Judge Paul Pritchard is frequently exploited.
"What possible use would a woman be on an arduous trip like this?"
Exploitation Cinema: Where Time Began/Encounters with the Unknown, Code Red's latest release, sees two "Lost Saturday Matinee Classics" released as a part of a double bill. Though it may be stretching it somewhat to call either film a classic, there's still fun to be had for those of the right disposition.
Kicking of proceedings is Encounters with the Unknown, which is absolute hogwash. Like all the best trash, this horror anthology is hard to look away from. Playing more like discarded episodes of The Twilight Zone, these three (supposedly true) tales of the supernatural are undeniably fun for all the wrong reasons.
The opening tale, which sees a distraught mother curse the three teenagers she blames for the death of her son, perfectly encapsulates this awful, awful movie. Having been warned that they will die, "one by land and two by air," our hapless trio does everything they can to ensure they make their appointment with the grim reaper. I mean seriously, who in the hell would go skydiving on the very day they'd been warned they would die "by air?" With only 30 minutes to tell its tale, the segment is too short to afford the characters any depth, and as such the whole thing is simply laughable. Kudos to the cast for refusing to rise above the material they were given, and ensuring this pile steams all the more.
The second tale is a mystery. Not so much due to its storyline, which involves the strange sounds a young boy discovers emanating from a hole in the ground, but because it's a mystery how anyone thought this was a good idea for a film. Having lost his dog (and presumed it trapped down the hole), the young boy somehow manages to get most of the men folk from his backwater town to go out into the woods where they proceed to gawp and throw stones down said hole. Having declared the hole "the work of the Devil," the boy's father (the very definition of an idiot) decides the best thing to do is round up a local posse and head back out into the woods during the thick of night. Seemingly not content with simply losing his beloved pet, the boy coerces his father into venturing down the hole, too. The results are as laughable as they are predictable. Even Rod Sterling, whose narration accompanies each of the three segments, fails to save this dross.
The final chapter of Encounters with the Unknown offers a fitting finale. Considering the tortuous hour the viewer would already have had to sit through, "The Girl on the Bridge" offers scant reward for those poor souls who survived the preceding segments. This tale of a young girl's forbidden love, and her father's murderous intentions, is hampered severely by a total lack of story, atmosphere, and pacing. If that weren't enough, the filmmakers apparently felt it wise to throw in a jaw-droppingly bad romantic sojourn midway through that kills the film stone dead; a trick it goes on to repeat during a musical interlude a short while later.
Encounters with the Unknown ends with an extended, incomprehensible monologue which regurgitates footage from the three segments while asking what (if any) sinister forces were at work. It typifies the movie's failings as serious horror, and its (unintentional) success as a laugh riot for groups of friends to enjoy over cold beer and warm pizza.
Picture quality is extremely poor, with a soft, damage-ridden 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Audio fares a little better.
Where Time Began, also known as The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth, is a retelling of the Jules Verne classic. Following Encounters with the Unknown is something of a revelation. Having grown up watching the likes of Doug McClure in The Land That Time Forgot and Rod Taylor in The Time Machine, I had high hopes for Where Time Began, and although it is undoubtedly an extremely flawed film, it nevertheless offers solid (if unspectacular) family entertainment. Like the adventurers it follows, the film is rather innocent in its nature, and is an enjoyably quaint affair.
When Dr. Lindenbrock (Kenneth More) stumbles across an old journal in a bookstore, which tells of the author's journey to the center of the Earth, the good doctor finds his interests piqued. Having discussed the book with his affable niece, Glauben (Ivonne Santis), and her dimwitted fiancé, Axel (Pep Munne), Lindenbrock sets out to recreate the author's steps. It matters not that their preparations involve nothing more than packing some clothes in a suitcase; these people long for adventure, and adventure is what they shall have!
Upon their arrival in the village that sits beneath the volcano of which the book speaks, Lindenbrock and Co. visit a local tavern. Having discussed their plans with the mustachioed innkeeper and his wife (who is far hotter than any man with such garish facial hair has any right to lay claim to), they enlist the help of a local guide named Hans (Frank Brana); apparently his worrying desire for sheep is of no concern to Lindenbrock. And so, following several minutes of beautiful scenery across which Hans leads Lindenbrock, our intrepid crew descends into the Earth's bowels, where danger awaits.
As becomes blatantly clear the further into the film you get, Where Time Began is happy to leave its plot developments at the mercy of happenstance and idiocy. Rarely do our leads show even a thread of foresight or intellect. From losing their scant water supply within minutes of beginning their adventure to carelessly losing the journal that acts as their map, these clods would do well to not get lost in their own homes. In amongst their treacherous surroundings—that act as home to all manner of prehistoric creatures—the group stumble across Olsen (Jack Taylor), a mysterious stranger who is both familiar with, and dismissive of Lindenbrock's work. Olsen is by far the most interesting character in the film, retaining a mysteriousness until the film's final moments, which add a new twist to proceedings.
I have only a passing knowledge of his previous works, but Kenneth More (Sink The Bismarck!) is simply awesome here. Able to deliver the patently ridiculous dialogue with real conviction, More almost singlehandedly drives the film with his combination of class and enthusiasm.
The special effects work—laughable by today's standards, but admirable for the time—afford the film its more fantastical moments. From electrical storms to giant monsters going toe-to-toe, there are some quite audacious moves pulled by the filmmakers considering the budget they had to work with. Hell, there's even a giant ape to contend with; who cares that it all makes little sense!
Probably best known for his infamous eighties gore-fest Pieces, director Juan Piquer Simon offers up a film that intentionally apes the works of Kevin Connor (Warlords of Atlantis) and Georges Melies (A Trip to the Moon). Indeed, as the introduction informs us, Where Time Began is as much a homage to the likes of Melies as it is a rollicking adventure in its own right. If only Simon had managed to overcome the chronic pacing issues that plague his work, we may have been talking about a far more successful film. As it is, Where Time Began is really only recommended to those who yearn for a good old-fashioned adventure, in the vein of Warlords of Atlantis.
Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, Where Time Began is riddled with damage to the print. Scratches are a frequent occurrence, while the picture is soft overall. The mono soundtrack (despite being poorly dubbed) still packs a decent punch, with the climactic volcanic eruption standing out. Dialogue is occasionally muffled, but otherwise acceptable.
Code Red has released this double bill with no added content, save for a few trailers.
Ultimately this double feature is too slipshod to warrant a recommendation. Don't get me wrong, there's entertainment to be had, but too often it's at the expense of the films on offer, and that isn't something I can recommend you spend your hard-earned cash on.
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