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Lady Terminator

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I think it’s safe to say that the average 1980s video store patron who took home a rental copy of Lady Terminator got a lot more than he or she bargained for. That’s far from saying that he or she was disappointed, however. While most corners of the exploitation film world specialized in selling as much sizzle as possible while delivering the absolute minimum of steak, the Indonesian version of same was marked by a commitment to entertain that was almost poignant in its sincerity — even though that commitment was typically made good upon by way of boatloads of frenetic violence and nauseating gore.

Lady Terminator came toward the end of what was something of a golden age for Indonesian exploitation cinema — one that started in the early 70s with the relaxation of censorship standards (followed soon after by mandatory Government quotas for local film production) and ending at the turn of the 90s with the drying up of the export market for Indonesian productions and the resulting move of many of the industry’s key players into television. Given this, it’s fitting that the film embodies three of the prevailing trends in Indo exploiters from the period. The first of these is the aforementioned devotion to providing the audience with thrill-a-minute spectacle at all cost — even when that cost, as was usually the case, was less than a hundred thousand dollars. The second is the strategy of catering to the international export market by dressing the finished product up to look, as much as possible, like a Western production. And finally there is the somewhat contradictory practice of drawing heavily upon Southeast Asian folklore and mysticism for subject matter.


Thus it is that Lady Terminator is not only, as its title implies, a sexed-up knock-off of James “Piranha: The Spawning” Cameron’s hit action film The Terminator, but also a supernatural horror film based on the hundreds-of-years-old Javanese legend of the Queen of the South Seas. Now, given my assumption that Teleport City readers have more than a glancing familiarity with The Terminator, I’m going to skip on providing any refresher material on that subject. As for the Queen of the South Seas, while the various recountings of her tale attribute to her an assortment of different guises and origins, all seem to agree upon the fact that she is a powerful goddess who dwells at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. This aforementioned heterogeneous quality suggests that hers is a story that invites embellishment as the teller sees fit, and in that spirit, the makers of Lady Terminator have cast her as an evil succubus complete with vagina dentata.

Our introduction to the Queen is provided during Lady Terminator‘s initial minutes, right on the heels of a bit of opening narration that not only doesn’t make sense in itself, but also has no bearing whatsoever on anything that follows it:

“Sometimes the past should be left to memory, to gather dust within the cupboards of recorded time.”

And as that sentiment itself takes its deserved place within the cupboards of recorded time, we are shown the Queen, sheathed in a sheer sarong, huffing away as she straddles atop one of her male minions. Romance is in the air, it would seem, but it’s not all red roses and Godiva samplers, for, just as the Queen seems poised to take this fellow to his happiest of happy places, she sets the Little Queen to work on his nether bits, sending a geyser of blood shooting up out of his crotchal area.


Moments later, as the Queen’s handmaidens carry off the corpse, she wonders aloud whether she will ever find a man who can truly satisfy her. This cues the arrival of a handsome new prospect at her castle door, one who, once invited into her bed, does indeed prove adept at finding her sweet spot. This occasions, as it might, the ejection of a live eel from her vagina, which, upon being captured in the man’s hands, immediately transforms into a magical dagger. Having now apparently seized hold of the Queen’s mojo, the man undergoes an abrupt change in demeanor. He turns upon her, righteously demanding that she stop all of her wanton chomping off of fellows’ wangers post haste. Outraged at this betrayal, but powerless to fight against it, the Queen vows to take revenge on this man’s great granddaughter one hundred years hence, after which she walks off into the crashing surf and disappears beneath the waves as a cheesy synth wash wells up on the soundtrack.

And you though Javanese folklore would be boring, didn’t you?

Once the credits have rolled, we are taken to modern day Indonesia, and the arrival upon its shores of easy-on-the-eyes young American anthropologist Tania Wilson, whose credentials are established by having her indignantly inform people that she’s an anthropologist literally all the effing time. “You speak to me of legends in this day and age? I’m an anthropologist!”, she says to the requisite elderly spouter of dire portents, and then somewhat paradoxically runs off in pursuit of the very artifacts that would prove those legends true. “Stop calling me lady,” she says on another occasion. “I’m not a lady. I’m an anthropologist!” Upon which she doffs her clothes to reveal the barely contained lady parts spilling out of her over-stressed black bikini.


Tania is played by an Australian woman named Barbara Anne Constable, who, in addition to also receiving a make-up artist credit for Lady Terminator, apparently never appeared as a principle cast member in any other film. It’s hard to gauge Constable as an actress here, not only because she spends most of the film portraying an unspeaking, robot-like killing machine, but also because, in those few early moments when she’s not doing that, her dialog, like that of all of the other players in the film, is dubbed, and quite poorly at that. What I can say, though, is that Constable’s look is a perfect compliment to Lady Terminator‘s function as a time capsule of 1980s visual aesthetics. She’s like a whole decade of MTV viewing wrapped up in one attractive female package — part Flashdance era Jennifer Beals, part Madonna, part Teena Marie of “Lovergirl” fame, part the Kids From Fame, and part, uh, I don’t know, Ms. Pacman, I guess. Why she was never cast as one of Don Johnson’s girlfriends on Miami Vice I will never know.


