Monday, February 29, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: (1,2) *poor,* (3) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I'm not devoting any great space to these three naturalistic thrillers except as they pertain to my NUM theory, given that all three make use of visual and auditory motifs that seem to suggest the metaphenomenal.

By its title alone THE VANISHING LEGION seems to conjure with fantasy-tropes, and similar expectations are raised by the fact that the film's protagonist Happy Cardigan (Harry Carey) must contend with the Legion's master, a criminal known only as The Voice.  However, the Legion is just a bunch of men on horseback, and The Voice is only a voice being relayed to his men via radio. It's rumored that the whispery villain-voice was provided by an unbilled Boris Karloff, but this is the closest the serial gets to fantasy. 

Carey is personable enough as he comes to the defense of a young boy whose father is framed for murder. However, the action-scenes are dull and uninspired, though some of the fights may prove a relief from the overly mechanical fisticuffs of Republic serials. 

Speaking of overly mechanical Republic serials, GOVERNMENT AGENTS VS. PHANTOM LEGION not only takes the same strategy as the 1931 film-- jazzing up a mundane thriller with a colorful title-- but it even has a mystery villain. He too is called "the Voice," though only in the film's promotional materials, and he orders his "Legion"-- a bunch of suit-clad crooks adept in hijacking crimes-- to start preying on trucks that carry valuable governmental materials.  There's a nugatory attempt to give these truck-heisters the cachet of endangering the government's status through their activities, but this patriotic angle is largely dropped in favor of rock-'em, sock-'em action.

Like VANISHING LEGION, the mere fact that the film has an unseen villain who disguises his identity with a weird voice is not enough to push it into the realm of the metaphenomenal. GOVERNMENT AGENTS's best asset is a stalwart performance from its dependable lead Kirk Alyn, who had better material to work with in two other Republic serials, also released in 1949.

THE KILLER ELITE is not one of director Sam Peckinpah's best-regarded films, and I'm not going to argue in its defense. I've no information on the source novel adapted by the film's two writers-- one of whom, Sterling Silliphant, had already evinced some interest in the martial arts, having collaborated with Bruce Lee in a couple of American productions.

ELITE appears two years after the celebrated American "kung fu craze," and feels a bit like Peckinpah and his company taking a shot at the martial arts genre. James Caan's character Locken, formerly associated with the CIA, undertakes to protect an Asian political figure and his entourage from assassins. Though the Asians in the entourage seem to sport Chinese names, at least one of them, called "Tommie," dresses up like a ninja, as do some of the assassins.

The script continually emphasizes the inefficiency of ninja skills in the modern world of sniper-scopes, which is OK as far as it goes, but it doesn't allow for much of a cultural exchange. But then, the script is far more focused on the relationships between Locken, his allies, and his enemies. 

Peckinpah delivers a degree of action at the end, making this a combative film. But his mundane rendtion of the ninjas-- whom seem to be idiots, using swords to attack enemies with automatic weapons-- keeps this film strictly within the isophenomenal domain.

Friday, February 26, 2016


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I imagine I'll get burnt out sooner or later, trying to sort through the legions of B-westerns for metaphenomenal content, but at least Harry Carey's THE NIGHT RIDER is a slightly better example of the breed.

In this review I looked at two films-- the 1936 PHANTOM OF THE RANGE and its 1939 remake-- which just barely passed over the threshold from the naturalistic to the uncanny. In both films the only metaphenomenal presence was an outlaw-gang's stooge wearing dark clothes and pretending to be a ghost.

The titular Night Rider doesn't pretend to be a ghost; he's just a bandit who dresses all in black and seems able to disappear from sight when posses go after him (we later learn that he has recourse to a secret passage leading down into an abandoned mine). No one in the local town can catch the Rider, so along comes John Brown (Carey), apparently some sort of traveling marshal. However, to conceal his identity, Brown masquerades as Jim Blake, an outlaw whom he Brown has recently captured. While nosing around, Brown also teams up with two comedy-relief sidekicks, played by Gabby Hayes and Julian Rivero, both of whom, like Harry Carey, were pushing sixty at the time of the film. The three have good chemistry and Rivero's character, though he is a comic type of Mexican, isn't a racist stereotype.

The Night Rider doesn't appear in costume for very long in the film, but in contrast to the dark-clad stooge of the earlier-cited films, he does create the aura of a formidable menace. One might consider him the moral obverse of the black-clad Durango Kid, whose films I've discussed elsewhere.
Eventually Brown exposes the Rider as the embittered brother of a pretty young female rancher, but the fact that Brown puts her brother away doesn't seem to cause her much concern as she makes up to him at the end-- any more than the fact that Brown's about forty years her senior.

