Tag Archives: At the Earth’s Core

[Stop Button Lists] The Lost Worlds of Kevin Connor

Kevin Connor, partial filmography, 1975-1981

I have heard of Arabian Adventure, I had forgotten I knew about it when I was thinking about doing this list. Kevin Connor’s career–which has gone from British fantasy films to American television to direct-to-video to the Hallmark channel–reminds of someone like Jack Arnold, who went from Creature from the Black Lagoon to “Gilligan’s Island.” I’m sure a lot of guys who directed “The Brady Bunch” had made some decent pictures in the forties and fifties.

But I wanted to do a list about Connor after watching The People That Time Forgot again for “Stop Button Favorites.” It’s a weird series of fantasy films, most starring Doug McClure, three adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs, a few starring Peter Cushing, a few starring John Ratzenberger!

Land That Time Forgot had been my dinosaur movie as a kid, it and Planet of the Dinosaurs. Even after Jurassic Park came out, because Jurassic Park was “real” not movie fantasy. It did all the imagining for you.

Doug McClure and Peter Cushing are bewildered Victorians in AT THE EARTH'S CORE, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.
Doug McClure and Peter Cushing are bewildered Victorians in AT THE EARTH’S CORE, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.

Of the films on the list, I’d say Land That Time Forgot is easily the most “respectable.” It lacks the constant sexuality of People and it’s nowhere near as stupid as At the Earth’s Core. Now, Earth’s Core had Caroline Munro but she was sort of forgotten in the late eighties and early nineties. A mythic siren of PG-sexiness my generation didn’t grow up with.

And Warlords of the Deep didn’t have much U.S. distribution on home video. I’m not even sure it’s out now; I rented it (on R2) from Nicheflix the moment I could but I had never even come across it on VHS at that point and I was always on the lookout. As for Arabian Adventure, like I said, I sort of forgot about it even existing. I know I saw the seventies Sinbad movies but not much after I was seven or eight.

Goliath Awaits, the only entry on the film not a theatrical release (Goliath was a syndicated prime time miniseries), is there because it is such a perfect postscript to Connor’s other fantasy films.

John Dark produced all of Connor’s fantasy films–not Goliath–and they had a lot of similarities between them. They were period pieces. Land and People take place in the late 1910s, At the Earth’s Core is set in the Victorian era, Warlords is early 20th century (nothing too specific) and Arabian Adventure is, you know, some kind of fantasy era of Arabia. It’s not supposed to be very good; I know I have to see it now but I’m not looking forward to it.

They mixed American actors down on their luck with British actors who were just doing another gig to pay the bills. They launched no careers–unless they helped Sarah Douglas along to Superman II or Ratzenberger to “Cheers”–yet they are incredibly memorable films. Kino Lorber even got Connor to do commentary on their recent Land That Time Forgot blu-ray. It’s not a cult classic, but only because it the eighties weren’t long enough for it to catch on enough before Jurassic Park. It’s a quasi-cult classic.

Thorley Walters, Sarah Douglas, and Patrick Wayne star in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.
Thorley Walters, Sarah Douglas, and Patrick Wayne star in THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.

And they aren’t good. Well, People That Time Forgot is good. I’d love to hear a commentary on that film to see if Connor was being stylistic or they just didn’t have the money. But the other films aren’t good. Earth’s Core and Warlords are both awful. Back when I got them all (well, I owned Land and People) and watched them one week, my friend Jim was worried I had lost my mind. “What are you doing to yourself?” he said. Later, after I saw Goliath Awaits–I had first heard about it in high school, but had not found the full length version until 2007 or so–I mailed Jim a copy immediately. Such lunacy most be shared.

Over the years, even before the site, I have reexamined the interests of my youth, or even just the films people said were good when I was a youth, and tried to be as objective as possible. Good and enjoyable aren’t the same thing. A well-made movie can be entirely unrewarding (or partially unrewarding). Navigating nostalgia and how it interacts with the viewing experience of a film is simultaneously frustrating and fun. Critical thinking can be fun. Much like talking about these Kevin Connor films.

