Sunday, January 23, 2011

About What waits below

We all know Robert Powell is an excellent actor, however I’m the first to admit that not all of his films are good… his performance is always great, but a film is a whole (the story, the actors, the direction, the music…) and he can’t save a film alone. To my own regret, as a Robert Powell fan I must admit not all of his films are good (sadly, many of them… but it’s not his fault!).
One of the films I don’t like (I won’t say it’s his worst…) is What waits below or Secret of the Phantom Caverns (US title), though I prefer the first title, I don’t know why it was changed for marketing reasons.  There are many reasons I don’t like this film.
You can see all the art work for the video and dvd in German, English and Spanish

The first reason is THE FILM IS BAD, really bad, let’s admit it!
Secondly, and is the main reason: why does Robert appear on it? I mean this is not the kind of film he does, it’s like those films made directly to tv or video, Robert is too much of an actor for this kind of film.
In my researches, I’ve read here and there that the reason he did the film is that he was under contract with the Rank organization (the same that produced The Thirty Nine Steps) before it went on bankruptcy (or it was already). So maybe that’s a good reason – the same reason that made Edward Norton to appear in the awful remake of The Italian Job, isn’t it? (am I the one who hated that film??).

Robert looked so cool and sexy
Back to the issue, the film may have an interest for Sci fi amateurs. I have friends who will find it “watchable” (even more watchable than Hannay…), so there are films for all tastes!
When I tried to see all of his films I hesitated to watch this one because I’ve read a review which detailed the film. The review is in the site (all it’s in the name!), the review is just great! It is extremely funny and witty (when you read about explosive cigarettes you just know you shouldn’t watch it if you really love and respect Robert Powell). By the way, I’ve discovered that the site is still online and many people kept posting comments! Many posters were extras or part of the staff in the film. Funny isn’t it?

 Well, just to leave a positive comment I just loooooved how Robert looks in the film, you can see him in action during a battle scene with a lemurian, and I loved the line “ Hola amigos, cigarros!” maybe because he speaks Spanish, maybe because just deep inside me I loved the idea of the explosive cigarettes.
As a bonus, I’ll share with you parts of an article I found in a Fangoria magazine from 1983 (sorry you won’t find high resolution scans… maybe some day!). It’s an article written by Donald Farmer “Secrets of the Phantom Caverns, A behind-the-scenes look at the perilous filming of a subterranean fantasy-adventure”. There you learn many interesting things, for instance while the film wasn’t even finished they’ve told nearly all the story of the film! (3/4 of a page description plot!).
Taken from Fangoria, 1983 (this is a cutting so I have no more references).
The film was filmed on location in two famous caves in the US: Cumberland Caverns and Cathedral Caverns, the reason? Producer Sandy Howard said that the caves gave “a special beauty and grandeur that has taken over one million years to develop, and which no Hollywood set could ever dare hope to recreate.” We all agree, and believe me I love visiting caves, more over the “wild tours” where you really go deep into the cave. So caverns are really beautiful places, wonderful, but you need to be there to feel the sensation! I watched again this film after my first speleology tour and I was extremely disappointed.
Indeed, filming on a set would have been better, at least for us, the audiences! In the article you learn about other unfortunate events such as the difficulties of carrying the equipment to the caves, the rain, and the famous carbon monoxide poisoning incident (read the comments on the for the testimonials). The article says : “Even more troublesome was an incident of carbon monoxide poisoning which sent 15 crewmembers – including director Don Sharp – for a stay in the hospital. The problem arose while filming was underway in front of Goliath, the world’s largest stalagmite and a main attraction in the Cathedral Caverns. Countless takes and retakes pushed filming late into the evening, and crew members were soon complaining of drowsiness and even nausea. At first, simple fatigue seemed a likely explanation, but Sharp and coproducer Robert Bailey became more concerned when some of the personnel actually began passing out. The problem was soon traced to the carbon monoxide fumes being emitted by the four generators in use, but not before Sharp, Bailey, actor Liam Sullivan, costume designer Betty Madden, and 11 others had succumbed. And while the group recovered in a local hospital, Alabama newspapers immediately latched onto the story, with one headline labeling the mishap a “Twilight Zone accident”.
They were proud of the monster...
The article also mentions that the script was written by Marvel Comics veterans (Christy Marx and Robert Vincent O’Neil). Ahem! The writer of Biker Mouse From Mars? He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And above all Jem and the Holograms? Run, Robert, Run!
You can also read that they were very enthusiast about the special effects and the design of the Lemurians, for the FX, is understandable as special effects designer (and co-producer) is Robert Bailey, whose work at that time was Blade Runner, Tron and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
About Robert, the article says : “Star Robert Powell says that the picture’s many action sequences also resulted in some real-life mishaps. During his big fight scene with Prime Hunter Jackson Bostwick, Powell says he got a “clip on the head” when Bostwick’s knife blade came too close for comfort. ‘He’s about six inches taller than I am,” Powell points out. “He’s about 6’4” and we had a very physical eight or nine hours.”
“Powell says he also landed “in the drink a couple of times” while filming near the underwater streams, but comments that working on Phantom Caverns has convinced him that the final product should be more than just “another pulp movie. It’s a romp, a more physical movie, and fun stuff for an actor,” Powell says.
- - It’s a mystery to me what does “clip on the head” and “in the drink” meant in this context...
Relaxing at a champagne and caviar reception, hosted by Howard, Powell adds, “We’re not finished yet, I’ve got a whole 10 minute screen time sequence to do this week which is jeep chases, rock climbing… the whole start of the film is set in a different place. It’s where I’m discovered doing a little undercover spying on some mercenaries and all hell breaks loose. We have a whole wonderful James Bond-type sequence with car chases and hand grenades. Great fun!” ** At least he got fun! Me too I found it extremely funny!

** Check the scene (specially at 3:30)
Thanks for reading!


Irene said...

"If I'm offered to play Macbeth in Manchester or doing a silly adventure movie in Venezuela, I'd choose a silly adventure movie, cause I've never been in Venezuela"... Robert Powell.

Well, obviously he'd never been in those US caves. ;-)

Irene said...

(never been before they asked him to do this movie, I meant)

CmB said...

Hey you leave Masters of the Universe alone! Actually Andrew's page helped me to give a name to distant memories of this film I last saw when it was broadcast on UK tv in the late 80s. I was only about 7 or 8 at the time and it terrified me! Not sure why it was shown in the afternoon as it had some grisly moments. I still think the creature effects are good as are the atmospheric score and locations. But most of the script and acting is horrible and the plot, such as it is, needed a better direction. The narrative structure too was all over the place, part lost-world adventure-come-Indiana Jones with a little bit of Alien thrown in. The Descent is a better recent attempt at caving horror, and was mostly filmed on a set. It needed a level-headed Robert Powell in it though ;)

CmB said...

Oh and I'd love to read that Fangoria article if it's possible!