No director-credits appear, but IMDB cites two collaborating talents: Fred C. Newmeyer, best known to fantasy-fans for the 1929 SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE, and William Nigh, who labored on such low-budget horror-flicks as Boris Karloff's THE APE and Bela Lugosi's BLACK DRAGONS. Though RIDER sports very modest production values, Newmeyer and Nigh manage to give some of the scenes-- particularly the opening set-up in the local saloon-- a little more verisimilitude than one usually sees in B-westerns.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

THE SHADOW (1933), FOG ISLAND (1945)


Though the masked American hero of the same name had appeared a couple of years previous, this British crime-thriller bears no relation to the pulp-character. The titular Shadow is a blackmailer who's causing havoc among the British upper classes with his activities. The story conforms to all the usual "old dark house" tropes as the masked malefactor stalks victims at a country-house.

In terms of metaphenomenal pleasures, at least the director does have the guy in the dark suit lurking at windows to cause the occasional scare (and one good joke at the expense of a scared old woman, which I assume appeared in the original play). The script is talky and the pace is generally slow, but star Henry Kendall livens up some scenes by essaying a typical upper-class twit. Otherwise it's entirely forgettable.

FOG ISLAND was also based on a now-forgotten theater melodrama, but for American viewers it carries some cachet, thanks to the presence of George Zucco and Lionel Atwill. The two actors, who had shared credits (but not scenes) in the previous year's HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, are today best known for their work in horror movies. It's likely that both actors were cast with that experience in mind, even though FOG ISLAND is, like THE SHADOW, more of a crime-thriller than a horror flick.

Leo Grainer (Zucco) is the focus of the story. After suffering an unjust term in prison because of the malfeasance of his business partners, he comes up with a scheme to lure those partners to his island-domicile. He baits his trap with filthy lucre, and the greed of the partners is such that they obediently show up on Fog Island despite knowing that Grainer bears them ill will. Only one of the attendees is an innocent-- a young fellow named Jeff, who appears in the place of his deceased father, and who has nothing to do with Grainer's sufferings. He comes not for money but to renew his acquaintance with Grainer's pretty stepdaughter Gail.

Much of the proceedings here are pretty slow as well, but there's a good face-off between Zucco and his unrepentant enemy Atwill. The film's set-piece is an "outre device" in the form of a water-filling room in which Grainer traps his enemies: this is also the source of the film's only "bizarre crime" as well. I'll note in closing that whereas Jeff is written to be a pretty standard "bland handsome fellow," actor John Whitney emotes pretty well when he's forced to conceal the fact of the mass murders from  Gail in order to spare her feelings.

Monday, February 22, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*


As most horror-fans know, the title of this film's first American release was a put-up job, as the original Spanish film contained no references to anything remotely like FRANKENSTEIN. The only resemblance-- purely coincidental in nature-- is that star Paul Naschy once expressed a strong affection for Universal's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, which he saw as a child. TERROR, the first film to portray Naschy's lupine character Waldemar Daninsky, is similar to the Universal flick in being not a "one-gimme" concept but a "two-gimme." Of the Naschy-wolfman films I've seen, several mix together the wolfman idea with other monsters-- usually vampires, as with TERROR.

Though TERROR isn't psychologically deep, it does show some interesting patterns that Naschy would continue to evoke in his "Daninsky-verse." We first meet two aristocratic youths, Janice and Rudolf, who have known one another since childhood and whose respective fathers anticipate a healthy marital union. But at a costume party Janice encounters a more disreputable member of the aristocracy: Count Daninsky, known to have gambled away much of his inheritance.

Rudolf feels threatened by Janice's burgeoning interest in the Count, but in a roundabout way the younger man is responsible for the chain of events that lead to Daninsky's curse. While driving Janice in his car, he runs a gypsy wagon, inhabited by a man and his wife, off the road. Daninsky happens along, helps the gypsies out of their difficulty, and even tells them of a place where they can stay for the night. However, the gypsies' camp happens to be in the vicinity of Daninsky's family crypt. The gypsies break in, looking for loot. They find a corpse with a silver weapon impaling the chest-- which earlier dialogue has related to legends about werewolves-- and in trying to pilfer the silver, they revive a long-dead werewolf. who promptly kills his saviors.

