Saturday, January 14, 2017

137. Land of the Minotaur

137. Land of the Minotaur (1976)
Director: Kostas Karagiannis
Writer: Arthur Rowe
From: Cult Cinema

A cult dedicated to the worship of an ancient Minoan god kidnaps 3 archaeologists. It’s up to their friends—a priest, a young woman, and a former local—to figure out what’s going on and save them.

This film feels like a forgotten Hammer Horror flick, possibly because it features Peter Cushing in a prominent role, and he’s not even animated! Adding some extra horror/b-movie gravitas is Donald Pleasence as an occasionally Irish priest. He has a slight accent that comes and goes, as though not only Pleasence but everyone associated with the movie periodically forgot about it.

The movie opens with Cushing and his cult sacrificing two people to their minotaur god. Then we cut to Pleasence as Father Roche calling the local Greek police because another pair of youths have gone missing in the region. A trio of young archaeologists—a friend of Roche, her boyfriend, and a man they met while traveling—stop by Roche’s home to say hi and to tell him about their friend’s knowledge of an ancient temple in the nearby ruins. The youths Roche called the police about had gone searching for that same temple and Roche makes the trio promise not to go. They agree and then sneak out in the middle of the night to go there. Within a day (and twenty minutes of the start of the film), they’re captured by the cultists.

Before leaving Roche, the friend sends a letter to his girlfriend, Laurie, telling her to join them in their find. She arrives and gives Roche the letter which leads him to contact an old friend, a private investigator from New York, to help in the search.

From there it’s standard "outsiders in a suspicious town"-type stuff. All the townspeople are cultists and Roche’s friends seem willfully resistant to recognizing what’s happening. That allows for some unintentional comedy as Roche sees cultists walking past outside, but his friend misses them and doubts Roche’s claims—even though they’ve both come back from finding the corpse of someone who wanted to talk to them. Additional humor comes from the fact that the cult uniforms are all robes with pointy hoods. Yup, they’re all Klansmen.

For whatever reason, Cushing, the lead cultist, wants to sacrifice Roche to the minotaur. There’s a little back-and-forth, only a touch of cat-and-mouse before we arrive at the climax that includes people literally exploding.

The movie’s fun in its own campy way. Cushing and Pleasence are, hands-down, the best parts about it and it’s nice to see things that have that Hammer tone, even if they’re not explicitly Hammer films. It does drag a bit, though, and there isn’t a whole lot of tension or drama. Everyone in the town is evil so there’s no doubt about which side characters are on and the goals of the cult, beyond being generally evil, never emerge. There are some nice sets as well as unintentional hilarity, though, so it’s not too bad. Nothing great, but satisfying enough.

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