The Incredible Petrified World (1957) *
Jerry Warren is best known for importing low-budget, foreign-made horror and science fiction movies, chopping them to pieces, and then editing them together with scraps of new footage he shot himself to create incomprehensible travesties like Invasion of the Animal People and Attack of the Mayan Mummy. Warren also made a few movies of his own from the ground up, however, and shockingly enough, those could be even more wretched than his infamous Frankenflicks. Among his earliest efforts was The Incredible Petrified World, an ostensible adventure story in what I imagine Warren intended to be the Jules Verne mode, which features nothing petrified save the movie itself, and which is incredible only in the sense that it defies belief that even the most gullible of investors could have been convinced to bankroll its production.
Stock footage intros are always a bad sign, and The Incredible Petrified World gives us one that is both unusually long and unusually divorced from the supposed point of the film. While jacks swarm and groupers blub and a shark battles an octopus to the death in a clip that was used to equally little purpose in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a voiceover blathers on and on about the sea, saying nothing that bears even the most tenuous connection to what’s on the way during the ensuing hour. I guess the idea is to set the stage by providing a peek into the sort of curiosities that motivate our explorer heroes, but really, Jerry’s just wasting our time. We’d have been no poorer for it if he’d just jumped right in and introduced us to engineer Jim Wyman (Joe Maierhouser), who is currently building an advanced deep-sea diving bell for Dr. Matheny of the California Institute of Oceanographic Research (George Skaff, from Man Beast and Frogs). Matheny’s program has a sister project on the opposite coast, a private venture by Wyman’s older brother, Millard (John Carradine, of The Astro-Zombies and Bluebeard), who originated the design for the diving bell, and who is rather farther along in putting his into service. I must confess at this point that this whole business about two research programs using Millard Wyman’s diving bell confuses the hell out of me, because Millard himself will repeatedly claim that the reason he built his version on his own dime is that he couldn’t convince any of the endowed oceanographic research outfits that the machine would work, or indeed even that there was any point in sending a man to the ocean depths in the first place. Yet there’s his little brother on the West Coast, building exactly the same contraption with $98,000 of somebody else’s money. But be that as it may, Millard is even now on the deck of a ship in the Caribbean Sea, preparing to lower three of his most trusted pupils, together with studiedly bitchy and obnoxious newspaper photographer Dale Marshall (Phyllis Coates, from Invasion U.S.A. and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), into the unseen bathypelagic gulfs where no ray of sunshine has ever penetrated.
The dive is not notably successful. Something goes wrong once the bell drops below 1700 feet, and the cable snaps, stranding Craig Randall (Robert Clarke, of The Man from Planet X and The Hideous Sun Demon), Paul Whitmore (Allen Windsor), Lauri Talbott (Sheila Noonan), and Dale Marshall on the sea floor. The radio gives out, cutting off all communication between the divers and the surface, Wyman has no way of salvaging the bell or rescuing its occupants, and in general, the whole mission is now more or less totally FUBAR. Good job, guys.
Except… When Craig, Paul, Lauri, and Dale come around (and after a short pause to allow Dale to wig out over her apparently inevitable demise), the men notice that there’s light in the water, even though they were well below the threshold of darkness when the accident occurred. Reasoning that some undiscovered current must have pushed them up the water column and deposited them on a shelf of shallower seabed, the divers pull on their scuba gear and leave the bell. The sonar man on the ship upstairs detects their movements, but he quickly loses track of them; Wyman speculates that what he saw on the sonar scope was the divers’ dead bodies floating up toward the surface. But nothing is as anyone believes, for that glow Craig saw through the diving bell’s porthole was not sunlight, but the phosphorescence emitted by a nearby rock formation. There’s no way he and his companions could swim to the surface from their present depth, but the luminous seamount is riddled with caves, and most of them are filled with trapped oxygen. They may be no closer to getting rescued, but at least they’ve pushed dying a bit further into the future. Not only that, they’ve got company! After poking around inside the caves for a bit, the explorers run into this old crazy guy (Maurice Bernard) who dresses like a caveman, and whom the efforts of the hair and makeup people have transformed into something resembling the world’s worst department store Santa Claus. Evidently he went down with his ship, and escaped death in the same way as our heroes. According to the castaway, the air in the caves comes not from any convoluted connection to the surface, but rather from the gaseous emissions of an underwater volcano about two miles away. There’s no way out of the caverns, or else he’d surely have found it at some point during the fourteen years since his ship sank, so Craig and the others might as well make themselves at home.
Meanwhile, Millard Wyman flies out to California to talk to Matheny. He thinks he’s figured out why the cable on the diving bell broke, and he wants to take his little brother’s copy— subject to certain modifications, of course— back down to recover his lost divers (whom he believes erroneously to be dead). He’d better make it quick, though, because something about having a couple of women show up in his cavern has brought all of Cave Santa’s most antisocial tendencies to the fore, and a rescue would be really useful right about now.
The Incredible Putrefied World is more like it. I could never write a review that would adequately convey how drab and uninteresting The Incredible Petrified World is, because I, unlike Jerry Warren, recognize what a bad idea it is to bore the living shit out of my audience. There is a certain minimal level of technical competence on display here as regards acting, cinematography, and the like, but it comes nowhere near making up for the movie’s utter absence of purpose. There’s barely enough plot to fill this review, and most of the film is given over to interminable scenes of people wandering around in caves and swimming to and from the wreck of the diving bell over and over and over again. I simply can’t conceive of anybody being so fascinated by the interiors of subterranean tunnels that The Incredible Petrified World could hold the whole of their attention for even its brief running time, nor can I imagine how Jerry Warren managed to talk anyone into paying for this movie to be made.