning when you have nothing to wait for," and then, how he's been able to survive, "Not on charity or pity or the nobleness of the soul. I survive because I'm the fittest to survive, because I've learned how to kill efficiently... It's my intelligence that keeps me alive, and in control of this land. The big beasts are stupid. They kill when they're hungry. But I plan murder ahead... Their eggs. I destroy their eggs... And those I permit to live, I control with this [the shell]. The sound frightens them... That's how I rule them." He then assaults Maggie and tries to take advantage of her, but she's saved by the other men when they find the cave. Once they calm him down and get him talk, Hunter reveals that he just barely remembers who he is and how he got there, having to actually stop and think about it to remember. After he does, he reveals to them that he's taken their broken push-pull tube and, knowing what their trouble is, tells them of the parts left over from his wrecked plane. He offers to tell them where it is, if they leave Maggie with him, which they immediately refuse.



As they're leaving after refusing him, saying that they'll find the wreck without his help, Hunter angrily yells, "Maybe you will if you aren't trampled to death first or eaten alive or die of starvation. Wait till the Antarctic night comes and for nine months the black air hangs round you like a rotten rag and your eyes are blinded from the dark and from your own sweat, and you lose each other and you're alone! Alone, do you hear me?! Always alone." (Needless to say, Hunter gets the best lines and Brandon delivers them really well, managing to come across as the only actor who looks like he's actually trying.) While the others look for the wreck, he goes about his business, smashing the dinosaurs' eggs and using the shell to fend off any that threaten him, as well as saving Maggie from a man-eating plant. He's then surprised later on when she voluntarily comes to him and has to contend with an Elasmosaurus to get her, but manages to take her back to his cave. That's when Steve Miller, himself half out of his mind and desperate to get away, attacks him and, after a bloodthirsty struggle between the two of them, threatens him with a torch to make him tell where the wreck is. Hunter, prepared to be defiant to the end, simply says, "You're gonna rot here," but Alan Roberts stops Miller from burning him. That's when Hunter, apparently disgusted by their compassion, says he doesn't need their help or pity and gives them a map to the wreck, telling them to go and leave him alone. In spite of this attitude, Maggie decides to stay with Hunter and continue nursing his wounds while they go to the wreck. In a small, hidden cave that contains the parts, the men also find the graves of Hunter's three comrades, indicating that he was forced to bury them after the crash. Once they get helicopter up and running, Maggie decides to go to them but Hunter tries again to make her stay with him. When he has to save her again from the Elasmosaurus, though, Hunter acquiesces and rows her to the helicopter on his raft. He's then prepared to head back to his lair but the Elasmosaur attacks again and knocks him into the water, chasing him down before knocking him unconscious with his flipper. This prompts Johnson to dive out of the copter after hitting the Elasmosaur in the mouth with a flare and save Hunter. They take him with them back to civilization and Hunter, awakening en route, is initially shocked by this but quickly becomes quite happy at the prospect.

I don't know why, since he does nothing significant, but I'll also quickly mention Captain Burnham (Douglas R. Kennedy), the commanding officer of the expedition and who's the first character we meet at the beginning, as he's giving everyone a briefing, remarking, "Your goal, gentlemen: Antarctica. Five million square miles of terra incognate, but your job to make it just a little less incognate." He's the one who introduces Maggie to Commander Roberts and Lt. Carmen, as well as warns her of the danger involved in the expedition, particularly with her being the only woman among 800 men, but when she reminds him that she spent three months in Korea, he says, "In that case, Ms. Hathaway, I think you've had excellent basic training." When they end up being delayed by the sheer thickness of the ice they have to get through, Burnham warns everyone that they'll have to keep up for long time by pushing themselves, and he becomes concerned about the group getting back in time when he learns of the approaching snowstorm during their flight to the oasis.





