The Unknown Terror (1957) poster

The Unknown Terror (1957)

Rating:

USA. 1957.

Crew

Director – Charles Marquis Warren, Screenplay – Kenneth Higgins, Producer – Robert Stabler, Photography (b&w) – Joseph Biroc, Music – Raoul Kraushaar, Optical Effects – Louis DeWitt & Jack Rabin, Art Direction – James W. Sullivan. Production Company – Emirau Productions.

Cast

Paul Richards (Peter Morgan), John Howard (Dan Matthews), Mala Powers (Gina Matthews), Gerald Milton (Dr Ramsey), May Wynn (Concha Ramsey), Duane Gray (Lino), Richard Gilden (Raoul Koom), Patrick O’Moore (Dr Willoughby), William Hamel (Trainer)


Plot

Dan Matthews returns to the US from the Caribbean where he has been searching for explorer Jim Wheatley who went missing while looking for Cueva Muerte, the legendary native Cave of Death. Matthews has evidence that Wheatley is still alive. Peter Morgan approaches Matthews’ wife Gina and says he is best equipped to lead the rescue expedition, even though there is ill feeling between he and Matthews over a prior expedition where Morgan ended up permanently damaging his leg in the course of saving Matthews. Matthew welcomes Morgan on board and they depart, guided by the fearful native Raoul Kooms. Arriving at the remote native village, they are directed to Ramsey, a white doctor who is regarded as a god by the natives because of his medical skills. Ramsey is also engaged in a series of experiments using fungi. As the party find the cave and descend in search of Wheatley, they discover that Ramsey has been using his fungi experiments to create mutants out of the people that the natives sacrifice.


The Unknown Terror was one of two horror films made by Charles Marquis Warren. Warren was a writer, producer and occasional director who made a good many B-budget Westerns. He is probably best known for creating the Western tv series’ Gunsmoke (1955-75), Rawhide (1959-65) and The Virginian (1962-71).Warren’s one other horror film was the possession film Back from the Dead (1957).

The Unknown Terror is cheap and not very well made. It was only a B-support programmer when it came out and has been largely forgotten since then. Charles Marquis Warren was clearly operating on a low budget and his directorial set-ups look rushed and indifferent. The bulk of the show supposedly takes place in the Caribbean but this is a depiction of the area that has never travelled outside of California to shoot, although it does employ famous Calypso singer Sir Lancelot during one scene. The film does not have a particularly high opinion of the natives, having them regard white medicine as magic, speaking in pidgin English and being engaged in sacrifices.

Mala Powers threatened by infected natives in The Unknown Terror (1957)
Mala Powers threatened by infected natives

Most of The Unknown Terror plays out more of an adventure film than a horror film. Charles Marquis Warren evinces a certain rudimentary sense of adventure with the various parties venturing into the cave. On the other hand, he is less well attuned to the horror aspects. Gerald Milton’s mad scientist of the show is disappointingly run of the mill and can barely even be considered mad. We do get some passable climactic scenes with the caves filling with fungus where it looks like the filmmakers have filled the caves with massive amounts of some foam.

On the other hand, you feel that the film could have steeped itself in genre territory far more than it does. You could make comparison to Voodoo Woman (1957), which came out the same year – by contrast, that seemed disinterested in the adventure aspect but excelled with the provision of the mad scientist and title creature. If you had combined the two, you might have had one really good B movie.


Full film available here


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