The Unknown Terror (1957) – Friday Night At The Home Drive-In

Poster for The Unknown Terror (1957)The Unknown Terror (1957) by #CharlesMarquisWarren
w/#JohnHoward #MalaPowers

A millionaire leads an expedition into a remote jungle to find his wife’s long-lost brother, but instead the group finds a mad scientist making fungus people in the jungle.

“They enter the Cave of Death to explore the secrets of hell!”

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Last week I watched Back from the Dead (1957) and discovered that it was one of only two horror films made by Charles Marquis Warren. The Unknown Terror (1957) is the other one, and I just had to track it down and do a direct comparison…

Only Two Horror Films? What gives?

As I said last week, Charles Marquis Warren wrote and directed a whole bunch of westerns – for TV and theatrical release. It seems as if that was his bread and butter. In 1957 he made three movies and one episode of television that all qualify as westerns – but he also made two horror films (the aforementioned Back from the Dead and The Unknown Terror).

Why did he suddenly decide to depart from his usual genre? I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to try something different, or maybe he thought it was a good way to make some money. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why he did it. It’s something that happened, and it’s kind of intriguing. I suppose the more important question is: are they any good?

Recalling Back from the Dead…

It’s about a newly married woman who becomes possessed by the spirit of her husband’s dead first wife. It feels more like film noir than horror at times. But it does feature possession, satanic rituals, and a dead woman returning from the grave… It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a decent little film that keeps you entertained for its relatively short running time.

How does The Unknown Terror compare?

The Unknown Terror doesn’t rate as well (4.8 on the IMDb compared to 5.1 for Back from the Dead), but I think I actually preferred it. The Unknown Terror is more of a good old fashioned sci-fi horror B-movie. It features a mad scientist creating “fungus people” in the jungle. What could be better than that? Whereas Back from the Dead was kind of serious-minded, The Unknown Terror is pure campy fun. It’s exactly the kind of movie that I would have thoroughly enjoyed on late night TV when I was young. 

The leading lady of The Unknown Terror: Mala Powers

She started acting as a child and then later was given the lead in Ida Lupino’s excellent Outrage (1950). That same year she played Roxanne in Cyrano De Bergerac (1950), and it seemed like Mala Powers was destined to be a star. Unfortunately, she contracted a blood disease while on a USO entertainment tour of Korea in 1951. She nearly died, and her recovery took many months. When she returned to acting in 1952, it was mainly in B-movies, and eventually television. 

So what’s the verdict for The Unknown Terror?

The Unknown Terror (1957) is a lost gem of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – at least it was for me. I hear that some people were lucky enough to see it on shows like Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater back in the 1960s. As far as I know, it never aired on my special show, Not Quite Classic Theatre. But I suppose it’s good to to still be able to discover some movies like The Unknown Terror. It makes the constant search seem all the more worthwhile. And while I will continue to search for unknown B-movies, I will undoubtedly revisit The Unknown Terror on another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

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