As Hammer Films were reinventing Gothic horror with The Curse of Frankenstein and awakening old myths with The Abominable Snowman, Universal Pictures were still venturing into humanity striving against gigantic creatures in the sci-fi adventure films. This time around, the exploration would take them into the heart of Antarctica to unleash the fears upon our central characters.
The Land Unknown, directed by Virgil W. Vogel from a screenplay by László Görög would suffer immensely from its low budget, putting men in dinosaur suits or shots of monitor lizards to subject our audience with fear. The result would have a poor effect and the film struggles to lift out of the realms of quality, shifting our ability to connect with it. Even retrospectively speaking, there is little substance here of worth.
In essence we join an expedition crew consisting of Commander Harold Roberts (Jock Mahoney), helicopter pilot Lt. Jack Carmen (William Reynolds), machinist Steve Miller (Phil Harvey) and reporter Maggie (Shirley Patterson). Maggie is the token female in the movie and is symbolic of the times playing the reporter, as it gave women a hard-boiled, intelligent edge whilst still needing to be sexually alluring, something that doesn’t go amiss among the male members of the crew, particularly the Commander. Often, there are comments in the script about the differences in the gender of each species they encounter, where each plays a significant role in the survival of their terrain. When the helicopter is forced to make an emergency landing this is put to the test when they find themselves in mysterious volcanic land beneath the icy surface and one that is rich in jungle life, including the aforementioned jungle.
Not only do they have to manage this unknown topography, but they soon discover another living soul who has adapted to life there since they crashed there. Dr. Carl Hunter was the sole survivor and has been used to life on his own, making him a gruff and unapproachable man, His intimidating demeanour softening only towards Maggie.
The rest of the film centres more on these conflicts, along with the volatile land and its inhabitants to play through to the conclusion. One that is a neatly tied bow and as such fails to flicker with the audience. Looking through the retrospective lens, this is definitely one of the lesser films that Universal produced at the time and much like the land in which it is set, has been forgotten over time.
- Saul Muerte