Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


UNKNOWN TERROR (1957). Director: Charles Marquis Warren.

When a young man disappears while searching for a mysterious cavern known as the “Cave of Death” in South America, his sister (Mala Powers), husband (John Howard) and friend (Paul Richards) decide to go look for him and come across a mad doctor (Gerald Milton) who is experimenting with fungi, allegedly for new antibiotics. Everyone in the small village, including the doctor and his beautiful Indian bride (May Wynn) are tight-lipped about the location of this cave and even deny that it exists, but eventually our intrepid trio make their way inside the place and discover exactly why the cave has such a sinister reputation, to put it mildly. This is a perfectly creditable, atmospheric and well-paced “comic book” movie that piles on one eerie incident after another and has a wild climax that seems derived from everything from H. G. Wells' novel “The Time Machine”with its morlocks to the bogey men/cavern finale of Laurel and Hardy's Babes in Toyland. [Remember, The Time Machine wasn't filmed until seven years later.] It isn't for a moment very reasonable but it is consistently entertaining. In most films of this nature the characters seem to have no real life outside of the story (or any life at all for that matter) but Kenneth Higgins' script at least attempts to create characters who have a convincing back story, and the actors follow suit: for instance, when Paul Richards shows up at the home of Mala Powers, we don't need any dialogue to know that these two were once lovers. For the most part the actors, including May Wynn and Gerald Milton, play with conviction, although the latter does become a little hammy in the final sequences. Powers and Richards certainly deserved bigger parts in better movies, but their work here is nothing they should have been ashamed of. Much – too much – has been made of the fact that the special effects for the big finale are low-tech, to say the least, but the fact is that they are also perfectly effective for a black and white low-budget movie and it is also true that Unknown Terror is creepy and a lot of fun! [Available from Sinister Cinema.]

Verdict: Not great but great fun. **1/2.

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