And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Unknown Island (1948)
"I don't know, T-rex, he comes from the land of sharp focus. Can't be THAT tasty...can he?"

“I don’t know, T-rex, he comes from the land of sharp focus. Can’t be THAT tasty…can he?”

Generally speaking, Dinosaurs make everything better. However, when you get down to the specifics, you’ll likely find “better” often translates out to “better than nothing” or “not complete shit.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, is usually blamed for hammering out the Dinosaur Adventure template with his 1912 novel The Lost World. Principally remembered today as an on-the-job training ground for budding special effects wizard Willis O’Brien, 1925’s Lost World movie was extremely popular as a whole, opening whole new markets up to subsequent “fantasy adventure” pictures and the giant monster movies they eventually spawned.

There’s a reason most film geeks skip directly from that Lost World to King Kong and onward to Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The twenty years in between Kong and Beast were a sorry time for all the interesting genres. Horror fell into a vicious “self-parody = $$$ = self-parody without self-awareness” cycle my fellow survivors of the 1990s should instantly recognize. Sci-fi, barely out of infancy, got relegated to before-the-feature serials until the Space and Atomic Ages stole the American imagination away from the Old West. There were no “Action Movies” as we know them today. Westerns covered most of that territory, but whole swaths of what we’d now call “Action” or “Thrillers” were categorized under the catch-all term “Adventure.”

Like most film nomenclature, the term’s inaccurate and often dangerously misleading. Most “Adventures” follow a plot so standardized and predictable even audiences from the 1940s could recognize it from the next town over. Blindfolded. In the dark. Unknown Island is a perfectly awful example of that, the best reason in the world to love King Kong even more than you already do. Because as problematic as some of the things in Kong might be, at least they aren’t boring. And, generally speaking, Willis O’Brien makes everything better. Continue reading