Although top-billed, John Carradine has just a handful of scenes in this amazing, zero-budget sci-fi thriller that generally manages to entertain because of its sumptuous cheapness.
Idiot director-producer Jerry Warren was satisfied by simply slapping together bare bones scenes instead of developing anything genuinely dramatic, and one suspects one-time writer John W. Steiner never worked in film again because his feature-length calling card was riddled with nonsensical conceits.
Maybe it was Warren’s influence all along, but the basic premise isn’t all that dumb: somewhere below the ocean depths lies a world frozen in time. The problem is petrified also implies prehistoric, which should include dinosaurs, cavemen, or some giant sea monster.
Not so! After a slow-burning title sequence with lots of stock footage of a turbulent ocean, we get a lethargic 4 min. sequence that’ supposed to set up the premise of a great adventure and a missing link, but instead it’s amateurish shots of fish, a shark, and an octopus in the local aquarium. (We know this because we can see the reflection of the tall vertical glass portals from across the room, where people are standing and looking at other big fishies.)
Slapped to the meandering montage is a sterile narration about underwater evolution, likely copied from a high school textbook, and read without any consideration for paying patrons wanting to see the images from the film’s bullshit poster art.
Warren then takes us to a funding cocktail partee, after which we see two eggheads and their girlfriends – one a bitch (Phyllis Coates), the other a hottie (Sheila Noonan) – enter a round submersible that’s dropped into the ocean for some deep water exploration, only to break free from its cable system and tumble to the ocean floor.
The benthic terrain is all bright and beautiful, which isn’t due to the film being shot in shallow water, but a mysteriously bright light source coming from the phosphorescent caverns from a nearby ridge.
When seen from inside, the steel diving orb is a locked front-on shot of a set resembling a teenager’s concept of what probably exists in a diving bell: a thin ladder ascending to an unseen porthole, a wooden dresser, and some gizmos glued to the paper mache wall. Even better is the virtual absence of an air lock; this new marvel of mankind allows its inhabitants to open and close the hatch without allowing gravity and pressure to smother the bell’s interior with seawater.
None of the explorers wear any professional diving gear, but they do change from their street clothes into wetsuits housed in a magical off-screen locker. Their air tanks are the size of a thermos, and yet the men are able to make repeated dives to and from the bell to a cave system, bringing a bevy of gear never seen in the bell. Better still are the underwater views of the bell, which are overexposed, perhaps to hide what resembles a smooshy weather balloon where the actors swim behind to make it appear they’re using said magic hatch.
The men are also able to harpoon fish using sharpened metal rods they brought back from the bell, and cook said water creatures using air (or some kitchen device that’s never seen). When the quartet begins the journey to the surface, their wanderings through the cave system (er, oft-travelled paths at Colossal Cave, Tucson, Arizona), they encounter one dinosaur: mismatched stock footage of a lizard, likely shot at the other part of the nature park that housed the aquarium.
When they encounter a caveman, it’s just some twit who got lost 15 years ago – played by former production designer Maurice Bernard, who seems to have fallen into acting when his wartime film career in France fizzled. Sadly, neither his wig (Old Man #12) nor Halloween beard (Crazy Man #8) are convincing, though his English skills are quite solid.
The men eventually attempt to find a way north, leaving the bickering women at the hands of the horny Frenchman, but before he can fully manhandle the pair, a volcano erupts, killing the pervert, and forcing the quartet back to their original cave camp, where they encounter John Carradine, who whisks them back to the surface just in time before the caverns are destroyed.
That’s all that happens, and the lack of any money shot or sequence put the film’s release on hold in 1957, until it was double-billed with Warren’s other stinker, Teenage Zombies, in 1959.
Warren managed to direct about 11 films, and he was the primary thinker responsible for taking an already silly Swedish snow monster film Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959) – actually quite a fun flick - and chopping it down with newly integrated static shots of John Carradine, and more flaccid narration.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan