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UNKNOWN DEADLY: AN ALLAND ARCTIC DOUBLE CREATURE

The Deadly Mantis & The Land Unknown both released in 1957
Producer William Alland had an eclectic career: starting at the top, in what many experts consider the Best Film Ever Made, which was maligned and practically destroyed from the onset, to producing b-movies that, in the case of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, was enjoyed worldwide, without any fallout...

In CITIZEN KANE, Alland played, technically, the most important character – a reporter sent to find the meaning of the ultimate McGuffin, a whispered last word of a famous tycoon, "Rosebud". And by the time Alland's Mercury Theater boss, Orson Welles, became a reluctant independent filmmaker, struggling to fund surreal Film Noir projects or Noir-inspired Shakespearean tragedies (one shot on a cowboy picture set and the other taking four years to finish), Rosebud's seeker had gained some weight of his own, along with distinguishing facial hair (beating Welles in that aspect), cleaning up at the box office with popular b's including the entire CREATURE trilogy (reviewed here soon) and THE DEADLY MANTIS, which he wrote and produced, bearing a title that screams for a drive-in marquee, coincides with a sister product, THE LAND UNKNOWN, both taking place in the Arctic and released to theaters in 1957...

VHS Mantis Cover
THE DEADLY MANTIS: Various military compounds are attacked by an unseen yet formidable menace – an impenetrable force of some kind...

Alland in Kane
In that, only the title reveals the deck – the first half plays out like a mystery rather than a creature-feature, and these are the most effective scenes – TV's PERRY MASON towering gumshoe William Hopper is the only Scientist that may be able to learn the source of what's leftover from a wrecked plane – a piece of whatever had obviously caused it...

The interior shots are effective in sparse B&W, making terrific use of scientific knowledge spouted from Hopper with a confident yet somewhat plain ingenue at his side – how the mysterious cause of destruction is... through pages of exposition... narrowed down into an insect feels like a rare science class that won't put you to sleep. Usually a relaxed, likable actor, Hopper fits the part, not too brainy to be annoying or too manly to be unrealistic. And yet the film, being what it is with built-in audience expectation from the title alone is – no matter how aptly the investigation's written – still extremely important when the creature reveals its gloriously bogus buggy form...

Kong homage in THE DEADLY MANTIScore: ***
That is, with an exception of a KING KONG homage as a real mantis climbs a model of the Washington Tower. Basked in shadow, it's more eerie and creepy than a shortcut for special effects, which occur mostly as the creature's in flight, legs folded up and resembling a cricket-shaped airliner...

Making those few glorious moments during the shift from dialogue to action, when our monster looks immensely phony and fantastic, really matter. And the quick if rushed finale is both a pro and con: The latter since it ends too quick, and the first because, with the most intriguing scenes behind, this particular cinematic beast knows not to wear out its welcome.

THE LAND UNKNOWN: Thinking it would be on par with the aesthetic value of BLACK LAGOON and REVENG OF THE CREATURE, producer William Alland's topnotch director, Jack Arnold, who also shot TARANTULA and later semi-retired to shoot the lion's share of THE BRADY BUNCH (Bobby wears a Creature mask in the famous slumber party episode), wanted absolutely nothing to do with this cheapie that, in the rudimentary stages, was supposed to be colorized with semi-big stars attached...

 Paperback-Approach Poster Art
But with a nice matte painting serving as a fantastically primitive backdrop, it's enough to convince both an audience and a small group of Arctic dwelling researchers, with their military-trained employees including a magazine-handsome helicopter pilot in future FBI television-show regular William Reynolds; his everyman mechanic; a pretty blond ingenue; and, conveniently enough, a leading man who's more an expert on prehistoric history than the snowy region surrounding this strange and UNKNOWN tropical enigma, based on a true story of warm water discovered in the middle of the Antarctic – and the same location for that year's MANTIS: Alland was a busy man in 1957...

LAND Score: ***1/2
The warm water's explained quickly, derived from a volcano, and the Dino-land follows, a hell-hot purgatory the characters are trapped in. The helicopter can start but without taking flight – this following a quick, eerie sighting: the swoop of a pterodactyl starts the ball rolling, or rather, the helicopter falling...

Then, within this extremely hot and humid valley, resembling the wide-shot background of any Tarzan film, the foursome's hunted by various dinosaurs: The good ones look wonderfully fake, like a water-creature hybrid of The Loch Ness Monster and the aqua man-eater in KING KONG. And especially the T-Rex, with a mouth that opens wide and awkward, like a large parade float or a Halloween mask giving enough room for the person to breath: for it is, like GODZILLA, a man-suited beast instead of the larger budgeted stop-motion. And on the other side of the coin are the bad, lame, cheap Dinosaurs that are, ironically, the most realistic – in fact, they are real: Gila Monsters (or Iguanas) superimposed to look giant in the fashion of, say, Bert I. Gordon. But enlarged rats, ants and humans work better since they become an immense version of a normal size we're already familiar with.

What turns out to be the most determined beastie on board
So the coolest scenes involve survival but from the T-Rex's danger, and eventually a bearded Scientist gone wacko from having been abandoned there a decade earlier: Lustfully woebegone with primal determination, he's forcefully willing to exchange an important gear (from his own wreck) that could fix their copter in exchange for the girl to be his very own "Jane."

But not if the leading man, who doesn't stop rambling speeches about evolution long enough to become a worthy action hero, can help it. He's initially trumped by that dashing pilot who starts out cocky with perilous potential only to wind up, like his stressed-out mechanic, serving as wallpaper behind the two leads, including blonde starlet Shirley Patterson, who fits the best as she was no stranger to b-movies: A bonafide creature genre scream queen.

The Immense Dino moves in on its doomed human prey
And at one point she begs her brainy love interest to "Stop Lecturing!" Too bad for them, and even worse for us, he doesn't shut his trap, serving as the polar opposite to the last picture's interesting scientist, William Hopper – he's the class you want to be in. And, in a nutshell, what this LAND lacks in the budget, which had spooked a capable director that might've made it flow better, is replaced with a palpable adventure and a string of race-against-time elements – yet another of those, "Not so bad for a bad movie" kinda things: But with William Alland's name on it, that's no surprise. Before Roger Corman did it, he was doing it, again and again – without becoming a cinema-household name for the low-budget monster genre like Corman, producing guru William Castle or stop-motion-master Ray Harryhausen. And yet, what he accomplished, unlike the meaning of "Rosebud," needed no explanation. The proof is all here, in the pudding and the ingredients: See enough of Alland's work and that all becomes apparent.
Sometimes the grainiest imagery is the spookiest and most eerie, the winged-Dino looking like Devil himself
Tyranasauras Rex in Blade Runner... The only things keeping him back from an all-out attack
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