On a technical level, there are only two compliments I can give this film: one, the black-and-white photography is very slick-looking (around this time, even low-budget studio movies often managed to at least look nice), and two, the use of CinemaScope helps to make it feel like it has more of a pedigree than it actually does. Other than that, the limited budget is very, very obvious. I'm not going to rag on this movie for the extensive use of stock footage during the first act when they're traveling to the South Pole and flying to the oasis, as a lot of other movies around this time, including some that I like, did that, and I understand there was no other way they could get the shots they needed, but the cheapness is apparent in other ways, particularly how they often reuse shots and try to alter them to make them look different (I'll point out some examples in the scene breakdown). Sometimes, they don't even seem to try to disguise it: for instance, there's a moment early on, when they first end up in the valley, where Maggie and Roberts are having a look around and the former gets close to a large, man-eating plant that slowly begins to reach for her. She never notices it this time but, later on, after they've been there for a while, there's a moment where she and Roberts are fleeing from the Tyrannosaurus and she again gets close to the plant, which now grabs her. The thing is, by this point, Maggie's sleeves have been torn off and her outfit, in general, has been ripped up, but in the long-shots here of her standing in front of the plant, they reuse the exact same ones from earlier, where her clothing is completely intact. I'm usually not that much of a nitpicker when it comes to little continuity goofs like this but this really stuck out to me when I saw it. Another one comes when Hunter saves Maggie from the Elasmosaurus when she goes to him. He shoves a long torch into the monster's mouth to drive him away and, when the Elasmosaur shakes his head, they then completely reverse the footage, right down to the torch going into his mouth, which is now meant to be Hunter pulling it back out. As a result, you see the Elasmosaur shake his head to the right and then move it back to the left, with the smoke suddenly sucking back into his mouth and the flames shooting out! Again, I noticed that the first time and it's so laughable.





As much as they try to make the titular valley look big and imposing, the movie actually feels rather small and claustrophobic. Most of the action takes place in this little area near the makeshift camp they set up around their downed helicopter, a stretch of water that leads to Hunter's cave, and the interiors of said cave (which is filled with various items he no doubt salvaged from the plane crash), and they're obviously in a studio; plus, when they first crash and the area is covered in mist, it feels less like an attempt at atmosphere and more like they're trying to cover up how little there is to this place. And when you do see big, wide angles on the valley, you can tell that what you're looking at is either a miniature set (especially whenever the Tyrannosaur, the Elasmosaurus, or the oversized monitor lizards are onscreen) or, again, the inside of a studio, with the background either being a simple backdrop or a matte painting (although, it is cool how they manage to get steam and mist into those backgrounds). I guess there's a point to the limited stretch of the landscape, as this is meant to be a valley that's kind of closed in and hidden from the rest of the world, but as it is, it doesn't look like it would take much exploring to figure out that there's no way to get up the steep walls, as it seems to for the leads. They try to come up with an explanation for how the place manages to stay hidden and tropical, with Roberts saying that the volcanic heat melts the ice on the mountain peaks, creating the clouds that hang over the valley and keeping the heat and moisture sealed in, and they also try to make it feel volcanic in nature, with water that Carmen describes as tasting like rotten eggs (i.e. sulfuric) and a continual rumbling in the distance, but it does little to make it feel any more impressive than it looks. The other sets in the film, such as in Washington and onboard the ship, look fine enough but there's nothing worth talking about there, as they're just as typical as you'd expect.



Like I said in the introduction, the dinosaurs in the film are, to say the least, unimpressive in their conception and design. The first one you see, which is a Pterodactyl that slams into the helicopter, causing it to crash in the first place, and later swoops over the sleeping party, waking them on the second day of being stuck there, is a stiff-looking model that, mercifully, is only onscreen for a couple of seconds and is shot in a way where you just barely get a look at it (the scream it lets out is a classic sound effect that was later used extensively in the cartoons Hanna-Barbera produced). You also see the remains of a dead one lying on the ground, the sight of which panics Steve Miller. There are also several enormous lizards, two of which get into a nasty fight to the death. The survivor appears to proceed to feast on the Pterodactyl remains and also menace Maggie later on, while another threatens Hunter when she finds him destroying her eggs. These are the creatures that are identified as "Stegosauri" in the trailer, even though they're obviously just monitor lizards made to look gigantic, by either putting them on miniature sets or projecting footage of them on a miniature projection screen, and they look nothing like a Stegosaurus. Since they're never actually named in the movie itself, you could refer to them as Megalania, which were a species of gigantic monitors.




