On rare occasion, I watch (and on even rarer occasion, finish watching) an utter dreg of a film. A film so bad I misuse the word dregs, which apparently–since it refers to a liquid form–must be used as a plural. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is just such a film. Immediately, with its use of footage from the first film’s conclusion (with a few added shots and different dialogue and music) and terrible opening credits, I knew Beneath was going to be bad. When “star” James Franciscus (it’s his real name too) shows up, I noticed he was better than Heston. Even though I just watched the first film, there was that lovely reminder of Heston’s craft tacked on to the beginning on this film. Since he has a lot of the same dialogue as Heston does in that film, one gets to see how nice a measured performance can be. Still, I put star in quotation marks because he’s not really the star of the film. In fact, the film’s such a failure of a narrative, such a waste of celluloid, I could put that last ‘film’ in quotation marks too.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes loses any hint of competence, adequacy, concern, once Linda Harrison shows up. Linda Harrison doesn’t talk. But she does flashback and we get to see her flashbacks, which are filled with Heston acting and bad special effects and stupid ideas. While Planet of the Apes was dumb, the filmmakers there at least were bipedal. Whoever concocted the story to this film must have had trouble chewing gum. So, once the Harrison shows up, the viewer is left with little to do but marvel at the film. I couldn’t believe audiences back in 1970 actually went to go see this film and go they did… the film made enough money warrant a sequel, which is funny, considering how it ends. And a viewer has to finish watching this film, I’m very adamant on that point. Its ending is so unbelievable, it has to be seen. I couldn’t believe it.
As far as the technical side of things, there are some great matte paintings. I’ve seen a documentary on the Planet of the Apes franchise and remembered the discussion of the paintings and when their scenes showed up, I hoped it’d go on for a while. Instead, the film pushed on through them and got to the dumbest religious cult in the history of cinema. Beneath tries to be a metaphor (which Planet of the Apes did not), featuring anti-Vietnam protesters–rather amusing since the apes aren’t really at war–and comparisons of the war-hungry gorilla (a new invention in this film, which has no reasonable continuity to the first) to American soldiers. I’m not sure if the cult is supposed to be the Russians. Probably (it doesn’t work though).
But still, one has to see it for that ending. Oh, and James Gregory is quite good.