The category is broad so the criteria must be limited to
the B Monster's discretion. Films about prehistoric creatures
disturbed from a 60 million-year slumber don't qualify;
otherwise we'd be re-exploring Dinosaur Island, Mothra's
home base and two dozen other Toho habitats. Other planets
are out; as the list indicates, our own planet is riddled
with tunnels and peppered with islands inhabited by lost
civilizations. Finally, films such as She and Lost
Horizon are just a bit too "legit," and therefore fall
outside our genre-film wheelhouse. So, in no particular
10A. Fantastic Voyage
From its opening frame, this film screams "sixties." The
music, the titles, the white naugahyde zipper suits. And
what an odd mix this cast is -- Stephen Boyd, Edmond O'Brien,
Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasence, Arthur Kennedy -- none of
whom seems particularly comfortable with the milieu. O'Brien
leads the scenery-chewing as the top dog of a super-secret
government miniaturization program. The now-familiar plot
involves a shrunken scientific team inserted into the body
of a scientist. They're washed and flushed through darned
near every vital organ. These visuals were impressive in
1966, and the film won Oscars for art direction and effects.
Just imagine if they made it today; it would spawn a dozen
or more sequels: Fantastic Voyage II: Spastic Colon Assault,
Fantastic Voyage III: Acid Reflux Extreme! The tagline?
"Get your bowels in an uproar!"
A variation on the miniaturization theme -- and a splendid
film to pair with Fantastic Voyage -- Innerspace
wisely avoids the condescension and clichés that
might have undermined its success. Director Joe Dante helmed
this charming, innovative take on inner-body travel, shaping
a top-notch cast and nifty effects into a satisfying whole.
Dennis Quaid is the mini-pilot at the controls of a revolutionary
craft that courses its way through the spastic, convulsive
body of Martin Short, already a hyper-kinetic subject who's
well-matched to the part. Kevin McCarthy is terrific as
the conniving heavy, and this is as good a time as any to
salute Dante for casting McCarthy, Ken Tobey, William Schallert
and Dick Miller, all veterans of our favorite genre films.
(Oh, yeah, Meg Ryan is in it, too.) This easily could have
been a derivative, hackneyed, by-the-numbers schlockfest,
but thanks to Dante's feel for the genre, it's snappy, fresh
and affectionate. And, you can watch it with your kids!
9. Atlantis: The Lost Continent
Producer George Pal was an erratic filmmaker with a visionary's
ambitions and an eye for seductive color and design. He
gave us Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, When Worlds
Collide and, unfortunately, Atlantis: The Lost Continent.
I don't know if the great man's ambitions exceeded his resources
or if the big ideas were just TOO darned big to credibly
translate. In any case, the film just doesn't happen. It
has its visual attributes -- they built Atlantis, for Pete's
sake -- and there's a nifty armored submarine. Add Joyce
Taylor and a minotaur or two ... sounds exciting, right?
It isn't. It's easily Pal's worst film. The casting doesn't
help much. Bland John Dall was perfect in Gun Crazy,
but he doesn't cut it as the fabled lost isle's top heavy.
8. Unknown World
This atom-age riff on Journey to the Center of the Earth
starts with a bang, then turns so deadly earnest in its
approach that it almost becomes an educational film. It
seems that scientists have determined that the only safe
haven from the volatile Cold War and imminent nuclear destruction
is at the earth's core. Grandfatherly Victor Kilian and
his crew pile into the Cyclotram, an auger-nosed tank contraption
whipped up by effects aces Jack Rabin and Irving Block.
The Cyclotram bores through soil and stone, burrowing towards
mankind's new refuge, but nothing terribly interesting happens
along the way. (Put me behind the wheel of one of these
babies during rush hour. Now THAT would be interesting.)
7. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Colorful, engaging (if a trifle long at 132 minutes) version
of Verne's time-honored tale with a top-flight cast that
includes James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Alan Napier
-- even Pat Boone is okay. The intrepid group begins their
trek by spelunking into a live volcano! (Wait a minute,
who planned this trip?) Before long, they're bumping into
big lizards, a lost city and all manner of science-fiction-type
fauna. A nifty Bernard Herrmann score keeps things perking
through the rough patches.
6. The Land Unknown
The number of outright "duds" on producer William Alland's
illustrious resume is limited to just one, The Deadly
Mantis. But The Land Unknown is only better by
a whisker. Alland and director Virgil Vogel turned out this
rather limp variation on the Lost World scenario.
