The Mole People – Blu-ray Review
Film Title: The Mole People
Release Date: 1956
Rating: NOT RATED
Runtime: 78 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Studio: Scream Factory (Shout! Factory)
Audio Format: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 or 2.00:1
Formats Available: Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 02/26/19
Director: Virgil W. Vogel
Cast: John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont, Alan Napier, Nestor Paiva, Rodd Redwing, Robin Hughes, Phil Chambers, Frank Baxter
“The Mole People” was directed by Virgil Vogel (Virgil W. Vogel) best known for also directing the film “The Land Unknown“ (1957), editing the film “Touch of Evil” (1958), and his work as director on TV shows such as “Wagon Train” (1958-1965), “Bonanza” (1965-1966), “Mission: Impossible” (1970-1973), and “The Big Valley” (1965-1969). The screenplay for the film was written by Laszlo Gorog (László Görög). Gorog’s writing credits include two other sci-fi films: “The Land Unknown” (1957) and “The Spider” (1958).
The story here involves a group of archaeologists led by “Dr. Roger Bentley” (John Agar) and “Dr. Jud Bellamin” (Hugh Beaumont). Roger and Jud have discovered an ancient Sumerian tablet during their excavation work in Asia. The two doctors decide to climb a mountain along with their co-workers “Prof. Etienne Lafarge” (Nestor Paiva), “Dr. Paul Stewart” (Phil Chambers), and a guide. Once they reach a certain point in their summit they end up going underground, let’s just leave it at that to avoid dishing out any spoilers. Once they get underground they discover a strange race of albinos and even stranger creatures living together.
The Sumerian civilization and the archeologists eventually meet, and the underground mutants take them into their dwellings. The race is led by “Nazar” (Rodd Redwing) and “Elinu, the High Priest” (Alan Napier). We discover this civilization keeps the stranger creatures (“mole people”) as slaves, and also make sacrifices of their people to something they call the “Eye of Ishtar” – all based on their beliefs. The pale mutated race is very sensitive to light, and become very afraid of the “magical cylinder of fire” (flashlight) our protagonists have. This is why they are taken and treated very graciously by the leaders.
The two doctors will eventually come across a woman that seems very different than the rest of the underground people, a woman with normal skin. This woman is named “Adad” (Cynthia Patrick) and is given to the men like a slave of sorts by the leaders. The female tries to help the two humans from above make their way back home and escape. That’s pretty much the whole plot to this sci-fi film. It’s not one of the most incredible or well-orchestrated stories in the realm of the genre, but it does prove to be enjoyable in some ways. It should be expected that this film has over the years become a bit of a cult classic. It’s even been “riffed” on by the likes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” back in 1997.
Movie Rating: 3 (out of 5)
“The Mole People” on this Blu-ray has a choice of either the 1.85:1 or 2.00:1 aspect ratio. According to IMDb, this was originally theatrically shown in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. So, this is the first time we’ve been able to see the film in widescreen and get two aspect ratios that both are. Some people who saw the film originally in that 4×3 aspect ratio might be a tad thrown off seeing black bars on the top & bottom with both aspect ratios instead of on the sides. Theatrically it was more of a square and now you get two aspect ratios that are both 16×9 (letterbox widescreen). The 2.00:1 aspect ratio actually proves to be even wider as you can see in some screenshot comparisons a bit further below.
The first thing you’re going to notice once you start watching the film’s opening is the number of visual imperfections that have been left in, such as specks of dirt, hairs, scratches and such. It’s undeniably a rough film print and hasn’t been cleaned up too much (if at all) here for this transfer. That’s something I actually enjoyed and felt was fitting for this old film. We’ve never seen it looking even this good and it would have been odd to have cleaned it up much more. There’s also a great amount of film grain that has been left intact here that looks good all throughout. This gives you that feeling of watching an old monster movie or sci-fi in a theatrical sense like we have never had the chance to unless we were old enough. Even then, they never even got to see the film presented in the widescreen aspect ratios that it was shot in.
