Directors: Montgomery Tully, Robert Clouse
Warner Home Video/Best Buy

Warner Home Video have seen fit to grace the shelves of Best Buy with a trio of Sci-Fi double features that, while short on extras, are welcomed just the same in a market overpopulated with lesser contemporary fare. With one picture too silly for its own good, and another that takes itself a little too seriously, this particular double feature is nonetheless satisfying as a fantastic trip that takes the viewer both underground and into the not so distant future.

Communism is underfoot, literally in BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH. Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Mathews, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD) pulls his friend and colleague, Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne, THE OBLONG BOX), from a mental institution when his crazed notions of an enemy burrowing underneath American soil turns out to hold weight. When a mine collapses in Oregon, seismologists are baffled when their equipment fails to detect any major Earth movements in or around the disaster. Investigating Arnold’s claim of men colonizing underground like ants, Commander Shaw leads a team into the mine, where they uncover a series of sophisticated tunnels leading for miles underground. Upon further inspection, the team discovers the system of tunnels to be the work of a Chinese army, armed with advanced technologies and a warehouse full of atomic bombs. Dismantling the bombs, Shaw and his men barely make it out alive when their squad is discovered and ambushed. When reports of the Americans interference makes its way to General Chan Lu (Martin Benson in yellowface), he instructs his men and top scientist, Kengh Lee (Peter Elliott), to have replacement bombs ordered immediately to be transported from the homeland by a long tunnel running underneath the Pacific ocean. With Arnold's help, the U.S. government is able to pinpoint the location of the very same underground passage and immediately ship Shaw to Hawaii where, with the help of geologist Tila Yung (Vivienne Ventura), he is to find a way to destroy the tunnel before the shipment of atomic bombs can find root underneath the United States.

BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH is so utterly ridiculous that it's hard not to find yourself spellbound by its admittedly silly charm. The film's central plot point, that of an underground Communist Army secretly drilling its way across the U.S., is ludicrous at best, but the brightly colored costumes and props and the underground set gives BATTLE an innocent camp value that lasts (just barely) for the film's 91 minutes. The biggest flaw is that it pushes too far, asking the audience to continue on a ride that any sane person would have abandoned at the first stop. I’m sorry but I can only suspend my disbelief so far. I’m willing to consider that a glorified zamboni can travel thousands of miles underground and that you can chisel through rock with a flashlight, but the idea that the United States government could coordinate the total absence of sound by getting the entire country to stay still so sensitive computer equipment can pinpoint the underground menace's precise location, is pushing it. Thankfully, the picture's overall tone is lighthearted enough that such preposterous notions as being able to dismantle an atomic bomb by removing a red thermos from the center without touching the sides, have a tinge of suspense, while still visually appearing as an oversized game of Operation.

Kerwin Mathews and Peter Arne give solid performances and play off one another well, both men having acted together previously in Hammer's PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER. Kerwin is clearly aware that the story unfolding borders on farce, but he hangs in their, all smiles, making the best out of a preposterous situation. Martin Benson is a convincing Bond-type villain but is hardly intimidating as the cold, sophisticated General Lu. Continually flanked by a rather docile bird of prey, I was more effected by the close-up of his pet falcon than by those of Martin, continually squinting his eyes to achieve a more “ethnic” look. For a picture dominated by men, Vivienne Ventura’s inclusion, although much too short, is a welcomed addition, but I don’t believe for one second that she’s a geologist. Especially when Shaw has to warn her about stepping on molten magma! Politically incorrect and at times off the wall loopy, BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH is enjoyable, not despite its flaws, but because of them.

In the year 2012, mankind has been thrown asunder, as a plague has left the population struggling to survive. With random bursts of violence commonplace and plant life and vegetation dwindling, one small community has banded together to survive under the intrepid leadership of the man dubbed The Baron (Max von Sydow) by his followers. Seeking to further protect himself from a neighboring gang bent on overtaking their water supply and resources, the Baron exits the safety of the commune long enough to enlist the help of a stoic stranger for hire. Agreeing to the Baron's terms of triple food rations, a dry bed with no rats and a steady supply of cigars, the man known only as Carson (Yul Brynner) returns to the fortified society, nestled in the heart of a decaying New York City. Carson barely has time to settle in when the Baron makes his true intentions know. While he has reluctantly taken on the role of leader of the small neighborhood, The Baron's only true concerns are of the safety of his pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles, BUG) and of horticulturist Cal (Richard Kelton), who has developed a strain of vegetable seeds immune to the plague. As the climate outside has become increasingly hostile, the Baron must convince Carson to escape with the seeds and his daughter to an island off the coast of North Carolina before Carrot (William Smith, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) and his men realize that the forted community and its morals have weakened and are about to crumble.

Robert Clouse is no stranger to action, having helmed BLACK BELT JONES, GYMKATA and most famously, Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON. Given his track record, WARRIOR feels a little light on action, but don't fret, Yul is still one bad SOB. While showing his age, with his tan and leathery skin and his pants hiked up to his nipples, Yul can still go toe to toe and hand to hand when the scene requires it. Armed only with a short blade knife, Carson makes quick work of all on-comers and displays a quick wit in a tight situation. Equally impressive, though not nearly as cool, Max von Sydow is idle as Baron, a hesitant leader coming to grips with the decline of a community from inside itself. While his name does little in the way of inspiring fear (What is he going to do, overpower his enemies with potassium?), William Smith's Carrot is a sizable and persistent foe. With his ripped t-shirt and exposed massive pecks, Smith is particularly memorable for his involvement in the film's climatic battle. In fact if you walk away with any lasting impression from WARRIOR, it will probably be the cutting edge climax, whose influence can be seen in numerous films that follow, chiefly in the science fiction genre.

As Post Apocalyptic films go, THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR falls somewhere in between the tone of THE OMEGA MAN and the characterization of MAD MAX. The sets are disheveled, gritty and effective. Static shots of desolate New York streets at dawn are haunting and lingering, especially an early shot of the Twin Towers. Action scenes are well-built and involving, but after awhile begin to feel repetitive. I would compare it to the original Nintendo game “Double Dragon”, where you would often beat up a thug, only to turn around and have to kill an identical thug, a never ending cycle of hooligans to whoop on until you made your way to the final boss. While satisfying in small doses, the formula can prove tiresome when drawn out. Overall, WARRIOR is certainly a fun film, but one that could have prospered by deviating from the standard formula a little more.

Both films are presented in a matted widescreen format that maintains there respective 1.85:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement. Colors are clean and fleshtones feel true, with both print sources relatively blemish free. BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH has some rather large and glaring cigarette burns and some choppy editing in its opening credits, but nothing that is as distracting as the film’s wacky premise. The mono audio is likewise clear for both features, possibly too much so as Gil Melle‘s score for THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR has several musical cues that sounds like an annoying swarm of electronic locusts. There are no chapter menus on the one sided disc, just the option to choose each film, but subtitles in English and French are available for both features. (Jason McElreath)