As the werewolf continues attacking locals, a hunting-party is formed to pursue what is presumed to be a vicious animal. Both Rudolf and Daninsky join the hunt. Rudolf is almost killed by the wolfman, but Daninsky manages to slay the creature, though he himself suffers a bloody bite-wound. Once Rudolf is aware that the lycanthropic curse has been passed on, he's ironically obliged to protect his romantic rival. He locks Daninksy in a cell and suffers insults from Janice, who's convinced that he's trying to keep her away from her new beloved. However, eventually Janice finds out the truth.

Some research into the Count's family history causes Janice and Rudolf to make contact with a hazily known figure, Dr. Janos Mikhelov, in the hope of gaining a cure for the werewolf curse. However, when Mikhelov and his wife Nascha show up at Daninsky's dwelling, they turn out to be a curse in themselves, for both of them are vampires. The vampires' agenda is left fairly vague, but they might be seen as reflections of Janice and Rudolf's former passion, given that Nascha seduces Rudolf and Mikhelov seduces Janice.

The climax is easily the weakest element of this monstrous psychodrama. For some reason the vampires revive Daninsky's twice-dead ancestor and sic him on Daninsky in his wolf-form. When the younger werewolf triumphs, Nascha retreats to her coffin and is staked by Daninsky. Then "El Hombre Lobo" chases down the vampire and defeats him in a desultory combat. Then the wolfman's curse is ended when Janice shoots him with silver bullets.

The story of the first Spanish wolfman is thoroughly derivative, but Naschy-- who scripted the film as well as starring in it-- sells the shaky narrative through his presence, and through his obvious affection for the tropes (no matter how well worn) of the classic American horror film.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

I consider both this film and the 1998 Eddie Murphy vehicle to be comedies, but of a very different type. The Murphy film relies on very broad slapstick and scatological gags, while the dominant tone of the 1967 movie is more about wry and wistful humor.

As I've never read any of the Hugh Lofting books that gave birth to the Dolittle character, I can't speak to the tone of the books, or to the allegation that they are steeped in a racist and pro-colonial attitude typical of the early 20th century. I mention the allegation only to point out that the script by Leslie Bricusse-- also credited with the film's musical composition-- bends over backwards to dispel that legacy.

In its time DOLITTLE was a box-office disappointment. It's far from the worst of the flurry of large-scale Hollywood musicals of the late 1960s, but it's certainly too long and most of the songs rely on doggerel-style rhymes and prove generally forgettable, with the exceptions of the Oscar-nominated "If I Could Talk to the Animals" (recited, rather than sung, by star Rex Harrison) and "Beautiful Things" (nicely rendered by Anthony Newley).

The strength of Bricusse's script is that it touches on the idea of "animal rights" without being overly preachy. Dolittle is an English physician who's fallen on hard times because he likes animals better than people, and even wins the approval of his Irish aide Matthew, who says that Dolittle is "almost an Irishman"-- certainly a considerable compliment to be paid to an Englishman. Dolittle's home is overrun with countless animals, but the one that makes a difference in his life is the parrot Polynesia, who claims to be the only parrot who "knows what he's talking about." Polynesia knows all the languages of the animal world and proceeds to teach them all to Dolittle, who wants to use them in his goal to seek out strange animals throughout the world-- notably the Giant Pink Sea Snail.

In addition to Matthew and a little boy named Tommy, Dolittle receives an ambivalent ally in Emma Fairfax, high-class niece to one of the doctor's veterinary customers. Sparks fly between Emma and Dolittle, but despite the initial animosity, Emma begins going out of her way to encounter Dolittle, and takes his part when the local authorities deem him mad for talking to animals. Dolittle, Matthew and Tommy leave England in search of the Great Sea Snail, and Emma stows away on their ship. Though Emma isn't a deeply rendered character, and her femininity is treated jokily in the song "If I Were a Man,"she does prove herself to be a hard-working member of the crew, and Dolittle's misanthropy gives way to warmer feelings.

A storm results in the voyagers finding their way to Sea Star Island, inhabited by black natives who all speak English (and other languages) and whose leader takes the name "William Shakespeare" (Geoffrey Holder). I suspect the books' natives are not quite so locqacious. But even if some ideologues wouldn't care for having the natives appropriate Western culture, the tribe doesn't come off badly, even when they're preparing to kill the Dolittle entourage for breaking their very complicated laws.