Lady Terminator — released in Indonesia as The Revenge of the South Seas Queen — was directed by H. Tjut Djalil, who several years earlier had helmed a truly wonderful little movie called Mystics in Bali. In that film, just as in Lady Terminator, a white lady from America comes to Indonesia to poke her nose into ancient magics, with the result that she becomes possessed and causes all kinds of problems for the locals — in this case by becoming a flying, disembodied head with lungs and viscera still attached who goes around sucking the fetuses out of pregnant women right through their vaginas. In Lady Terminator, Tania’s transformation is no less dramatic, albeit given a more contemporary spin. In her case, the conversion to troublesome demonic vessel occurs after she goes diving in search of the magical dagger seen in the film’s prologue. Within no time, she finds herself tied spread-eagle on the Queen’s bed, a cartoon eel shooting up her birth canal. Soon after, Tania, now possessed by the spirit of the South Sea Queen, rises naked from the waves, ready to begin her career as a soulless instrument of destruction.

Tania’s first victims are a pair of drunk buddies who are spending their Saturday night on the beach. “Saturday night on the beach!”, exclaims one of them, because Lady Terminator is the type of movie in which peripheral characters shout out pointless fragments of exposition in a totally implausible manner. (Later, we see a fellow walk into a pub and throw a wad of cash down on the bar, saying to his companion, who entered with him, “I just won me a couple of grand from the races!” — even though that piece of information will in no way prove relevant to anything that happens subsequently.) The other drunken man bemoans the pairs’ sexual prospects for the evening: “Remember the legend of the South Sea Queen? Wouldn’t it be nice if she could come now?”


After chowing down on these men with her fanny fangs, Tania proceeds to a high-rise hotel. Here she makes her way to and enters a suite that has been set up as a sort of shrine to the South Seas Queen. This might seem like just another of Lady Terminator‘s crack-headed inventions, until you learn that such a hotel actually exists in Indonesia — albeit one of less recent construction than the one shown in the movie — and that a room there is indeed reserved at all time for the South Seas Queen as a guard against bad luck. Anyway, once in the room, Tania, entranced, sits in a lotus position before the portrait of the Queen that hangs on the wall, after which we begin to see little cartoon lightning bolts shooting out of her eyes. Meanwhile, Tania’s entrance has been captured by security cameras, and a hotel security guard armed with an Uzi is sent up to investigate. What the hell kind of hotel is this?, you might ask yourself. But never mind; what matters most is that that Uzi is going to play a very important part in the events to follow.

As I mentioned before, due to the fact that the more high profile Indonesian exploitation films of its type depended on foreign sales for their profits (and, in case you were wondering, Lady Terminator did indeed have a brief theatrical run in the U.S.), Lady Terminator is a film that is trying very hard to pass itself as a typical American action film from the 80s. At the same time, the local specificity of its folklore-based plot and the need to not alienate its home audience also necessitate that it not completely obscure its Indonesian origins. As a result the film takes a kind of cagey, neither-here-nor-there approach to establishing its settings, with no one ever explicitly mentioning where all of these things are meant to be taking place. The Jakarta-shot locations are mostly recently developed areas of urban sprawl that could be in any number of cities on Earth, and, on other occasions, the narrative simply fudges the particulars, like someone who, while telling a story, mutters certain, less well thought-out details from behind a cupped palm.

For instance, immediately preceding the scene in which we are introduced to our bland, white guy hero, policeman Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), we’re shown a brief establishing shot of the New York skyline. However, when we see Max again, just a couple of scenes later, he is now obviously in Indonesia, though he’s not working as a policeman anymore and is instead now employed by something called “Spesial Sekuriti” — although he still gets to do policeman-like things like investigating murder scenes and going to look at bodies in the morgue. It is only much later that we learn that the initial New York scene was meant to be a flashback to Max’s life several years previous to the film’s main action. Despite this, I have to admit that, when I first watched Lady Terminator, I thought its narrative, while unbelievably silly, seemed to reel out in a fairly linear fashion. But now that I’ve actually had to pay attention to its details for the purposes of this review, I realized that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.


This aforementioned “New York” sequence also serves to introduce a few of Max’s manly American pals, who include among them the utterly generic “Joe” and “Tom”, as well as the more memorable Snake, a dude with a surfer accent who sports what is unquestionably the Platonic ideal of mullets. Seriously, the thing makes me wish I could jump in a time machine and go back to a period before mullets became passé as an easy target for internet ridicule. Of course, the fact that it also appears to be a wig makes it that much more perfect, for there’s no way a beast so magnificent could be allowed to actually exist in nature. (By the way, there appears in Lady Terminator‘s opening credits an actor named Adam Stardust, and though I couldn’t say for sure who Adam Stadust plays in the movie, I’d like to think that it’s Snake.) Anyway, though these fellows disappear from Lady Terminator for a long stretch, their names continue to be invoked as if they themselves had some kind of mystical power, cluing us in that we will be seeing Joe, Tom, and, most importantly, Snake again before the closing credits roll.

Max’s duties at “Spesial Sekuriti” somehow require that he go to the morgue to examine the corpses of Tania’s recent victims, which include the two drunk guys, as well as the formerly Uzi sporting hotel security guard. One of Max’s partners remarks that each of the victims have had their “cocks bitten off”, and opines that the culprit “could be a small animal”. Then another one of them makes a grade school level double entendre and they all laugh like idiots and head off to the bar. Seriously, these cops’ level of sensitivity makes that cop named “Shithead” from Naked Killer — or the cops from The Untold Story, even — by comparison seem like they could be detectives on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit.