Among the dinosaurs, there are two in particular that prove to be the "heavies." One of them is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, who's probably the most notoriously memorable part of this movie. I can remember a time when I was in my early teens when I was spending the night with a cousin of mine and we watched his VHS copy of Godzilla, King of the Monsters. This particular one had trailers for a number of other monster and sci-fi movies after the film itself, one of which was The Land Unknown, and when we saw the T-Rex in this film, he came out and said, "That looks so fake." I hadn't seen the trailer since I was really young but I did remember how unimpressed I was with the T-Rex back then and this only reconfirmed my feelings about it. People who rag on the Godzilla movies and other monster films for using people in suits obviously have never seen this, because this is about as pathetic as it gets (from what I've seen, only the Tyrannosaurs from Unknown Island look worse). Everything about this monster is just wrong, from his far too upright posture (I had to use that publicity still to get that across) and the slow, plodding way in which he moves to his hilariously oversized head, which is clearly that of an expressionless, stiff suit. They were able to make the eyes blink, open and close the mouth, and have saliva drip from his lower jaw, but it makes no difference, and neither does the distinctive roar that he emits (which Steven Spielberg would reuse for the crash of the tanker truck in Duel and the the shark's corpse sinking down after he's been blown up at the end of Jaws, and it would also be the source for most of King Kong's vocalizations in the 1976 film). You never once, in the several times he shows up to menace the characters, feel like he's any sort of threat because he's so slow and wooden in his movements. When you see them sitting in their helicopter like idiots, futilely trying to get up in the air as he approaches, and when Roberts runs from him and actually ducks down beside a fallen tree so he'll walk over him, you think to yourself, "Come on, you can easily outrun him!" (Yeah, he's akin to the slow, shambling mummy Kharis in the 40's movies.) I said it before and I'll say it again: this T-Rex is nothing but a prehistoric schmuck and wouldn't stand a chance against the Rexes in the Jurassic Park films or even against the T-Rex in the original King Kong or Gwangi in The Valley of Gwangi. I also pity Tim Smyth, the poor guy who had to wear that awful suit.



The other major antagonistic dinosaur is the Elasmosaurus, whose presence is hinted at a few times early on but who makes his big grand entrance when Maggie decides to go to Hunter so the others can escape the valley. As he's the dinosaur whose effects were costly enough to make Universal slash the budget of the film as a whole, you'd hope that they'd be decent and, for what they are, they work just fine. The prop in question, which is a miniature that you see in the long shots and also in shots where it's optically composited in the same frame as the real actors, may still be stiff and lifeless in the face and move unnaturally slow, but it is impressive to watch it move and swim through the water on its own, with moving, rudder-like flippers and how it's able to sink and surface. They're also able to shoot the prop in a manner that is successful in giving it some scale and, as a character, the Elasmosaur does come across as more of a threat than that pathetic T-Rex. Despite his slowness, he has the element of surprise on his side thanks to his ability to swim and submerge, as the characters often don't notice him until he's almost on top of them. He also proves to be one creature who's not frightened by the sound of Hunter's shell-horn, as he actually attempts to attack rather than retreat, forcing Hunter to fight back with torches. And finally, he proves to be fairly intelligent, because when he attacks again near the end of the movie, he dives beneath the water when Hunter grabs his torch and actually comes up under his raft, capsizing him. Once he has Hunter defenseless and in the water, he chases after him, whacks him with his flipper (you never see the contact and the same goes for all of the creatures in regards to their interactions with the characters), and it's only through the intervention of the others in the helicopter, with Roberts shooting a flare into the Elasmosaur's mouth, that Hunter manages to be avoid being eaten.



In addition to the dinosaurs, there's this big man-eating plant that threatens Maggie a couple of times. It's shaped like a sea anemone, with long, tentacle-like vines that jut out along its rim and a mouth in its center up top. Like just about everything else in this movie, it moves very slowly and doesn't seem to have much life to it (the only reason it even manages to grab Maggie the one time is simply because she's standing close enough). While it doesn't eat any of the characters, it does end up devouring this cute little animal that Miller finds and brings back to camp. Roberts identifies this little thing as a "tarsier" or a close relative (it's actually a loris) and goes on this big speech about it being a precursor to man. Maggie names it Shakespeare, as Roberts mentions how its evolution would eventually lead to people, and when she goes to get it something to drink, she drops it in a panic when she's attacked by one of the Megalania. In the confusion that follows, the little creature grabs onto one of the carnivorous plant's tentacles and is slowly lowered into its mouth.