The conclusion is fairly predictable, and is particularly marred by a phony-looking Giant Sea Snail. But some of the dialogue is witty, and the end-scene, showing Dolittle astride a giant lunar moth, captures some of the whimsy that other sections of the film strain for.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

CANDY (1968)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*

Since the bulk of this review will concern the differences between this film and the 1965 Terry Southern-Mason Hoffenberg source novel, I’ll focus first on the basic question of viewing-pleasure:  how much fun is it, to partake of CANDY?

First and foremost, most of the pleasure will be that appreciating the ironic structure shared by both novel and film: of watching foolish people profess high ideals that are mere camouflage for their real obsessions, which are sex, sex, and more sex.

That said, although the novel is explicit, the film is not, even though it was created in the decade of the Sexual Revolution and around the same time as Hollywood’s brief flirtation with the fad called “porno chic.” The titular character, named for Voltaire’s Candide, had even older roots in the trope of the “persecuted maiden” so prominent in authors like Richardson and Sade. The young woman wanders from pillar to post throughout the film, much as she does in the novel. However, unlike the novel-version, the film’s Candy is much more passive. Indeed, in one scene scripter Buck Henry and director Christian Marquand even suggest a visual comparison between Candy and a plastic female doll. I speculate that they did so to enhance the irony of all the frustrated sexual situations. Candy is generally willing to oblige her numerous suitors, but with one exception she shows no indications of any pleasure herself—which, in theory, should make the film’s numerous coital interruptions amusing. Unfortuunately, one joke doesn’t get better with repetition, though it may be worth it to some viewers to stick it out, just to see actors like Marlon Brando and Richard Burton channeling their considerable talents into this form of humor. (On a personal note, I like Burton’s performance as the stentorian Professor Mephesto better than most of his rather bombastic “serious” performances.) Ewa Aulin does a nice job of giving Candy a winsome, bewildered quality, but though she’s sexy, her characrer is not. So the film’s entertainment value stands or falls—so to speak—on one’s investment in the various thespians’ efforts with the repetitive material, ranging from the excellent (Burton), the good (John Astin, playing both Candy’s father and her uncle), and the stunty (Ringo Starr as the Mexican gardener Emmanuel).

Since the film is episodic, it’s easiest just to make a list of comparison-poiints, ergo:

*Whereas the novel is naturalistic, with the exception of one debatable incident at the end, the film opens with a scene of a great ball of light descending to Earth and then changing into Candy. Alien-Candy then stares blankly at the movie-screen, and somehow transitions herself into the life of Earthling-Candy Christian, who then spends the bulk of the film acting like nothing but an Earth-woman placed in peculiar circumstances. After Earth-Candy has run her destined gamut, she walks impassively through a “revue” of all the weird people she’s encountered, and then morphis back into light and returns to the heavens. One speculation is that Alien-Candy simply extrapolated all of the events in the life of Earth-Candy in a prolonged dream-sequence, but I don’t think most viewers will dwell on the point overlong.

*Mephesto’s attempted seduction of Candy is actually an improvement on the scene in the book, though the former no longer gives the professor a homosexual lover.

*As noted before, the Southern-Hoffenberg Candy is actually quite interested in sex, and she foolishly invites Emmanuel to pop her cherry in her own house. This leads to her father—who has, we are told, experienced licentious dreams about his daughter—bursting in on the two young people. When Mr. Christian attacks Emmanuel, the gardener defends himself, wounding the older man in the head with a trowel—not quite Oedipus wounding his own daddy, but definitely in the same Freudian arena. In the film the encounter is more a matter of misunderstanding, which prompts Mr, Christian, along with his brother Jack and Jack’s wife, to take Candy on a trip. Christian still receives a head-wound that puts him the hospital, but it’s acquired when three bizarre motorcycle-riding women—identifying themselves as Emmanuel’s sisters— try to kill Candy for defiling their brother.

*After Mr. Christian is wounded, the family hitches a ride with a detachment of soldiers, led by a terminally stupid officer (Walter Matthau). This resembles nothing in the book, and was probably added with the idea of appealing to the contemporary “youth crowd.”

*In one of the book’s most explicit sex-scenes, Uncle Jack—who’s the very image of his more repressed brother—actually manages to hump Candy in the room (and on the bed) of his comatose sibling. In the film Uncle Jack misses the boat. As in the book Mr. Christian somehow wakes from his coma and simply leaves the hospital amid a lot of confusion, and remains missing for most of the narrative.

