Home Video Hovel: The Mole People, by David Bax
When a movie about an ancient race of humans and devolved mole people living miles underground begins with a lecture about the earth’s core from a professor of English, of all things, you may briefly assume that the film is inept. As it turns out, though, that professor is not out of his lane. Rather, he is there to tell us about the long literary tradition of humanity looking inward at our souls by looking inward beneath our feet. So The Mole People is actually lofty AND inept.
After a cave-in at a mountain dig site, a team of archeologists find themselves deep beneath the earth’s surface. Almost immediately set upon by mole folk, they are soon brought to the court of a king whose aristocratic courtiers speak Sumerian. Luckily, Dr. Roger Bentley (John Agar) is fluent in the language so we get to hear everything in English. Thinking their flashlights divine tools, the nobles treat Roger and his teams as gods. But, when the explorers discover the cruel hierarchy that makes slaves of both pretty blonde women (like Cynthia Patrick’s Adad) and molemen alike, they face off against the subterraneans in a fight for their lives.
It’s not novel of me to point out the The Mole People is a bad movie. By packaging it along with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that makes fun of it, Scream Factory is banking on the film’s awfulness to sell Blu-rays. What’s surprising is the ways in which it is bad. Some of the dumbest stuff in the whole movie happens before we even get to the cheap sets, crummy costumes and the silly mole dudes. The opening scenes include what can best be described as archeologist humor (“Archaeologists are underpaid publicity agents for deceased royalty!”) that is more cringe-inducing than the lamest creature effects. Even more laughable is that archeology is presented as some kind of superpower. “In archeology, all things are possible,” goes maybe the most hilarious line in the whole movie.
Despite the tagline promising that “horror crawls from the depths of the earth,” what follows those early scenes could be better described as bad science fiction than bad horror. The estate of H.G. Wells could sue for how thoroughly The Mole People rips off The Time Machine‘s vision of Elois and Morlocks. But anyone who buys this disc should have no reason to complain. They’ll be getting exactly what they paid for.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray allows you to watch The Mole People in either a 1.85:1 or 2.00:1 aspect ratio. The latter represents an era-appropriate Superscope frame but I found that the 1.85 looks better. Picking the more pleasing version, though, may fly in the face of the experience the disc promises. Scream Factory wants you to revel in the aesthetic incompetence of the film, as evidenced by the fact that there was little to no apparent clean-up done to the extensive stock footage director Virgil Vogel employs, resulting in a hilarious contrast with the rest of the movie’s surprisingly healthy density and contrast.
Special features include the aforementioned Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, as well as a new commentary by film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter.
The line about publicity agents is much better than “all things are possible”.