The prehistoric tropical zone in question is illogically
tucked away somewhere in Antarctica. There were three ways
to go when making a dinosaur picture in the pre-CGI era:
Stop-motion animation, as in King Kong, pet store
lizards with glued-on fins, as in King Dinosaur or
guys in rubber suits, like the ones who tromp through The
Land Unknown. We've seen worse (the ludicrous The
Last Dinosaur comes to mind), but the distraction is
nonetheless insurmountable. Jock Mahoney, Shawn Smith and
William Reynolds wrestle with some absurdly corny dialogue
to no avail. The Land Unknown has its innocent charms,
but not enough of 'em.
5. Unknown Island
A true rarity -- a 1950s sci-fi film that was made in 1948!
There's not much happening here plotwise, and the island
in question is populated by perhaps the least convincing
dinosaurs ever to stalk a soundstage. ("Cue the rubber suits!")
These are arguably the most ill-attired reptiles in fantasy-film
history. Paul Blaisdell wouldn't be caught dead in these
dinosaur duds! Filmed in glorious Cinecolor, Unknown
Island is a decidedly sluggish ride over well-traversed
terrain. But it has two things in the plus column -- and
they're big pluses: Richard Denning and Barton MacLane.
Denning never walked into a scene he didn't brighten, even
when playing the nominal heavy as he did in Creature
From the Black Lagoon. And Barton MacLane is always
fun to watch, grumbling, grousing and muscling his way through
every scene in every movie he was ever in.
4. The Lost World
No, not Irwin Allen's disastrous 1960 version. Not the 1993
Canadian rendition starring John Rhys-Davies that turns
up on cable at least three times a week. And certainly not
to be confused with the sequel to Jurassic Park.
This is the groundbreaking 1925 silent version of the Conan
Doyle classic. Animation-meister Willis O'Brien's stop-motion
dinosaur, created 77 years ago, is still impressive work.
Its stunning stampede though London was the blueprint for
all of our favorite "monster on the loose" movies, and planted
the cinematic seeds that would lead to the creation of Kong.
3. The Mole People
It may not be the film that its producer, the great William
Alland, would want to be remembered for, but it's nothing
if not ambitious. The vast, subterranean city of the ancient
Sumerians looks pretty phony, but it is not without charm.
(There's a sweeping matte painting for long shots, a rather
shoddy set for ceremonies in the Sumerian temple, and dark
tunnels for everything else.) The Moles themselves are memorable,
and even a bit scary if you're of a certain age. They're
enslaved by the pasty-faced, solar-sensitive Sumerians until
aided in their rebellion by scientists John Agar and Hugh
Beaumont. (Be sure and freeze-frame the scene when our heroes
are first abducted by the Moles. One maskless Moleman sticks
his very human face into frame for a second or two.) An
aside to all you self-proclaimed "bad-movie connoisseurs":
Stop picking on John Agar! He's just fine in this film,
as he was in many films. The next time you feel the urge,
think of Hayden Christensen's performance in Attack of
the Clones. Is this what your generation brings to the
2. Lost Continent
Note to the uninitiated: Go ahead and laugh at the Davey
and Goliath-like dinosaurs, the padded rock climbing
sequences, the green-tinted footage and the bravado performances.
Go ahead and laugh at everything I think makes this picture
terrific! With the possible exception of Alex Gordon, only
Robert L. Lippert could assemble such a cast: Cesar Romero,
Hugh Beaumont, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Chick Chandler,
Hillary Brooke, our beloved Sid Melton -- and Acquanetta,
for cryin' out loud! Let's say they were burying a time
capsule and someone said, "Quick, pick one picture that
showcases the most and the best B-movie actors in top form!"
I'd be tempted to toss in Lost Continent. It's cheap
and kooky and slow in spots, but every performer goes at
the material as though it were Shakespeare -- much like
Lugosi in his waning days. I like that about this picture.
1. King Kong
Come on, is there another title on this list that even comes
close? It's the ultimate "Lost World" adventure and the
best darned epitaph a guy like Willis O'Brien could have.
After seven decades, his special effects have not been outdone
in terms of charm and emotional connection. Based on his
facial expressions and body language alone, Kong out-acted
most of that year's Oscar winners. And the dreamlike sets
and matte paintings are nearly as gorgeous as Fay Wray.
Max Steiner's music may sound calculated to contemporary
ears, but its bumps and blares suit the material perfectly.
(Would you prefer the ceaselessly treacly strings of John
Williams? That guy's been on auto-pilot for 10 years. Give
him another Oscar!) But I think Robert Armstrong is the
unsung hero of King Kong. (There, I said it.) His
cocksure performance is the catalyst. He brings the picture
home with a winning mix of selfish cunning and humanity.
He was the era's premier "wiseguy with a heart of gold,"
and a confoundingly underrated actor. (Go back and watch
G-Men or The Lost Squadron or The Ex-Mrs.
Bradford.) In summation, if you ever get tired of watching
King Kong, then you're just plain tired of movies.