What’s upsetting about the films, listed chronologically, is how they don’t inform one another. Connor leapfrogged. Okay Land, bad Earth’s Core, good People, bad Warlords, haven’t seen Arabian but heard it’s even worse than the bad, then underwhelming TV mini series Goliath. It’s inconsistent to say the least. It does seem, however, even though there was so much cast and crew crossover, People and Land were their own franchise. Connor and Dark and McClure’s collaboration wasn’t the franchise.

Doug McClure and John McEnery star in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.
Doug McClure and John McEnery star in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, directed by Kevin Connor for American International Pictures.

While we were recording “Alan Smithee,” Matt and I would often decide–talking about the bad movie of the episode–the story of its making would probably more interesting than the resulting film itself. We never did any of the Kevin Connor movies for an episode; we probably should have at least done one. Is there some great story behind the scenes of these films? Maybe, but I think not.

But for at least ten years, in the seventies and eighties, many of these films filled children’s minds with imagined lands and some inappropriate thoughts about cave girls. They aren’t insignificant, they shouldn’t be forgotten. I’m just not entirely sure they’re worth seeing. Other than People That Time Forgot. I think I wanted, as Matt and I were discussing what to do with “Alan Smithee” (we ended up closing it down), to try to get an interview with Sarah Douglas about her fantasy and sci-fi work as she’s now awesome on Twitter.

What do these films of Connor’s deserve now? A good book. I wish I had the time and resources to write it. I’ll have to hope to read it instead.

At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor), the digest version

Take one bad movie–At the Earth's Core–running eighty-nine minutes and take one inept editor and tell him or her (the editor is uncredited) to cut it down to fourteen minutes. It's a lousy movie anyway, so what are you going to lose….

Well, some bad things. Definitely some bad things. Like most of Peter Cushing's performance. This Super 8mm version (for watching at home before video), must have been intended for the younger male audience. The mystery editor keeps all the bad monster action and cuts away scantily clad Caroline Munro. She doesn't even get to keep any lines.

It sort of plays like a fast forwarded version of the film, with only Doug McClure's action scenes kept in. There are a couple reasonably effective sequences involving Cy Grant as a caveman, but it's a rather unimaginative reduction of an already tedious film.

At fourteen minutes, it's way too long.

1/3Not Recommended

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Ken Films.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Cy Grant (Ra), Caroline Munro (Dia) and Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry).


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At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor)

Pinewood Studios has housed some rather impressive sets and some great films have been shot there. Reading At the Earth’s Core‘s end credits and seeing it too was shot at Pinewood… well, my respect for the studio has plummeted.

At the Earth’s Core is the second of four films directed by Kevin Connor, produced by John Dark, and starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot was the first). Taking the time period of Earth’s Core into account–Victorian England–McClure seems like a bad choice for the role, even if he is playing an American inventor. McClure spends twenty minutes in an ugly suit, then his clothes start to get torn off. He finds a new suit before the end of the film, however. But McClure isn’t the worst–which is a surprise, because he’s pretty bad–no, it’s Peter Cushing, playing the doddering inventor of a giant drill, meant to explore the interior of the planet. Cushing spends the whole film doing a doddering accent too, but it just sounds like he’s been sucking helium. These two don’t start all right and get bad, they’re terrible from the start. Still, since The Land That Time Forgot had a slow start, I stuck with Earth’s Core. Actually, I’ve been planning this festival for a while… but the film never gets bad. It’s terrible to be sure–particularly the effects, but more on those in a minute–but it never offends. It’s a strange kind of dumb.

The effects, however, are something else. At the Earth’s Core features such a collection of giant monsters, realized with such poor special effects, I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten cult status. The effects in this film are worse than those 1970s Godzilla films and those have some cult recognition. Connor, who was an interesting director on The Land That Time Forgot, is not on Earth’s Core. The entire film was shot indoors, so in addition to bad rear screen projection, Connor never opens up his shots. The whole film has a claustrophobia about it, to the point of causing discomfort.

The writing too (by Milton Subotsky) is pretty awful. It’s not just the bad pacing or the subterranean people who speak English, it’s also the lack of characterization. McClure’s character goes from being a rich failure to a heroic revolutionary, but the film doesn’t recognize a change in him is occurring.

The last shot is sort of amusing, however, and manages to leave the viewer feeling amused at him or herself for sitting through the film. So instead of the viewer laughing at the film, it laughs at the viewer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hooja), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief) and Andee Cromarty (Slave Girl).