Going back to the miniature sets, even though they are quite obvious, I will say that the people who made them did manage to put some nice detail into them, with the fairly big stretch of water and the primordial forest surrounding it, and there are some shots of it that do look fair (particularly whenever the Elasmosaurus is onscreen). The miniature helicopter that they use in some scenes, like when they first crash-land in the valley and whenever it's onscreen with any of the dinosaurs, also looks nice and the scale of it, which you see when the T-Rex approaches it, is somewhat impressive. As for the optical and matting effects, their quality varies. In some shots, they look decent, like the wide-shot where you see that Maggie is unknowingly rowing her raft right towards the Elasmosaurus and at the end when Hunter is frantically swimming away from the monster (although, if you closely, you can see where the two elements are separated, with there sometimes being a halo of brightness around the real actors from their being composited into the shots), while other times, they're painfully examples of obvious matting, with the live-action elements looking see-through and the like, and screen projection, like when the one Megalania comes stomping towards Maggie at the helicopter and when the Elasmosaur's snarling head rises up at the entrance to Hunter's cave.




The first major scene is when, after reaching the warm water oasis in the Arctic, the group is warned about the oncoming storm and told to return to the ship. On the way back, they come across the storm front and, with no other option, Lt. Carmen is forced to fly through it when he comes upon a break in the clouds. Upon entering, they're surrounded by thick mist 3,000 feet up, when a screeching Pterodactyl comes flying in and hits them. The damaged helicopter begins slowly but surely losing altitude, and when Steve Miller attempts to contact the base, he looks out the window and sees that the aerial been snapped loose. They continue going down, with Carmen expecting them to hit the ground any second, only to be surprised when they actually drop below sea-level. They also notice that the temperature is going up, prompting them to remove their winter clothing, and as they continue dropping far below sea-level, Alan Roberts suggests that they may have ended up in a volcanic crater. The temperature continues rising, reaching 91 degrees, and the humidity climbs as well, as they reach 2,500 feet below sea-level. They finally break through the cloud cover, with Carmen barely managing to avoid a sharp mountain peak, and they then come down, landing roughly on the ground. The blades slowly die down and as they do, things become eerily quiet in the thickly misty landscape they've ended up in. Everyone disembarks and Miller climbs up top to see what they damage is, discovering that the push-pull tube assembly is bent. As they wait for him and Carmen to fix it, Roberts and Maggie decide to take a small look around.





Walking through the landscape, commenting on how it seems unreal that they're actually at the South Pole, they come to a spot where Roberts tells Maggie to wait for him. Unbeknownst to her, she's standing in front of the carnivorous plant, which begins to move its tentacles towards her. Roberts then finds a spot where there's a bubbling hot spot of mud and calls her over to it, unknowingly saving her from being devoured. He shows her the bubbling mud and tells her it's a sign of volcanic activity beneath them. Hearing a rumbling nearby, they decide to head back to the helicopter, and as they do, the camera pans over to the nearby water, which begins to bubble and we get the first glimpse of the Elasmosaurus as he moves right below the surface. Back at the helicopter, Miller has removed the push-pull tube, while Carmen is trying to contact the ship, telling them to hone in on his radio signal. However, it's clear that he's not getting through, although there's nothing wrong with his receiver. He decides to try again later. Miller calls for him and when he sees that he's removed the push-pull tube, he thinks it'll be as simply as straightening it... until Miller tells him that it's a magnesium alloy (i.e., very fragile). Climbing down with the bent tube, he takes a small hammer and walks over to a nearby rock to attempt to pound back into shape. He taps it a few times but, when he hits it fairly hard, sure enough, the thing breaks. Now, they have no choice but to wait to be rescued, with Carmen and Roberts putting on a front of false optimism about their being able to hone in on their radio signal. They then begin unloading their food and equipment, although Roberts then tells the other men that the expedition will pull out at the end of the month and there might not be another for a long time. After hearing that, while everyone else sets up camp nearby, Miller gets back in the helicopter and attempts to call the ship again, wasting a good chunk of what's left of the copter's energy.





