The Unknown Terror (1957)

The_Unknown_Terror_(1957)‘They dared enter the cave of death to explore the secrets of hell!’

A husband and wife go to Mexico to try and find her brother; who has gone missing whilst searching for ‘The Cave of Death.’ Arriving in the region, they find the natives secretive and unhelpful. Living in the village is an American doctor, who is carrying out mysterious experiments with fungi…

Remorselessly low grade ‘B’ flick directed by Charles Marquis Warren, better remembered as a writer/producer of successful TV westerns such as ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Gunsmoke’ and director of Elvis Presley’s unsuccessful attempt to be ‘The Man with No Name’ in ‘Charro’ (1969). It’s obvious from the tepid results on offer here that Warren was much happier in the saddle. He fails to inject any life into this whatsoever, although, to be fair, the ingredients are tired and familiar: the love triangle between the husband-wife and their friend, a mad scientist creating lethal soap suds, a passionate native girl who betrays the villain and a few half-hearted stuntmen pretending to be subterranean creatures.

In fact, the only real point of interest is the burgeoning romance between embittered anti-hero Paul Richards and the native girl, played  by May Wynn. He’s the friend along for the ride on the rescue expedition who was permanently injured saving the husband’s life in a caving accident. Placing a disabled character with mobility issues front and centre is unusual. Although the character is defined by his disability throughout, he is shown as more competent and accomplished than husband (and nominal hero) John Howard, who spent most of the 1930s and 40s fighting villains and spies as Bulldog Drummond. There is little of that suave ‘Drummond’ persona in Howard’s performance here, but he and heroine Mala Powers (‘Cyrano de Begerac’ (1950)) are saddled with such dull and generic characters that they can be forgiven for not trying too hard. May Wynn was a singer who debuted as the female lead in 7 times Oscar-nominated ‘The Caine Mutiny’ (1954) with Humphrey Bogart. The fact that she was appearing in this film just 3 year later (and in a supporting role no less!) gives you some idea of her career trajectory.


‘Soup’s on!’

Leaving aside the lacklustre script, production values are low and, although the cave sets aren’t that bad, we spend an awful lot of time crawling around in them. The static camera work also tries the patience, with nearly everything filmed in medium or long shot (particularly the monsters!) Although publicity shots from the time explain why the creatures weren’t seen up close!

The final plot revelations are hardly startling, although, in its favour, the fates of the main characters aren’t as predictable as usual. However, the snail’s pace isn’t likely to encourage much audience investment in the final outcome and makes the brief 76 minute running time seem a lot longer.

A largely forgotten scrap of 1950s Science Fiction.  With good reason.


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