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Rated PG
Copyright 1983 Adams Apple Film Co.
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 'a long time ago'

The Characters:  

  • Wolfson - Elite mercenary who is exceptionally good at finding caves. Wears a leather jacket in the middle of a rain forest.
  • Leslie - She has that sexy "I am a nasty girl" look; pretty much acts it too once you get some beer in her.
  • Major Stevens - Jerk commander of the operation who has a lethal amount of limestone dropped on his head.
  • George - Lieutenant and second in command to Stevens, putz.
  • Bill Gannon - World's foremost expert on caves. Takes a spike through the head.
  • Frieda Shelley - She is attractive, just like Julia Childs is. Another scientist with Gannon. Also spiked.
  • Santos - Serious fodder boy.
  • The Lemurians - Tribe of humans who have been living underground for thousands of years. Not only do they roll in flour, the little buggers can also scream and cause caves to collapse.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

The beginning of this film is a total mystery to me. Well, not entirely, but you will understand why here in a minute. We lead off with a narrator telling us about the life cycle of a giant stalagmite, comparing its growth to significant events in human history. The stalagmite piece I understand. What makes no sense is the following section where we are introduced to the male lead.

Wolfson is up in a tree taking photos of soldiers training in Nicaragua. He almost kills George when the guy walks up looking for him. It is the middle of a rainforest; how did he know where Wolfson was? Then they settle down to chat. At this point, Wolfson looks up and sees (we are led to believe by the camera changes) a sentry climbing up the hill toward them. He ignores the approaching mercenary, instead paying attention to the beer George is offering! When that is shot out of their hands the action really starts. Armed with pistols and a pack of exploding cigarettes, these two take on most of the Nicaraguan Army. The running battle is terribly confusing, along with feeling like nothing more than padding. After about twenty minutes we really start the movie.

The U.S. Army needs a deep cave so they can transmit radio messages to nuclear submarines. It is "super low" frequency so the subs can still pick up the signal through miles of rock. (We will just ignore the fact that the Army is doing this, because how many submarines do they operate?) After enlisting the aid of civilian cave expert Ben Gannon they find the perfect place. Equipment is brought in and the equipment is soon in place in one section of an extensive cave system.

A civilian research group was disturbed by the Army's activity. It causes them to have no great love for the military, though Wolfson manages to win them over. Now, how do you make it up to someone for ruining their expedition and possibly their ability to secure grant money for future research? You act like a down-to-earth guy and dive into the river to retrieve a skillet that was lost into the water. Simple, right? Maybe that was the key to the entire Cold War. Mother Russia had lost her skillet and all that Uncle Sam needed to do was dive in and fish it out. Somebody tell me why I am not in politics. Leslie ends up warming to Wolfson and pretty much throws herself at him one night; he graciously accepts her offer.

Oh, right.

Pretty soon the beacon disappears, along with the two men on duty. All of the important personnel, including a local cave expert named Santos, descend into the cave. Santos needed to watch more Star Trek. I would have looked around and said, "We need a few more unimportant people with us. You, you, and you. Put on red shirts and get your helmets." See, just by doing that, I would have increased my chance of survival. There are now four people certain to die.

The party quickly realizes that they are not alone in the subterranean world. Living in the dark spaces is a tribe of violent albinos which broke off from human evolution ages ago. Leslie is captured when she strays a short distance from the group. At first her disappearance is a mystery, but the others soon encounter the Lemurians. The dwellers in the dark use weapons that make me cringe, because they are not going to kill you quickly. Their primary ranged weapon is a stick that helps them throw a small bone or crystal dart with great force (kind of like a woomera). Amazingly, despite their small size, they appear to be lethal to humans. The dart-chuckers look more like hunting weapons, designed to bring down bats or other creatures found in the caves (albino rabbits, squirrels, whatever you can think of). While I would not want to get hit by a dart, especially not in the throat, I have doubts about their ability to penetrate the skull.

To save Leslie from the Lemurians, Wolfson engages in a knife fight with their most powerful warrior. Of course, he wins, but refuses to finish off his opponent. That small act of decency will later save his life (and Leslie's, you have to save the booty) when more savagery breaks out. Major Stevens is not so lucky. The whole reason the Lemurians stole the submarine beacon system is that it causes them pain while transmitting. When the Major locates it again, he immediately activates the beacon. In retaliation, the Lemurians do something that causes the cave above Stevens to collapse. End of beacon, end of Stevens.

Santos needs to be discussed. While exploring, he is suddenly attacked by a snake-like creature that lives inside a smooth tube in the rock wall. Though he is carrying a pistol, but what does wonder boy do? Begins beating ineffectively at the snake with his weapon. I was aghast when the others responded to Santos' screams and stopped him from becoming a meal for the cave python. No, you are going to save him so that he can go breed and screw up the gene pool! Fortunately, Darwin refuses to be denied his prey, Santos runs afoul of the Lemurians while returning to the surface (alone, wounded man sent back to seek medical treatment without anyone to assist him).

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Stalagmites are not of the Christian faith.
  • Two Americans armed with pistols and tobacco can defeat most South American armies.
  • Radio waves from a portable console can penetrate miles of rock and water.
  • Military operations are characterized by many soldiers wandering around in the background.
  • The first thing a drunk blonde will notice is your tongue size.
  • Deep caves are abundantly lit by fly larva.
  • A pistol is least effective when used as a club.
  • Caves are filled with fog.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 2 mins - So what? It is a stalagmite. Not a good start.
  • 5 mins - The angle that "bullet" punctured the can would indicate is plowed through Wolfson first.
  • 15 mins - Sure hope this woman is not the sexy female lead.
  • 16 mins - Okay, there is a young woman - whew.
  • 49 mins - What the heck? How did everyone else fail to notice the dead body?
  • 51 mins - Splitting up from the group huh? Hmmm, wonder what could possibly...
  • 82 mins - What sort of goofy stuff is this?
  • Ending Credits - "Secrets of the Phantom Caverns" was the real name. Nobody could come up with something better than that or "What Waits Below?"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note waitsbelow1.wav Wolfson: "The name's Wolf."
Leslie: "Wolf, as in big bad?"
Wolfson: "No, as in Wolfson."
Green Music Note waitsbelow2.wav Stevens: "That can not be permitted. The entire cave is off limits to non-essential personnel until all tests are completed."
Green Music Note waitsbelow3.wav George: "Electronic circuitry and stone age tools... ...what does this have to do with Leslie and the transmitter?"
Green Music Note waitsbelow4.wav The Lemurians screaming.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 



 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipwaitsbelow1.mpg - 2.6m
Wonder boy BEATS the snake with his pistol.

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