Finally it comes time for us to learn who the ultimate target of Tania’s wrath is — in other words, the great granddaughter of that guy who pissed off the South Seas Queen in the first place. And, yes, I thought it was Tania, too, but no. It is actually Erica, a big haired aspiring pop star played by Claudia Angelique Rademaker. Erica has a signature song that we see performed twice in Lady Terminator, and it is a true thing of beauty, a preposterous serving of ESL word salad sung with utter conviction over the pulsating synth backing of an “Eye of the Tiger” style aspirational rock number. Of the lyrics that contain actual English (I don’t think that “solutious” is a word in any language) I could make out the following couplets, including the first chorus:

“Fight! Souls on fire!
We assist those in power!”

And:

“Some will find the power, search within the storm,
Someone hides a weaker face, a nose gone wrong!”

It is at Erica’s big rock show — actually a performance at a sparsely attended mall disco — that Tania finally catches up to Erica, making her entrance in the iconic, tube top with black leather pants and jacket ensemble that she will wear for the rest of the film. She also has that Uzi with her. And it turns out that it’s one of those magic Uzis that makes its own bullets, because Tania is able to squeeze endless rounds out of it into everybody at the disco except for, for some reason, Erica. This allows a large number of extras to put on their best death agony face as squibs and bags of fake blood do their delicate dance of enchantment within their clothing. I should mention here that, while Tania fires about a bazillion bullets into people, mostly innocent bystanders, throughout the course of the film, she also has about a giga-bazillion bullets fired into her, all to no effect, which nonetheless never causes those aligned against her to reconsider their mode of attack. “What does it take to kill you anyway?”, Max cries desperately at one point. I only have a partial answer to that question: Not bullets. (Max’s reply? BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM!)


Fortunately for Erica, Max and his asshole buddies are also at the disco when Tania makes her appearance, and Max is able to spirit her away to the temporary safety of the “Spesial Sekuriti” offices. Here we meet Erica’s uncle, an old shaman type who, after making his expected “I knew this day would come” speech, gives her some kind of protective object that we, the audience, are not allowed to see. Then Tania storms the offices and the uncle has a brief magical battle with her, which ends when Tania kills him by machine-gunning him in the balls for a full 10 seconds. Tania then methodically strides through the entire office and mows down absolutely everyone in sight, which turns out to be quite a lot of people; “Spesial Sekuriti” is obviously very well staffed. In the cases of the men, she adds a little extra coup de grace by kicking them in the groin once she’s fired enough bullets into their prostrate bodies to kill them several times over.

In its efforts to be a 1980s American action film, Lady Terminator makes a sincere attempt, in the midst of providing as much wall-to-wall carnage as possible, to also contain within itself everything else that a 1980s American action film should contain. And that includes 1980s American action film style character development, which, given that the characters here are even more two dimensional than those in the typical Golan-Globus film, makes for some pretty credibility stretching scenarios. First of all, we have Erica and Max, from the second they meet, constantly bickering and sniping at each other for no reason. Erica is presented as seeing the fact that Max has just obviously saved her from mortal harm as some kind of annoyance, and, when not making outraged inquiries about his intentions, keeps haughtily demanding to be taken home. In turn, Max, between squeezing off rounds at the pursuing Tania from behind the wheel of his speeding car, keeps telling her to “shut up”, and, in effect, that no uppity dame is going to tell him what to do.


Finally, during a brief, fireside respite, the two bond, which of course involves each telling the other about loved ones who have died violently — because, in a 1980s action film, you cannot be a person of substance unless you have lost a wife, child, parent, or all of the above to the hands of lowlife criminal scum. Max’s story consists entirely of him telling Erica that his wife talked him into quitting the police force, then moving to Minnesota and opening a restaurant, after which she was raped and killed. Max says that this last part was all his fault. However, based on these scant details, one could also say that the culprit might have been (a) the state of Minnesota, (b) restaurant ownership, or even, in fact, (c) the whole concept or entrepreneurship.

Erica takes up her part in this tit-for-tat by lamenting the fact that now, not only is she an orphan, but also minus a best friend and uncle thanks to Tania’s ravages. What follows is this marvelous exchange:

ERICA: Everybody’s gone! God, I’m alone!

MAX (robotically): It’ll all look better in the morning.

ERICA: Damn you! Can’t you see I’m crying for you!

Then they totally do it.

From this point on, Lady Terminator documents the treacherous cat-and-mouse game played between Max and Erica and the ever-determined Tanya, who somehow continues to commandeer nicer and nicer vehicles as she continues her pursuit — all of which, of course, end up getting spectacularly blown up in one way or another. Needlessly to say, this chase will also involve the deaths of many, many more innocent bystanders. Now and then, in the midst of the massacre, one member or another of the star cast will randomly assign a name to one of these anonymous casualties (“Damn, she got Betty!”, “Tom, my buddy!”). I see this as Lady Terminator‘s humble attempt to put a human face on the tragedy, whose scale would otherwise be too much for the human mind to truly grasp.