*The book’s hospital-scenes work a little better than those in the book, as Candy becomes inttigued with a handsome young doctor named Krankheit, No romantic interest obtains in the film, for Krankheit is played by the rather older James Coburn, and the doctor’s scenes lose something given that the film can’t get into his head. The same applies to Krankheit’s superior Dunlap, and to Krankheit’s mother, who works as a lowly scrubwoman in order to be near her son. The book’s version of the latter was a typical “Jewish mother,” but for some reason Henry’s script changed her stereotype to that of a protective Italian mother.

*One of the least interesting scenes in both book and movie has Candy encounter a horny hunchback. For some reason the film’s creators thought it would be fascinating to make the hunchback a human fly who can clamber up walls like nobody’s business.

*The film throws Candy into a party of drag queens for a while-- a longer sequence than it is in the book-- and then gives viewers her most extended encounter with a sex-hungry phony: Grindle the fake Hiindu mystic (Brando). In the book Candy encounters Grindle in a commune called “the Crackers,” but in the film Grindle is a lone practictioner, quixtotically maintaining his pseudo-Hindu temple within the back of a big-rig truck. Grindle “initiates” Candy in rites of enlightenment, and though Candy remains unassertive, at one point she does start to wear down the sex-hungry guru. Curiously, although the film’s Grindle is as much a fake as the book-version, he prophecizes—correctly—that Candy will led to her final enlightenment by a “sacred bird.”

*After separating from Grindle, Candy does indeed follow a bird, and meets a robed acolyte in the desert, a man whose face is concealed by layers of white ash. He takes her to a Hindu temple and, as in the book, Candy importunes a gigantic idol to show what she seeks. This is the book’s one arguable metaphenomenal moment,. Though the book's authors furnish a naturalistic explanation-- a bolt of lightning simply strikes the temple-- in both narratives it seems as though the god responds to Candy by causing the temple-roof to fall in. For some reason, in both stories this event leads to Candy having sex with the acolyte—who turns out to be the missing Mr. Christian. This ends Candy’s adventures in both book and film, though the film continues a little longer, showing the aforementioned revue and Alien-Candy going back to the stars.

It’s hard to know how any of the people involved in these narratives meant the audience to interpret this climax (pun intended). Candy is a flat stereotype, with no real psychology, so what’s the point of showing her to be implicated in daddy-desires? Was there some idea of ripping the veil from the Freudian underbelly of life, in addition to the titillation of indulging in “dirty old man” fantasies? Taken as a silly, trippy sex-fantasy, CANDY like its source-novel offers a few diverting moments. But if one wants Freudian fantasies with more intellectual heft, I’d recommend both BLOOD AND LACE and HANDS OF THERIPPER over the delectations of CANDY. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE SPELL (1977)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS (Really. Don't read unless you've seen the flick)

There's no question that this 1977 telefilm owes its existence to the successful 1976 film-adaptation of Stephen King's CARRIE. At the same time, the Brian Taggert script does exert itself to ring a few changes on the material, so that THE SPELL is not a total knockoff. Aside from some nice acting moments here and there, those changes are the only thing worth discussing about this low-intensity barely-a-shocker-- ergo, massive spoilers.

Jagger and Richards penned the song "Sympathy for the Devil," and it wouldn't be much exaggeration to sum up THE SPELL as "Sympathy for Carrie's Mom." CARRIE is first and foremost a horror story about a child who suffers abuse from a domineering mother. As a result of the mother's browbeating, Carrie possesses few psychological resources for dealing with the torturous rituals of high school-- though as it happens she does possess superior psychic resources, which eventually make Carrie into a monster who slays all of her tormentors.

THE SPELL is nowhere near this ambitious, and if anything, Rita Matchett's status as a young monster-in-bloom is compromised throughout the story. Fifteen-year-old Rita is somewhat tormented by other girls at school, but their dislike and contempt of Rita isn't explained by anything but their conviction that Rita is "fat." Given that the actress (Susan Myers) playing the part is at best merely chunky, even this reason seems unconvincing, especially compared to the motivations Stephen King gives to even his most routine villains.

As for the situation at home, Rita really doesn't seem to have all that much worth complaining about. Her dull father Glenn shows a tiny bit of favoritism to Rita's younger sister Christina, but he's not exactly sentencing Rita to live under a stairwell. The girls' mother Marilyn (Lee Grant) is actually quite sympathetic to Rita's travails, though she does enforce a strict but sensible code of behavior on the tempestuous young girl, and the sister doesn't do anything particularly offensive beyond taking away attention from Rita..Ironically, though Myers' character Rita is technically the focal point of the story, Marilyn gets most of the best lines, probably in deference to Lee Grant's formidable thespian experience/ Thus the story sometimes skews toward that well-traveled TV trope of the "aggrieved parent with a problem child."

