"While we've been wasting time up there, they've been busy down there where it counts!"
Beginning with Peter Arne being arrested by cops in Las Vegas for listening to the pavement and insisting "Just like ants. They're crawling under us, I tell you... If you listen carefully, you can hear them. I tell you, they're right beneath us!," the gleefully unsane Battle Beneath the Earth is one of those films that's all the more fun for taking its reds under the bedrock bonkers premise seriously and playing it straight. Arne ends up in a Vegas lunatic asylum complete with slot machines for its patients where even old friend Kerwin Matthews won't believe him until a mine disaster in Oregon reveals the unthinkable truth - the Red Chinese have been burrowing under the Pacific and have a massive network of tunnels under strategic points in the USA where rebel warlord Martin Benson plans to detonate atomic weapons to literally destroy the country from within.
It's a plot that Fu Manchu would have dreamt up had he been around in the 1960s and one which you suspect The Man from UNCLE passed on as too outrageous even for their third season, but it's rather endearing in its way. Filmed with the odd ex-patriate American actor (Ed Bishop and Robert Ayres, come on down!), Canadian and Brits with variable accents in the home counties area around MGM's Boreham Wood studios in the UK, it's filled with silliness - Vivienne Ventura's geologist nearly stepping on molten lava, all of Kerwin's regular marines being able to defuse atomic bombs, which can also be detonated by dynamite, causing an explosion which can easily be outrun in just ten minutes, Arne is brainwashed by a woman waving a mini electric hand fan around - not to mention the odd bit of stock footage (as well as a shot from Bad Day at Black Rock they even recycle one shot of Matthews sneaking atom bombs past unobservant Chinese soldiers). Journeyman director Montgomery Tully somehow makes it look better than the low budget without ever looking remotely convincing, and it's all harmlessly bonkers kids matinee stuff.
Beyond both having scenes set in tunnels, you have to wonder who at Warner Home Video thought it was a great idea to double-bill Battle Beneath the Earth, aimed firmly on the kids' matinee market with gritty 70s post-apocalyptic actioner The Ultimate Warrior aka The Barony which throws in the then commonplace but definitely kiddie unfriendly brutal violence and attempted rape. Robert Clouse's film is the more upmarket of the two, though it still seems aimed at the drive-in market despite headlining Yul Brynner and Max von Sydow. But then Brynner's career had fallen into disrepair by 1975 - despite the success of Westworld only two years earlier, the part had originally been intended for emerging Shaw Brothers star Gordon Liu, who Warner Bros. saw as the next Bruce Lee. Nonetheless Brynner gets an impressive entrance, standing resolutely immobile for days waiting for various gangs to pitch for the services of his professional fighter. Once he's decided to throw in his lot with von Sydow's failing commune he becomes a more conventionally charismatic and talkative hero, facing off against William Smith's sadistic rival gang leader who rules from a deserted prison and gives chase when Brynner is sent to take von Sydow's pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles) and some valuable seeds to a place of safety through New York's abandoned subway tunnels.
Set in 2012, its vision of a world after a plague has wiped out most of the world's population and food supply is a familiarly nihilistic one, and it was shot at a time when a New York in crisis didn't need much in the way of set dressing to look like a bomb site. The Bronx was a wasteland of burned out and crumbling buildings and rubble that famously looked like Berlin or Dresden at the end of WW2 and, like its onscreen counterpart, violence was rampant, though at least in the 70s they were more likely to kill you for your watch and your wallet than a sackful of pigeons or the shirt off your back. Played much straighter than the studio's hip and often unintentionally funny The Omega Man a few years earlier, Clouse's direction is rather better than his usual anonymous job, though the action scenes definitely could have benefited from a martial artist. Certainly better than its low reputation, it's more of a surprisingly half-decent programmer than a forgotten classic.
Both films have decent but not outstanding 1.85:1 widescreen transfers (though there are a few bits of blue streaking on The Ultimate Warrior) but no extras unless you count English and French subtitles.