The next morning, the four of them are startled awake by the screeching cry of a Pterodactyl that swoops down over them and then flies off towards the mountains. The thing was apparently going so fast that they didn't see it, as they wonder what that scream was, and they're also now able to see the full extent of the place they're stranded in, now that the fog has lifted. After theorizing how the valley manages to stay tropical, Roberts goes on to point out that one of the trees nearby is a species that went extinct millions of years before. He believes that the valley is still stuck in the Mesozoic era and is fairly confident that there's "animal" life to be found. After Carmen takes a swig of the water and comments on how it tastes like rotten eggs, they hear the distant sound of a search plane overhead. They quickly run back to the helicopter and Carmen fires up the ship and attempts to contact them. He tells them that they need to get a fix on them and he'll keep talking as long as he can, but when the film cuts to the two men piloting the plane, it becomes clear that they don't hear him at all. Not knowing this, Carmen continues talking and giving them instructions, when he sees that the battery is running low. He tells them that he must switch off and says he'll attempt to get in touch with them again when they reenter the sector. Carmen believes they can't hear them because their signal's too weak, which he doesn't understand, seeing as how they had enough power the night before. Out of desperation, Miller grabs a flare gun and shoots one up, only for it to uselessly drift back down. Roberts takes the gun from him and tells him that a flare is only good for 400 feet. He adds that they best save it until their would-be rescuers can see it.





Some time later, while everyone else is at camp, Miller is out looking for fresh water but, right after he finds some, he looks over to see the remains of a Pterodactyl lying across from (there's a really awkward-looking matting effect of a bush on the lower right part of this shot; it looks as if they used the same shot from later on when the entire group is there and tried to cover everyone else up with that sloppy composite). Freaked out by this sight, he runs off and arrives back at camp just as the others have managed to inflate a rubber raft and get it into the water. He tells them that he saw something awful back in the jungle and he then leads them to it. Roberts describes it as, "The first of the flying lizards," and then suggests they get back to camp, adding, "A dead animal is food. I don't want to be here to meet its consumers." As if on cue, they hear loud snarls over to the side and see two Megalania engaged in a vicious fight, biting and struggling with each other, with one of them proving to be the dominant one right off the bat. The other does manage to get a few licks in but he ultimately proves no match for his rival who, after long and drawn out struggle (I'm not going to go into the details because all it is is just two lizards biting, scratching and throttling each other), manages to bite him in the neck and draw blood. With his foe defeated, the winner lunges at the group as he makes his way to the Pterodactyl remains, the four of them getting out of his way (really bad matting on the shot of him passing by them). An even more threatening roar penetrates through the air and the T-Rex then comes stomping in for the first time, knocking over a tree as he does. As he peers down at them, Roberts tells Miller to go fire up the helicopter's engines and tells Maggie to go with him. The two of them then run off and, as the T-Rex begins approaching the two remaining, Roberts tries to get Carmen to follow after him; the lieutenant, however, decides to stand and shoot a little bit, forcing Roberts to come back and implore him to come on. The two of them finally run off, with the T-Rex following them as they head back to the helicopter.



The two of them jump into the copter with the others, as the T-Rex marches his way through the swamp and then up onto the shore towards it (in a tracking shot that really shows off how pitiful that suit is). The four of them watch from inside, Carmen telling Miller to increase the helicopter's throttle, and the increased speed of the rotor actually seems to take the T-Rex aback a bit. Regardless, he continues approaching and ends up getting too close to the rotor, with one of the blades slicing into his flesh and creating a nasty, bleeding wound. The T-Rex backs up a few steps but, clearly more angry than hurt, begins approaching the helicopter again, when the sound of a bizarre horn cuts through the air. He stops dead in his tracks and looks off to the right, roaring, before stumbling back into swamp and retreating into the depths of the jungle. The groups watches as he walks off, the horn continuing to blare, and as Miller powers down the helicopter, they ponder what could have made that sound. They then disembark and find that their rations have been ransacked, with the food taken from cans that have been opened by what could have only been a can-opener or something similar.