Finally it becomes clear that it’s time to call in the big guns, and so, as we have so eagerly anticipated, Max’s much heralded buddies from the States, Tom, John and Snake, are called in to try their hand at mopping things up. High-fives are exchanged. Cries of “Let’s kick ass!” are roared to the heavens. And, in a climactic nighttime battle at the airport, we see that, along with their toothbrushes and Axe Body Spray, the boys have packed a rocket-launching helicopter. Unfortunately, even this heavy ordnance proves no match for Tania’s bottomless Uzi. What then follows is a line from Max that will send shudders of ecstasy down the spine of any engaged viewer:

“Snake, get the Panzer!”

And with that, Lady Terminator descends/rises to a point where it could not be a more lacerating parody of 80s action movie cliches had it intended to be, with Snake riding around on top of an armored assault vehicle, mullet flying in the wind, multiple explosions going off on all sides of him, as he yells things like “Fuckin’ A!” and “Alright!” — all to the end of subduing a lone, Uzi wielding woman who looks like she stepped out of a Def Leppard video. Suffice it to say that anyone who has made it this far into Lady Terminator without throwing their hands up is weeping tears of unbridled joy at this point.


So, have I mentioned that I love Lady Terminator? LOVE it. It’s dialog is ludicrous. It’s action is frenetic, and also ludicrous. It’s gore is gratuitous to the point of being… well, ludicrous. Everything about it is so much more than it needs to be that it takes one past the point of feeling satisfied to feeling engorged. So generous is its bounty that to merely sing its praises seems like inadequate thanks. Like the Queen of the South Seas, it should be worshiped, with palms upturned to the heavens and mouth agape. We should give our bodies to it, and let it make of us soulless meat puppets for the purpose of whatever unholy errands it sees fit. In short, Lady Terminator is just a really, really awesome movie.

Unfortunately, Indonesia’s censors failed to recognize that awesomeness. Thanks to it having a level of onscreen nudity and simulated sex seldom seen by the predominantly Muslim country’s movie audiences, the film was pulled from the nation’s theaters within days of its release. Director H. Tjut Djalil would return to the export-friendly exploitation well again for the also pretty bonkers Dangerous Seductress in 1992, before hanging it up a couple of years later. And as for Lady Terminator‘s star cast? Well, if the IMDB is to be believed — which, well, it really isn’t — none of them went on to ever star in anything else, ever. Even if this were true, though, it’s my feeling that a sole, credited role in Lady Terminator is more than enough to trump the resume of many another, more prolifically employed actor. These people should all be proud. Very proud, indeed.

And as for me, suffice it to say I walked away from my initial viewing of Lady Terminator a changed man. Dammit, I want to marry Lady Terminator. And by that, I mean the movie, not the Lady Terminator herself. She’d probably shoot my dick off.

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Legend of the Bat

When innovative Shaw Bros. studio director Chor Yuen teamed up with martial arts novelist Lung Ku and the Shaw’s top kungfu film star, Ti Lung, they made beautiful music together. In 1977 the trio collaborated to create two of the best martial arts films ever made, Clans of Intrigue and Magic Blade. The success of the films, as well as their recognition as some of the greatest looking films to come from the martial arts genre in decades, made it a pretty simple decision to keep a good thing going. Less than a year after audiences were dazzled with the complexly tangled web of swordplay, sex, and suaveness that made up Clans of Intrigue, the trio got together for a sequel called Legend of the Bat. Legend of the Bat is about Ti Lung smirking and stabbing people and trying to unravel a mysterious plot chocked full of secret identities, ulterior motives, and booby trapped lairs. In other words, it’s more of the same, and the same is worth getting more of when it’s as cool as Clans of Intrigue.

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Love and Murder

Love and Murder is a rough-edged, fast paced and ever-so-slightly sleazy little Bollywood B thriller that satisfyingly combines noirish stylistic flourishes with elements of the James Bond movies. If you’re going to crib, you might as well do it from the best, and Love and Murder certainly cribs well, also pilfering here and there from the German Krimi thrillers and even Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques. The addition of a classic femme fatale turn by Helen and an appearance by a mysterious killer in a skeleton suit almost compensates for the fact that the print from which the M.H. One VCD was made looks like it spent a good deal of time marinating on the bed of a stagnant lake.

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Land That Time Forgot


For many years, England’s Amicus Productions was the scrappy studio living in the shadow of and following the lead of the higher profile Hammer Studio. In fact, so closely did Amicus follow Hammer’s horror lead that much of their output continue to be mistakenly labeled as Hammer Horror. Amicus often used the same actors — including Peter Cushing and venerated horror film icon Christopher Lee — and directors — including Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker — and went for a similar feel. There are, however, several differences. For starters, most of Amicus’ horror films were set in the present day, or at least more recently than Hammer Victorian-era gothic tales. Also, having been founded by Americans, Amicus often looked overseas for established genre talent rather than sticking primarily to English stars. Thus, you get a film like Madhouse or Scream and Scream Again, both of which starred American horror icon Vincent Price. And finally, although Amicus is known these days primarily for their horror output — and especially their horror anthology films like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The House that Dripped Blood, Vault of Horrors, and Tales from the Crypt — they also produced a number of science-fiction and sci-fi tinged horror films. Hammer did this as well, at least for a little while and most successfully with their Quatermass films, but once Dracula, the mummy, and Frankenstein became established hits, Hammer pretty much jettisoned sci-fi in favor of straight Gothic horror. Amicus, on the other hand, constantly dabbled in the speculative genre.

