The Mole People (1956)

First time director Virgil Vogel mixes up traditional 1950s monsters with one of those lost civilizations populated by rulers and priests in cheap looking robes and stringy kung fu beards from 1930s cliffhangers like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and ends up with a painlessly stupid effort highlighted by people getting pulled down through what looks like kitty litter by stuntmen in bump-ridden bug-eyed masks.

Jud (Leave it to Beaver‘s Hugh Beaumont) and Roger (genre vet John Agar of Tarantula among others) are doing some archeology at a site in Asia and discover stone tablets that have all sorts of back story about Sumerians and how they were flooded and had to take an ark to some place not so wet.

An unfortunate side effect of them learning this is that it causes an earthquake. Okay, I’m not sure the two events are related, but I think there was a warning label on one of the stone tablets.

The earthquake not only wrecks the camp, it also manages to unearth an artifact that leads our boys to a big hole in the earth that in turn leads down to a couple of piss poor matte paintings.

One of Jud and Roger’s co-workers accidentally locates this hole by falling down it. Jud, Roger and a third guy (the designated casualty for later in the movie) go climbing down this gaping chasm and we are treated to hours and hours of shots of these guys pounding in metal clamps, knotting ropes, lowering themselves, and sweating it out while the ropes strain under Jud’s memorable buttocks, all the while descending down what looks like a few prop rocks in front of a black curtain.

After wandering around the caverns for awhile, they decide to sack out for the night. The mole people then come up from the ground, put bags on Jud, Roger and Third Guy’s heads and pull them beneath the ground to certain doom!

And by certain doom, I mean of course, to a lost city ruled by Sumerian albinos who have set up a bizarre society where the mole people are used to harvest big mushrooms and herd sheep or goats or whatever it was that they kept down there. They also believe that the light infused surface world is heaven and it doesn’t take long for Jud and Roger to claim that they are gods sent by Ishtar to just check up on how things are going down there.

In the meantime, Third Guy has gotten himself killed by a mole man, so Jud and Roger briefly mention that Third Guy had pressing business back in heaven and went on ahead of them. Oh, and the chief reason that everyone believes they are gods is because of Roger’s flashlight.

Having established the flashlight as the ultimate weapon keeping Roger and Jud alive, the movie is then forced into trying to wring suspense out of scenes where one of the albinos tries to steal it as well as a particularly silly scene that has Roger attempting to hold back the various underground bad guys with his flashlight only to squeal “the button’s jammed!”

“The button’s jammed?” What kind of flashlight is that? Dead batteries I understand. Burnt out bulb I get. Jud putting the batteries in backwards I would expect. But a jammed button?

It isn’t a busted flashlight that causes the downfall of our heroes however but those poisoned mushrooms that Roger’s new girlfriend unwittingly serves him. This sets them up for some good old fashioned human sacrifice. We are “treated” to this ceremony ahead of time when the ruler has three broads sent through a door with a bright light on the other side to their deaths.

The real torment though was suffered by the viewer as there is a pre-sacrifice dance number performed by a gal who looked slightly like one of those carnival pinheads and jumped around with all the dexterity of one of the mole people. Like every dance scene in all lost civilization movies, it’s long, boring, and totally unnecessary.

If you think some bad mushrooms are going to keep our boys down, then you don’t know much about the mettle of American archaeologists, because not only do they manage to avoid getting sacrificed, but they also find time to instigate a revolt amongst the mole people against the albinos and escape back to the surface!

This is the sort of 1950s monster movie that is required viewing for any self-respecting fan. Whereas a film like The Monolith Monsters is purely optional since it strictly adheres to the form without any real memorable moments, The Mole People has guys in mole suits and Hugh Beaumont!

The scenes where people get pulled underground by the mole people are good and creepy and if you’ve got a fetish for guys with humpedbacks and wearing rubber monster masks getting whipped, you won’t go away unsatisfied.

Sure, the movie treads precariously close to imbecilic territory when it posits a world where people can domesticate and raise farm animals underground, weave burlap there, and smelt metal in the same cave system, not to mention using captured mole people to hunt mushrooms, but while the human brain can become irritated with one dumb idea, it becomes drunk with giddiness where, like here, it is presented with an entire cheese platter full of them. Wholeheartedly recommended. (Though albinos may want to give it a skip.)

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