Whether one thinks Rita fortunate or not, people around Rita start to have bad fortune: a young girl breaks her neck, an older woman burns alive for no apparent reason. One would assume that this is Rita's psychic power at work, consciously or not, but then the script brings in references to witchcraft and occult techniques. So it would appear that unlike Carrie White, Rita has gone out of her way to use her power to become a practicing sorceress.

However-- SPOILER #1--

While Carrie White had a girls' gym teacher who sympathized with the young girl's plight, Rita's gym teacher is also her mentor in malefic magic, She's the true culprit in the murders, which is the film's first "big surprise," as well as a means of exculpating Rita so that she doesn't meet Carrie's tragic fate.

As for the other big surprise, aka SPOILER #2:

At the very end, Marilyn reveals that she too is a psychic/ witch, and she uses her own powers to school Rita so that she learns not to abuse her powers in future.

This non-tragic ending is not particularly engrossing, and Taggert drops the ball on any opportunity to play with some of the popular tropes of "witch-cinema:" like "witchcraft as female empowerment" or even "witchcraft as lesbian bonding." There's the slight possibility that Rita's gym teacher--given the gender-ambiguous first name "Jo"-- may have designs on the high-schooler. Yet Jo never makes a pass, and the two characters fall out for a not very compelling reason: Jo wants to build a coven of similarly powered witches, and Rita doesn't like that-- not for any altruistic reasons, but because such a gathering impinges on her feelings of uniqueness. Perhaps there was some notion of Jo playing the part of the "bad indulgent mom" as opposed to Marilyn's "good strict mom," but even that small psychological myth doesn't come to life.

As I mentioned earlier, there's not much horror in the telefilm's supposed shock-sequences, and though there are a few adequate dramatic scenes, THE SPELL's greatest debit may be that the central character is just not very interesting, either as a monster or an innocent.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I dimly remembered this TV-movie-- actually two hour-long pilots for a series that didn't get picked up-- as being mildly entertaining in a cheesy fashion. I re-watched largely to see whether or not it cohered with my definition of a combative adventure, which it did not.

The screenplay has less in common with the Jules Verne novel-- wherein a  trio of explorers venture down into the earth's bowels on foot-- than with Edgar Rice Burroughs' AT THE EARTH'S CORE. This telefilm like the Burroughs novel concerns a group of explorers who uses a drill-headed vehicle to tunnel their way into the earth. But whereas Burroughs made do with two adventurers, the crew includes no less than seven persons gifted with either scientific or survival skills, plus a computer intelligence with a holographic image. Presumably the producer wanted to be sure of having a wealth of potential backstories to explore as the crew went from week to week, encountering this or that buried civilization (another point of similarity with the Burroughs franchise, since Verne's book is ambiguous as to whether any tribe of humans, or even proto-humans, dwells beneath the earth's surface).

On top of the seven people who begin the journey-- eight if the female computer-mind would've become a participating character-- the explorers also pick up a new member, a Yeti (Carel Strucken) exiled from his culture for the crime of having saved a child's life (sort of an extreme caricature of a non-intervention ethic). In the film's only near-miss with mythology, one of the scientists suggests that since they can't pronounce the Yeti's name in his own language, they ought to nickname the furry titan "Daedalus," after the Greek maker of a labyrinth. The resident Angry Black Guy doesn't like such high-toned cognomens and promptly renames the Yeti "Dallas"-- which I hope contributed to the decision not to launch this idea as a series.

Once the plot gets past an extraordinarily poky intro section and actually begins the subterranean voyage, JOURNEY has enough pretty and/or seasoned actors to be watchable. The explorers' main opponents are a subterranean tribe of troglodytes bent on human sacrifice, though there's some additional folderol about a magic book possessed by one of the scientists, and a strange subterranean individual who sounds and looks like Darth Vader and covets the book. Despite the potential for violent conflict, the plot avoids any substantial action, although there's a very strange sequence in which Vader 2.0 jumps on top of the drill-ship and tries to force his way in. 

JOURNEY is at least colorful in its silliness, though like most of director William Dear's productions it's strictly journeyman work. And even though there are plotlines that will never be resolved, even by the most fanatical fanfic writer, at least this flop pilot doesn't end on an annoying cliffhanger.