Continuing my look at the original Planet of the Apes film series, we now come to the first sequel, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Rather blandly directed by Ted Post and featuring only a cameo performance from Charlton Heston, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is rarely given the credit it deserves. Yes, the first half of the film is rather forgettable but once you get through it, you discover one of the darkest films of the 1970s.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes begins with yet another human astronaut crash landing on the Earth of the future. This astronaut is Brent and, as played by James Franciscus, he comes across as a slightly more earnest, far less charismatic copy of Charlton Heston’s Taylor. Brent has been sent in search of Taylor. Anyway, once he lands on the planet, he is quickly arrested by the apes, meets Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson, stepping in for Roddy McDowall), and then escapes with the still-mute Nova (Linda Harrison). With Nova, Brent makes his way to the Forbidden City where he comes across the ruins of Grand Central Station and discovers that he’s actually on Earth.
Yes, that’s right. The first hour of this 95 minutes film is essentially just the first movie all over again. And yes, this film’s (many) critics are correct when they say that this first hour drags and tests the audience’s patience. Obviously, Brent may be shocked to discover he’s on Earth but it’s old news to us and many viewers are probably tempted to give up on this film before Brent even figures it out.
But don’t give up! No, because if you stick with this film you’ll discover that, once Brent figures out where he is, things get really, really fucked up.
Essentially, Brent discovers that the ruins of New York City are now underground. And in this underground city, there are people. But they’re not people like Brent or Nova. No, these are people who have been horribly scarred by radiation. They’ve also mutated to the extent that they’ve developed the powers of telepathy and mind control. Under the leadership of Mendez the Tenth (Paul Richards), they spend their time singing hymns to the Alpha/Omega nuclear bomb, or as they call it “The Holy Bomb.” They keep the Holy Bomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
These mutants capture both Nova and Brent. Brent is tossed into a cell and who else is there but Taylor? And Taylor, believe it or not, has become even more sarcastic and scornful than before! Seriously, Charlton Heston frequently spoke about how much he hated this film and it’s obvious in his performance. Heston might not have been happy about being there but the audience is because, even if he is busy hating himself, Taylor brings a jolt of life to the film.
And just in time because the Apes, led by Urko (James Gregory), have invaded the forbidden city! They gun down all the mutants. Brent , Taylor, and Nova manage to escape their prison and all three of them are promptly gunned down as well. As he dies, Taylor manages to set off the Alpha/Omega bomb. We see a blinding white light followed by a somber voice over that tells us: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”
And that’s it! There’s no final credits, not even a black-out. Instead, on that note, the movie just stops.
Now, seriously, tell me that’s not a great movie.