After a small lull in the action, wherein Miller brings the "tarsier" with him back to camp, Maggie is chased away from the helicopter by a Megalania, dropping the little animal that's then eaten by the large, carnivorous plant nearby. Roberts chases after her, losing her in the confusion, while she runs into the jungle, stopping dead upon hearing the sound of a Pterodactyl. Following the demise of the tarsier, Carl Hunter makes his first appearance when he reaches out from behind Maggie, pulling her back and then carrying her over to his raft at the water's edge. He rows away, and a dissolve shows that some time has past, as the men have been trying to find her. Miller finds a piece of her outfit snagged on a plant and Carmen finds Hunter's footprints in the mud nearby (Roberts' line, "These footprints were made by a being physically very much like us," comes across as so pretentious and redundant, given what they eventually learn about Maggie's abductor). Roberts take out his gun, telling the others that he figures that Maggie was carried off, and they head out to find her. As Hunter rows Maggie to his lair, the men reach the end of his trail on the river bank and Roberts figures out that the kidnapper used a boat to get across the river. Hunter arrives at his lair and carries the unconscious Maggie up the steps to the entrance (in the wide-shot, the boat moored by the side of the place is the others' rubber raft rather than the makeshift canoe Hunter was using), just as the men take out on the river in their raft and spot the cave from across the way. Maggie then wakes up in the cave and is confronted by Hunter, whom she discovers is the one who ransacked their rations. He also claims that her friends were killed by the dinosaurs but, while she's initially distraught and cries, she looks through a gap in the cave's wall and sees them approaching. Deciding to stall for time, she talks to Hunter, and he then proves to be quite crazed, acting clingy towards her and boasting about how he's managed to survive by being the smartest and fittest. After revealing that a large shell is the source of the horn that drove away the T-Rex, he attempts to have his way with her, smacking her down to the floor when she resists his advances. But, before he can grab her again, Roberts and the others enter and force him away from Maggie with their guns. Once they finally get him calmed down enough to where he can remember who he is and how he got there, Hunter makes his proposition to lead them to the plane wreck to get the necessary parts for the helicopter if they leave Maggie with him. They, of course, refuse and decide to find the wreck on their own, although Hunter remains confident that they'll have to rely on his assistance sooner or later.




Many days later, Hunter is shown destroying a couple of dinosaur eggs, one of his methods of survival, and when the mother of the eggs, a Megalania, comes at him to attack, he uses his shell-horn to send her in retreat. Elsewhere, Maggie and Roberts are walking around (in the wide-shot, where they're matted into the miniature set, they're completely transparent), when they catch the unwanted attention of the T-Rex, who begins trotting towards them. When he roars at them, Roberts sends Maggie running off, attempting to get the T-Rex's attention when he follows after her. His shouting doesn't work and he has to shoot at the dinosaur, which immediately turns to face him and lets out an angry roar. Even then, the T-Rex seems more interested in Maggie, and it's only when Roberts fires another shot that he begins chasing after him. He fires a couple of more shots before taking off running, with the T-Rex hot on his heels. Running down a path, he jumps to the ground and leans up against a fallen tree, with the T-Rex walking straight over him and heading off into the jungle. However, Maggie has, again, gotten too close to that carnivorous plant and Roberts hears her screaming when it snares her in its tentacles. Before Roberts can get to her, Hunter, who was watching from nearby, smashes the tentacles with his club and runs off after she collapses to the ground from fright. Roberts then arrives and tries to comfort her, as she's now hysterical and distraught, feeling they'll never escape from the valley.





With two days left before the expedition pulls out, there comes a moment where Maggie, while she and Roberts are out searching for the plane wreck, breaks off from him and goes to the raft, preparing to give herself to Hunter to make him reveal the wreck's location. It doesn't take long for Roberts to realize that she's gone, and as he looks for her, she rows down the river, unaware that something beneath the water appears to be following her. From the entrance to his lair, Hunter sees that Maggie is coming to him, but he also sees that something is following her. Climbing down the natural steps outside, he lights a couple of torches and prepares to row out to meet her. As quick as he rows, he's unable to reach Maggie before the Elasmosaurus emerges from the water and begins approaching her, as she unknowingly rows straight towards him. He's just about on top of her when Hunter blows his shell-horn, the sound of which prompts Maggie to turn around and see the danger that she's in. She screams and faints from the sight of the Elasmosaur closing in on her, letting out a deep, raspy hiss. Just as he's about to reach down and gobble her up, he finally turns his attention to Hunter and his horn; nearby, the others have heard the sound and race to its source. The Elasmosaur heads straight for Hunter in his canoe and he grabs one of his torches and sticks the flaming tip into the creature's mouth. He shakes his head back and forth from it and, after Hunter pulls the torch out and the plesiosaur approaches again, he repeats the attack, this time sending him sinking down beneath the water. However, he emerges from behind Hunter and comes in for another attack. Hunter flings his last remaining torch into the Elasmosaur's mouth, once again sending him back down beneath the water. As Roberts and Carmen rush along the shore to the site, Hunter ties Maggie's raft to his canoe and rows them to his lair.