Their first, and easily their best known sci-fi outings, if for no other reason than the association they have with one of the biggest sci-fi cult hits of all time, are their two Doctor Who films starring Peter Cushing as the mysterious time-traveler. At the time, the television series was still shot in black and white. Amicus looked toward two of the very best story arcs from the first Doctor’s series (William Hartnell’s stories The Daleks and The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth), and redid them, only with a bigger budget and in eye-popping color. Although the movies were rehashes with some departures from the series (Peter Cushing, for example, actually refers to himself as “Doctor Who” and with no hint of being an alien — which, while out-of-step for the series as we know it, was still in line with the series at the time), they were hits for Amicus. The appeal of seeing Doctor Who in color and starring one of England’s most beloved actors was a huge draw.


Amicus dabbled in sci-fi on and off in the ensuing years, with generally good results (They Came From Beyond Space), and one or two clunkers (The Deadly Bees). When the British film industry tanked at the beginning of the 1970s, small studios like Amicus were hit particularly hard. Hammer collapsed entirely, despite making some of their best horror films during the early years of that decade. Amicus limped on, however, producing some genuinely interesting films, like the bizarre and enjoyable mash-up of horror, science fiction, and Eurospy films that was Scream and Scream Again. As the decade wore on, the belt-tightening became more and more extreme. Looking for a way to keep their craft afloat, Amicus decided to put their faith in a series of science fiction/fantasy adventure films based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It didn’t work, for a number of reasons, even though the films proved relatively popular with kids and remain nostalgic favorites for people like me.

The first of these films was The Land that Time Forgot, not to be confused with The Land Before Time. Both feature dinosaurs, but only one features a shrieking caveman being torn apart by a pterodactyl dangling from absurdly visible wires.

When I was a kid, The Land That Time Forgot played pretty regularly on television. Although I know I saw it in the theaters (it was distributed in America by AIP, whose infusion of cash as co-producers was the only thing that enabled Amicus to get these final films finished), my memories are of watching it on television, and fairly frequently at that. These days, now that I have progressed from being a five year old with the mentality of an eight year old, to being a forty-year old with the mentality of…well, a nine year old if we are generous, I can see just how threadbare the productions really were. It didn’t matter to me then, of course, and it didn’t matter to most kids despite the fact that so many people try to project the sophistication of their adult life onto their childhood. “Even as a kid, I could tell these films were cheap,” they claim, and it’s almost never true. Most children view films differently than adults. When a film is cheap and boring, the cheapness doesn’t really register (what do you have, at age six or seven, to even judge cheapness by) and the boring parts wash over you like water off a duck’s back. You tune out when it gets boring, and all you remember afterward are the cool parts. Thus, even really crummy movies can seem relatively enjoyable, because you don’t remember the dull bits; all you remember is the shrieking caveman being torn apart by a pterodactyl. Oh sure, I know some of you watched these movies with the keen eye of a wizened critic even at age six, and you turned your nose up at how juvenile they were even when you were juvenile. Well, I hope you had fun watching Kramer versus Kramer as a child, while the rest of us were watching dinosaurs fighting a submarine while Doug McClure punched cavemen in the face. I’m sure your childhood was much better off for your refined sense of cinematic value when you were in first grade.


I, of course, was hopelessly lowbrow and common as a child. As an adult, as you know by know, I am equally hopeless and lowbrow. While that means that I am still pleased by loads of cheap juvenile crap while being bored by indie films in which quirky dysfunctional families learn to accept one another, it also means that I also get to enjoy most of my filmgoing experiences, shrugging off most films with an, “Ehh, that was all right.” It keeps me happy and keeps the blood pressure low, even if it deprives me of any claim to righteous fury over how base and moronic most entertainment has become. I’ve made my peace with this, and I’m happier rolling with the punches and genuinely enjoying films than I am getting upset about something as silly as a movie. Which means than even though I can see how floppy the rubber dinosaurs are, and even though I can see the wires on the pterodactyl, and even though I can tell the caveman in its mouth is a wind-up action doll, I still really enjoy The Land That Time Forgot.

The year is 1916 or 1917. The United States has yet to enter into World War I, which has yet to be named World War I, but we are more visible in our support of the Allied cause. In turn, Germany has announced the practice of unrestricted submarine warfare. At the start of the war, Germany operated its much feared u-boat fleet under certain restrictions in regard to the rules of good sportsmanship during a war. They would not, for example, attack civilian vessels, limiting themselves to torpedoing identifiable military ships belonging to their enemies (mostly England). As the war in Western Europe ground to a stalemate, Germany began to revise their u-boat strategy, first attacking any ships belonging to their enemies, and then any ships belonging to anyone they though might be helping their enemies (thus bringing American ships under fire). And then, finally, they pretty much started torpedoing anything that wasn’t German. The policy of unrestricted submarine warfare was one of the major tipping points that brought the U.S. into the war (though it wasn’t the coup de grace — that being a telegram from Germany pitching a plan to bring Mexico into the war on the side of the Germans). The Germans maintained that most of the so-called civilian ships they attacked were carrying weapons and supplies to the beleaguered Brits, who were deviously smuggling equipment from American suppliers aboard such civilian craft.