The black level here is solid, which helps to emphasize a lot on the shadows throughout being only in Black & White as well as taking place underground after about the 20 minutes mark. The majority of the shots here come with a decent amount of detail, however, some of the close-ups offer a tad bit more detail that proves to be slightly impressive at times. There are some obvious issues when you see stock footage or some of the painted backgrounds not blending too well. Admittedly it’s not amazing visually in terms of HD but it is the best I’ve ever seen this film look or imagined that it would look. It’s solid enough for me, to be the type of film this is: it works. It’s a really decent visual presentation, as is. Sure, it could look better someday if given some restoration efforts, but I don’t think anyone will be doing that anytime too soon. Let’s just be happy we finally are getting the film in high def.
Video Quality Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
Audio here is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono. According to IMDb, this came from a Mono (Westrex recording system) source. This is a somewhat clean presentation with only a tiny bit of hiss. Dialogue is delivered pretty distinctly. Sound effects and the music both come across pretty nicely, setting the mood throughout the film. There’s obviously not that much bass to be found here, but some of the more intense scenes later on in the film prove to have a tiny bit.
To be a film of this age it doesn’t sound really all that bad, and it’s the best that I’ve ever heard it. I have to point out that I did not only hear some hiss but also a slight bit of distortion on some of the louder scenes. It’s honestly to be expected for a film of this age, and it takes a lot of effort to clean things like that up when they’re as constant like this. It might prove bothersome to a few people not used to older films like this, but then again what are they doing watching this if they’re not prepared for that? It’s not the most impressive lossless mono mix I’ve ever heard, but it gets the job done and does an older cult-classic film like this justice. It’s a pretty decent audio presentation but not perfect, by any means. I doubt many people were expecting a film like this to be, let’s face it. Again, simply put: it works.
Audio Quality Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release are presented in both HD (high definition) and SD (standard definition) video with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo sound – unless otherwise noted below. They include the following:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Film Historians / Authors Tom Weaver and David Schecter
- NEW “Of Mushrooms and Madmen: The Making The Mole People“ (18:40 – HD) is a documentary done by Daniel Griffith. This has a lot of old footage from this film and others, as well as the posters. It also includes interviews with C. Courtney Joyner (Screenwriter / Friend of Virgil Vogel) and Bob Burns (Film Historian). The narration here is done by Tom Weaver. You also get to hear some dramatic recreations of interviews with the late director Virgil Vogel and actor John Agar (both done by Randy Turnbull).
- “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Mole People” (1:32:00 – SD) features Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound and is presented in the 1.33:1 (4×3) aspect ratio. This is a Mike Nelson (as host) episode from February 15th, 1997.
- Poster and Lobby Cards Still Gallery (4:33 – HD)
- Photo Gallery (4:16 – HD) includes movie stills.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:00 – HD)
Overall the bonus materials here are pretty decent. Shout! Factory does something brilliant here and uses their rights of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” library of episodes and put the one appropriately on the Blu-ray release of the film. You also get a nice 18-minute long retrospective “making of” featurette, an audio commentary, the original theatrical trailer, and a few image galleries. It’s enough to leave fans of “The Mole People” coming out of the ground and seeing the light.
Bonus Materials Rating: 3 (out of 5)
“The Mole People” has always been a film that gets me deep down. Okay, kidding aside, it’s one of my guilty pleasures of old sci-fi films that I enjoy from time to time, for nostalgia or to revisit in an “MST3K” episode (featured here as an extra). A lot of people will recognize the actors Alan Napier (best known as “Alfred” from the 1966 “Batman” TV series) and Hugh Beaumont (best known as the father on the “Leave it to Beaver” TV series). Both give pretty decent performances here as do John Agar (in the leading role), Rodd Redwing, Cynthia Patrick, and Nestor Paiva.
The video and audio quality here is not the best you’ll find for a film from this time period, but it does the film justice and gets the job done. It’s certainly enough to leave fans pleased, and so will the bonus materials included.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
3.75 (out of 5) for video quality
3.75 (out of 5) for audio quality
3 (out of 5) for bonus materials