Miller sees Hunter carrying Maggie up to the entrance to his lair from the nearby shore and makes his way over. In his lair, Hunter sets Maggie down and splashes water in her face to wake her up. As she comes to, she sees Miller climbing up to the entrance and he dives at Hunter, who grabs him and throws him over the cot Maggie was lying on. Miller gets up and lunges at Hunter, tackling him to the floor. They struggle to their feet, with Hunter holding Miller by the top of his head and under his chin, grappling with him and flinging him into the wall. Hunter grabs him again and throws him down to the floor, then grabs a torch and lights it; Miller, in turn, pulls out his gun. He warns Hunter to get back and when he doesn't, he pulls the trigger, only to then learn that his clip is empty. He futilely throws the gun at Hunter and dodges his torch, momentarily getting back into a corner but managing to slip away. Miller pushes an obstruction in Hunter's way, then grabs a club off of the wall, using it to block the torch when Hunter swings at him again. Dodging another swing, he knocks the torch out of Hunter's hands and tries to hit him with the club, only to miss and get shoved to the floor. Hunter then grabs a blade from nearby, nudges the club out of Miller's hands with his foot, and the two of them struggle, with Miller trying to keep from getting stabbed. Hunter gets Miller down to the floor but he shoves him away with his foot, slamming him up against a stone table, temporarily knocking him out. Miller grabs the still lit torch from nearby and moves in on Hunter, demanding he tell him where the wreck is after he comes to. Maggie tries to stop him but Miller is intent on making Hunter talk. Outside, Roberts and Carmen are close enough to hear Hunter moaning and yelling and they rush to the lair, as Maggie climbs out to get help. The two other men swim over to the spot, while inside, Miller continues threatening to burn Hunter alive if he doesn't talk; defiant to the last, though, Hunter growls, "You're gonna rot here." Just then, Roberts dives in and pulls Miller away, putting himself between the two of them. Miller demands he get out of the way, telling Roberts he's going get out of the valley any way he can. Roberts insists he's not going to touch Hunter but Carmen, who's arrived with Maggie, tells Miller to go ahead and do it. Roberts then backs up in a defensive posture and pulls his gun, telling Miller, "We're not going to dig our way out of here through human flesh. Not Maggie's, Hunter's, not even yours." Miller finally comes to his senses and puts the torch away, as the others help the still defiant Hunter, who insists he doesn't need any help or pity. He then gives Roberts a tin box, saying it contains a map that will show them where the wreck is. After looking at the map, Roberts and the other men go to find the wreck, while Maggie agrees to stay with Hunter.






Once they've found the wreck and replaced the push-pull tube, they attempt to start up the helicopter. Maggie and Hunter hear the sound of it struggling to come to life in the cave but, after a few seconds, the sound stops. Carmen tells Roberts and Miller that they've only got one more chance, as the battery is just about dead and gets out to check the ignition system. At the cave, Maggie decides to go back to the camp, with Hunter demanding that she stay. As she climbs up the small ladder to the entrance, the Elasmosaur suddenly sticks his snarling head up and threatens her, causing her to fall backwards off the ladder, which he then pushes to the floor (seen from straight ahead, his cheeks look comically puffy). After the monster pulls his head out, Hunter puts a lit torch at the entrance to keep him at bay and he submerges back beneath the water upon seeing it. Putting the ladder back up, Hunter uses it to see that the Elasmosaur has he gone and he then looks at Maggie as she lies unconscious on the floor. He then hears the sound of the helicopter's engine and this time, it catches and starts up. Looking back at Maggie, he picks her up, puts her over his shoulder, and carries her back outside. At the camp, now that they've gotten the helicopter's engine running, they decide to try the rotors and when they do, they run smoothly as well; however, they unknowingly catch the attention of the nearby T-Rex. Carmen then powers down rotors and Miller climbs up to adjust the new push-pull rod, but as he gets to work, the T-Rex begins approaching them. When he enters the clearing with a loud roar, Roberts asking Miller how much longer it'll take and he says that he needs a little more time. With that, Roberts runs out in front of the helicopter and tries to keep the dinosaur at bay with his handgun, the sound of which is heard by Maggie and Hunter, as they approach via the river. The T-Rex actually stops and looks at Miller before looking down at Roberts, who fires at him again, causing him to recoil. Miller announces that he's fixed it and he and Roberts quickly pile into the helicopter with Carmen, as the T-Rex stomps towards them. They cut it close but they manage to get airborne and out of the Tyrannosaur's reach just in time, prompting him to let out a frustrated roar as he watches them escape.