The Land that Time Forgot picks up its story during this time of expanding u-boat warfare. German submarine captain Von Schoenvorts has just finished torpedoing a ship of the type described above: civilian but suspected of containing smuggled supplies. Despite the job being well done, and although he believes in the German cause, Von Schoenvorts is in no mood to celebrate killing civilians. He’d be even less celebratory if he knew one of the civilians who survived was American entrepreneur Doug McClure, here playing a guy named Bowen Tyler, but he’s pretty much just Doug McClure. Isn’t he always? And aren’t we always thankful for it? McClure is adrift now, along with the one other survivor who, lucky for McClure, happens to be lovely and female (Susan Penhaligon), and lucky for the script, also happens to be a scientist. I think she’s a biologist, but really, she seems to be one of those classic movie style scientists who knows a lot about everything. Thanks to my sister, herself a biologist, I have met many other scientists and many other biologists, and they always seem to be very specialized in what they do. My sister, for example, can tell you pretty much everything you need to know about various types of bats and blind cave fish, but I think if you dropped a caveman off in her lab and asked her about him, she’d have little more to say than what could be gleaned from watching Encino Man, which is that cavemen love to party and swing from things. But Susan Penhaligon’s Lisa Clayton is as comfortable finding her way around a protozoa as she is a caveman, a diplodicus, or Doug McClure. She’s also handy with geography, and she probably knows a few things about botany. But not mechanical stuff. That’s for the guys, and luckily, Doug McClure happens to be the son of a guy who designs submarines. But it is the early 20th Century, so perhaps science was still more generalized, like how centuries before, Sir Isaac Newton could be good at calculus, physics, and poking metal rods into his own eye sockets to see how deformation of the eyeball affected seeing.

When it happens that a few other survivors float by, all of them British sailors, and our merry band happens to find the U-boat that torpedoed them, the gang is well-suited for a hostile take-over. So begins a cat-and-mouse battle between the Germans and Brits plus Doug McClure, with each side trying to either out-muscle or out-sneak the other side to get the upper hand and win/lose control of the submarine. Now you might be wondering whether you’re watching a movie about Doug McClure fighting dinosaurs or a WWI era submarine adventure. And indeed, the first half of this film concerns itself primarily with Great War U-boat shenanigans. However, I never really found these proceedings to be dull, as not only do I like WWI stuff, but I also like the glimpses into the characters — specifically von Schoenvorts (himself an amateur naturalist). When the move/counter-move mini-war on the sub results in the ship ending up off the coast of Antarctica, very low on fuel and with no hope of reaching a supply ship or port, the two sides form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to figure out how the hell to get themselves out of the mess they’ve gotten into. A large cave from which pours forth warm, fresh water, seems the best possible alternative, because when in doubt, why not take your submarine into a completely uncharted cave. But they do, and despite some close scrapes, they safely navigate through and into…

An amazing tropical prehistoric wonderland!


Previously, we looked at the Doug McClure fantasy adventure film At the Earth’s Core, from the same production company and director, and reflected briefly on the history of hollow earth theories that inspired the various “world within the world” adventures stories like Pellucidar, the series upon which the film was based. This time around, we’re tackling a theory that had a very similar evolution from scientific theory to discredited crackpot theory to fodder for pulp sci-fi and adventure writers. And once again, tracing the origins of such beliefs takes us far back in time. As with the caves and earthquakes, fissures and sinkholes, that most likely let primitive man to conceptualize a world below the surface of the earth, so too can we assume that the birth of the idea of the arctic as a place of magic comes from it being an equally impenetrable and difficult to understand region. In the days before performance fleece and Russian ice breakers, the remote, freezing north must have been nearly as impenetrable as the depths of the oceans. But men ventured there, from time to time, and when they did, who knows what things they beheld — augmented, of course, by the old timey storytellers’ penchant for bullshit.

Early accounts of Greek thinkers theorized that, because the northern stars didn’t seem to rotate around the earth in the same fashion as other stars, that they must be above an equally unusual land. Although polar exploration was likely out of the question, the Arctic circle itself was within reach of ancient man, provided he brought enough furs and mukluks. But the Greeks simply made up their own stories about this curious place to the north, beneath the Arktos constellations. They “theorized” — perhaps with the aid of Dionysus — that this land existed above the north wind, and thus was pleasant in climate if you survived the curtain of murderous cold that surrounded it. The land was, furthermore, once populated by advanced beings known as the Hyperboreans who, being lucky enough to live in such an awesome world, were basically gods. However, the toil of a perfect existence eventually wore them down, and out of boredom, the Hyperboreans drowned themselves.


In 330 B.C., someone actually did bother to set out for these mysterious northern lands. Greek astronomer Pytheus purportedly sailed north of the British Isles and discovered there a land he dubbed Thule, where during the Summer Solstice the sun did not set. Pytheas attempted to continue his harsh northward trek, but the ship was turned back by an impenetrable wall of what he referred to as “sea lungs.” Fantastic at the time, we can today understand the basic truths behind Pytheas’ accounts. Thule could be any of the lands north of Britain: The Shetlands, the coasts of assorted Scandanavian countries. Non-setting suns in these regions at certain times of the year are understood and accounted for. And sea lungs are, more than likely, massive icebergs and floes.

