The original Planet of the Apes transported viewers to a new world so rich with intrigue that there could have been endless stories to tell. Sadly, Beneath the Planet of the Apes goes deep underground and never finds the light of day. Beneath is more or less a retread of the original film with a little extra pizazz, most of which doesn’t hold up. What was once a bold Twilight Zone-like social commentary now feels like a rejected episode of Star Trek. Let’s unpeel this piece of rotten fruit and try to find what went wrong.
Beneath begins where the last film left off, and I mean literally, the first five or so minutes are the last five minutes of the previous film. After that, we finally get to see something new with Taylor and Nova traversing the unexplored “Forbidden Zone”. Some crappy animated lightning makes a point of telling us how menacing this area is and then for some reason Charlton Heston “phases” through some rocks.
“What do you mean by ‘phases’?” What I mean is he becomes semi-transparent and then fades away into a bunch of rocks. It’d be an impressive effect if the film was made in the 1920s but we’re talking about the seventies. The phasing thing is pretty unusual but let me tell you that by the end of the film there will be way weirder shit you’ll be confused about.
After Taylor’s unfathomably lame disappearance we are introduced to a very Heston looking astronaut named Brent (James Franciscus) who crashes on the planet in search of Taylor. How someone else managed to travel through space and time and end up on the same part of the planet, let alone the same planet is beyond me but who really gives a shit?
Naturally, we have to go through all the same story beats with Brent that we did with Taylor but more rushed to cover additional plot. Miraculously, Brent somehow encounters returning Apes Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (now played by David Watson despite the fact there’s footage of Roddy McDowall at the beginning) and befriends them. As our heroes work to find Taylor and uncover more of the secrets of the Forbidden Zone the ruthless General Ursus (James Gregory) is dividing ape society and leading them towards the brink of civil war. Hold on, I haven’t even got to the super humans yet.
Eventually, we discover that Taylor has been taken in by a group of evolved humans who became mutants with psychic abilities after everything was blown up. DAMN THEM! Did I mention that the mutants worship a bomb capable of destroying the Earth? It’s never really explained what their plans are, I guess they’re just hanging out underground.
When Brent discovers the mutant lair he’s tracked down by Ursus (I guess he doesn’t like Brent) and an all-out battle against everyone ensues. I don’t mean to spoil things but I will. EVERYONE DIES! Characters are picked off right and left, even Brent is killed without a single fuck. In the film’s closing minutes Taylor (who Brent freed from captivity) is mortally wounded and with his last breath pulls down on a switch that activates the bomb and blows up the world. Yep.
After reading about the film’s chaotic pre-production it’s no surprise the film was such a steaming pile. Both Rod Serling and Pierre Boulle suggested story ideas and both were rejected by the studio. Are you kidding me? Not only are you turning down the film’s original screenwriter but you’re turning down the creator of Planet of the Apes? So Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) was brought on with the idea of including characters mutated by nuclear fallout. The studio didn’t like Dehn’s idea of animal/human mutant hybrids (suggesting Beastiality) but they liked the rest and thus this piece of shit went forward.
It’s odd that a project like this went ahead when so many people working on it had such little faith. Even director Ted Post hated the ending and tried his best to polish the story with James Franciscus. It was a total clusterfuck of a film. Too much of the same stuff and the stuff they added sucked. It was a lose, lose. I only pray that this is the series low point, we still got a bunch left.