The helicopter flies in over the river, as Maggie and Hunter round the bend on Hunter's canoe. As the craft heads towards them, Hunter stops the canoe and Miller deploys the wench with the life-vest down to them. Hunter helps Maggie put the vest on and, as she's hoisted up, he turns his canoe around and starts rowing back to his lair. Suddenly, the Elasmosaurus comes up out of the water again and starts swimming after him. He tries to outrun the creature but, try as he might, it becomes clear that his efforts are in vain and he quickly grabs one of the torches, preparing to fight the Elasmosaur again. He's then surprised when the Elamosaur submerges back below the water, disappearing inches away from him, but as the water beneath him bubbles, he knows that the monster is still down there. That's when his canoe is suddenly lifted up into the air and Hunter falls off it, into the water. The Elasmosaur resurfaces and begins to close in on him, forcing Hunter to run for it with the plesiosaur right behind him. Maggie sees what's happening and points it out to the others, as the Elasmosaur chases Hunter down and brings his big flipper down on him. He then notices the approaching helicopter and hisses at it, while the others look down at Hunter floating face-up on the surface. Roberts tells Carmen to get as close as he can and once he does, Roberts opens up the door and sees the Elasmosaur only a few feet away. He fires a flare into the creature's mouth and he immediately sinks back down into the depths. With that taken care of, Roberts dives into the water, grabs onto the unconscious Hunter, and pulls him to where the life-vest is once again lowered on the wench. He puts the vest around Hunter and then holds onto it tight, as the both of them are hoisted up into the helicopter.



The group is then immediately out of the valley and on its way back to the ship, with Carmen contacting them and telling them to give them a heading, as they're low on fuel. The ship's radio operator contacts them, gives them their heading, and they prepare to come in. At this point, Hunter awakens and slowly but surely realizes where he is. They make it to the ocean and they see the ships, which have come to intercept them, the sight of which causes Hunter to smile happily. But, as they come in for a landing, the helicopter begins to sputter, as the fuel tank is now almost completely empty, and it crashes into the water next to the ship. The alarm goes off onboard the ship and everyone rushes onto the deck, with a lifeboat coming by and picking up the group, as they're forced to swim a short distance through the icy water. The movie then ends with them on the way back, with the final moment between Roberts and Maggie where they discuss taking another "expedition" in the form of a honeymoon.

I'm amazed that I've managed to get so much out of a movie that is so average, it's not even worth existing, but that's about to change here, as I have nothing whatsoever to say about the music score. As per usual for the B-movies that Universal produced during this period, the music, rather than being original, is culled from a number of different sources, by composers such as Henry Mancini, Heinz Roemheld, Hans J. Salter, and Herman Stein, although the only credit goes to Joseph Gershenson as "music supervisor." Even though they are stock, I can usually comment on the music heard in movies like Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Monolith Monsters, and Monster on the Campus, among others, because they do manage to be memorable and stick out in their own ways, but the music in The Land Unknown is the definition of generic. It's just typical monster movie music, with no definitive characteristics at all, and is completely forgettable. I heard it when I was going through the film's major scenes because I was watching while commenting on it and even then, I still can't tell you what any of it sounds like, except for maybe the opening, and even that, again, is the usual loud, blaring type of music you expect to hear in this type of movie. But, in the end, it's fitting that such a standard movie would come with a standard score to boot.

The Land Unknown is most definitely one of those movies that falls into the weird crack of not being a good film by any means but also not being so bad, it's good or just plain awful. It's just there and, as a result, this was a rather hard one to write and if comes off as lackluster, I apologize, but I did what I could (I've heard from a reliable source that when horror host Svengoolie, who's normally a pretty entertaining guy, showed this movie, he even struggled to come up with anything to say about it in his skits). Other than a nice performance by Henry Brandon as Hunter, fairly crisp black-and-white photography, the use of prestigious-looking CinemaScope, and some occasional instances of okay miniatures, opticals, and mechanical effects, this movie has nothing to offer. The lead characters and their actors are bland with a capital "B," the film's setting feels very claustrophobic and cramped when it should be bigger in scope, the dinosaurs make up one sorry-looking bunch of monsters, the often low-quality optical and matting effects and the blatant reuse of shots attest to the movie's cheapness, the major scenes have no excitement or suspense to them at all, and the music score is a stock creation that's in one ear and out the other. This is not a movie I can recommend at all, save for the most hardcore monster movie connoisseurs and even then, you will not get much of anything out of it.