Long after Pytheas journey to the north, more and more stories began to filter down, often from early British and Norse sailors. These stories, given the average ancient sailor’s taste for embellishment, became increasingly fanciful. Aside from the ancient Greek idea of a lush tropical paradise beyond the curtain of cold, these early explorers added pygmies and various monsters to the mix. In the late 1500s, England mounted official expeditions to the region, largely in hopes of laying claim to it as part of the empire. It was even claimed that King Arthur, the quasi-mythical father of what was then modern England, mounted expeditions to the arctic regions. The early Elizabethan efforts, while both brave and groundbreaking, did little to advance the cause of the northernmost world being within England’s sphere of influence. It turns out that the chief problem with exploring the Arctic is that most of the people who try it die of starvation and exposure, provided they aren’t frozen or drowned when their ships hits an iceberg. Or they simply go mad when they find their ships iced in and unable to free themselves. Despite all that, it was during this era that England established tenuous toeholds in places as far north as the Baffin Islands.


Exploration picked up again in the 1800s. This time it was ignited by stories of a navigable “northwest passage,” a sailing route clear of ice than would allow ships to sail over the top of the world, thus saving untold months that had to be spent sailing around the giant continents that got in the way of easy cruising between, say, England and India. This time, they weren’t just shooting for the arctic regions; they were aiming for the very Pole itself. Not surprisingly, a science fiction writer beat them to it. Although little of it made it into subsequent — and more familiar — film versions, Mary Shelley’s original novel, Frankenstein, is concerned at least partially with an ill-fated arctic expedition, the captain of which seems bitterly and ironically disappointed that there isn’t any mystical tropical paradise to greet them at journey’s end. There is, instead, only more and harsher cold. It is on this expedition that they encounter another ill-fated arctic traveler, Victor Von Frankenstein, traveling with his now infamous creature. While most film versions of the story concern themselves purely with the creation of the monster in Frankenstein’s Jacob’s Ladder-strewn laboratory, and the eventual destruction of the creature by torch-wielding peasants storming the castle, the book actually ends with the creature escaping toward the North Pole, presumably going there to die.

Exploiting the fervor over dramatic leaps in exploring the world during the 1800s and relying on the old myths and legends, the science fiction and pulp writers of the era began cranking out a number of stories about the discovery of strange lands at the top and bottom of the world. Most of these fell within the realm of what we can today classify as “lost worlds” literature. As the remote corners of the earth became less remote, new discoveries of ancient civilizations were happening with stunning rapidity. Most dramatic among these was the excavation of ancient Egyptian sites, but similar excavations and scientific expeditions were taking place everywhere from the heart of the Amazon Jungle to the steppes of Mongolia. Scientists were having a field day, and so too were the writers of fantastic fiction. In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe entered into the game with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a fictionalized account of a man’s incredible adventure at the South Pole and of the mysterious creatures he encountered. Incredibly, the story was thought for a time to be a work of non-fiction.


When explorers finally did penetrate the top of the world, thus dispelling any myths about tropical islands or gigantic holes leading to an advanced society of learned elders who dwelt inside the earth, it did little to dispel myths about tropical islands or gigantic holes leading to an advanced society of learned elders who dwelt inside the earth. H.P. Lovecraft wrote a pseudo-sequel to Poe’s work, entitled At the Mountain of Madness, which proffers the hole into which Pym fell into lead to a land populated by his now famous shoggoths. A group of German mystics founded something called the Thule Society in 1912, combining the more or less believable accounts of Pyhtean’s voyage north with the more fantastical old belief in the Hyperboreans, then layering on top of that a healthy dose of master race B.S. and anti-Semitism. According to the Thule Society, Thule wasn’t just a name for some existing northern land before such places had names known to Greeks. It was, in fact, an actual island, one populated by the super-advanced Hyperboreans who, like the Atlanteans (and the Muu-ians, and the Lemorians, and presumably the Seatopians), perished when their island paradise sank into the sea. However, a few Hyperboreans escaped and became the German race, condemned to live out their lives on the European mainland amid all the Jews and other inferior races who wore pants and stuff, instead of the silver lame mini-tunics with golden shoulder pads and tiaras, which is what I assume all super-advanced inhabitants of lost continents wore. The Thule Society eventually went on to be a Nazi farm team, and no one in the Thule Society’s Nazi wing ever addressed the fact that while the Jews may have been inferior, at least their continent never sank into the sea.


You would think that something as daft and racist as the Thule Society would have finally put the “mystic arctic” theories to rest. But then, you’d be underestimating the strong desire of people to believe really ridiculous shit. In fact, post World War II, theories about secret paradises above the Arctic Circle enjoyed a resurgence, with the claim now added that the North Pole was a base for UFOs piloted not by space aliens with an affinity for anally probing Midwestern farmers, but by Nazis who had escaped after Word War II and rediscovered ancient Hyperborean technology, allowing them to build experimental flying saucers to be used when the Fourth Reich rose up and conquered the world. Once again, pulp writers had a field day. These days, despite the fact that commercial flights pass over it and young women ski across it, and rich people drink champagne and go there on giant Russian ships to look at polar bears, conspiracy theories about secret UFO bases, gateways to the hollow earth, and lush tropical paradises at the North Pole still enjoy a surprising degree of popularity, with all the evidence to the contrary dismissed as “a government cover-up.” Such theories were lent further fuel when, in 2004, researchers began digging up fossil evidence that at some point (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of years ago) the Arctic enjoyed a subtropical climate. That this would have been long before the dawn of man is of little consequence, the Hyperboreans of course being a totally different race. Unfortunately, arctic researchers have turned up little more than the fossilized remnants of plants. To date, they have found no ray guns, UFOs, or silver lame mini-tunics — that they’ve told us about.

Amid all of this (1922, to be exact), Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the story The Land that Time Forgot. And many years later, a nearly bankrupt Amicus Productions sent Doug McClure to the fantastic tropical lost world of Caprona, where he and the combined German and British crew soon discover the land is positively crawling with dinosaurs — and dinosaurs from various epochs. They also discover cavemen who, like the dinosaurs, seem to be in varied states of evolutionary advancement. Through her incredible ability to interpret caveman grunts and chest slapping, as well as her ability to look through a microscope with von Schoenvorts, Lisa is able to divine the mysteries of Caprona. It seems that evolution in this lost world occurs not over a period of millennia, but within the span of a single lifetime, with great evolutionary leaps being taken as part of a mysterious metamorphosis. The further south one travels, the more advanced the humans become. While Lisa and von Schoenvorts are fascinated by this biological phenomenon, and while Doug McClure seems happy to pal around with a caveman and shoot dinosaurs, most of the sailors on both sides are keen to get the hell out of Caprona so they can stop being eaten by dinosaurs and return to the safety and luxury of World War One. When they discover crude oil, they discover the means of their escape. However, like all lost worlds, this one is menaced by a restless volcano that could blow at any minute.


As with Kevin Connor’s other adventures based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Land that Time Forgot is low-budget and crammed with tons of really awful special effects. In 1925, Harry Hoyt and Marion Fairfax’s silent film version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World became the first “lost world” movie, and it was said at the time that the special effects work of Willis O’Brien (who would later go on to do the effects for the original King Kong) were so good that audiences would be completely fooled into thinking the film was a documentary with actual footage of living dinosaurs. I don’t know how many people did believe the dinosaurs were real, but it’s safe to say that the effects in 1925 were far better than the effects we see in 1975. The effects in The Land that Time Forgot aren’t quite as bad as, say, Mighty Gorga, but they are pretty bad.

On the other hand, they are also colorful and hypnotic. As a kid, I was fascinated by them and not phased by how shoddy they were. As an adult, I still think they are fun. Plus, what the movie lacks in quality it more than makes up for in quantity. Once the u-boat arrives in Caprona, all vestiges of the rather serious World War One maritime adventure vanish, and the dinosaur and caveman attacks come more or less non-stop. As McClure and his buddies venture further and further south, the evolutionary mysteries of the lost world become even more puzzling. So do the geographical mysteries, because although it is assumed that they have hiked days away from the lake that is their base, everyone seems to be able to jog back to the submarine within a matter of minutes.


The cast, comprised mostly of professional British stalwarts, is solid. McClure turns in his usual performance, but that’s really all I ever want from him. Yet again, he’s a regular Joe who runs up against the fantastic and deals with it mostly by punching it in the face. Some people don’t care for McClure’s style. I’m not among those people, but even if I was, I’d have to admit that his final “we are so fucked” expression as he watched the submarine disappear is incredible. Connor’s direction is, also, about the same as always, meaning that he correctly positions the camera and shoots his scenes, but never adds very much character to the film. I sort of prefer that style of direction to the overbearingly tricky “look at me and how clever I am” style of self-indulgent direction we see today. Connor recognizes that his movie is colorful and full of crude rubber dinosaur, and you don’t add much to the formula by zooming the camera around and doing lots of crazy editing.

Although I’m sure this film benefits in some degree from my own nostalgia regarding it, the end result is the same. I really like it. It’s one of those rainy Saturday afternoon matinee films that seeks to do little more than entertain you. Aside from plenty of fun dinosaur and caveman adventure, The Land that Time Forgot offers up really one of the most downbeat and apocalyptic endings of any movie aimed at kids. As McClure tries to rescue Lisa from a band of slightly more advanced cavemen (naturally they kidnapped her), the volcano erupts (also naturally). As they struggle to make it back to the submarine, the truce between the Germans and the Brits finally starts to break down. Von Schoenvorts, the sentimentalist, wants to wait for McClure and Lisa. His first mate, a realist, wants to leave before it’s too late. In the end, no one wins, as pretty much everyone guns down everyone else, and the cave collapses, crushing the submarine and the few in it who were still alive. McClure and Lisa are stranded in Caprona, with nothing to do except follow the land’s mysteries ever further south, until at last they reach what is, for all intents and purposes, the end of the world. There, they toss a message in a bottle into the raging Antarctic seas, hoping against all hope that someone, someday, will find it, believe it, and come rescue them.

And unfortunately, someone did.

Release Year: 1975 | Country: England, United States | Starring: Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley, Godfrey James, Bobby Parr, Declan Mulholland, Colin Farrell, Ben Howard, Roy Holder | Writer: James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock | Director: Kevin Connor | Cinematographer: Alan Hume | Music: Douglas Gamley