Starring Christopher Atkins, Angela Featherstone, Colm Meaney
Directed by Rick Pepin
The Sci-Fi Channel premiere of Caved in: Prehistoric Terror marks the second worst mining disaster of the past week.
The prospects of a cheesy monster movie about people trapped in a cave being stalked by huge prehistoric rhinoceros beetles actually excited me. Then I saw the first commercial for it and my anticipation plummeted like Kong falling off the Empire State Building. I’m used to Sci-Fi Channel movies with bad CGI, but yikes. If I didn’t know better I’d wonder if maybe the Sci-Fi Channel didn’t want to people to tune in to see this film by loading the promos with shots of some of the worst CGI imaginable. So I went into the film with incredibly low expectations, which really is the most logical way anyone should go into a Sci-Fi Channel movie, and it pretty much lived up to what I suspected. They should have made it about giant prehistoric stink beetles because the movie sure does stink.
Caved In: Prehistoric Terror starts decently enough, with a short prologue sequence where miners inadvertently unearth a chamber containing a fortune in precious emeralds in 1947 Switzerland. Before they can celebrate their discovery, large prehistoric beetles show up and begin slaughtering everyone. Only one person makes it out of the mine alive just before a dying miner sets off some dynamite causing it to cave in. It a shame that after this solid opening sequence everything turns quite tedious for the next 45 minutes until the beetles finally re-emerge. I found this especially disheartening knowing that the movie was directed by Rick Pepin, a guy who made quite a few choice direct-to-video b-action movies back in the mid-90s. Hologram Man, this is not. Sigh.
Up to modern times where a very aged looking Christopher Atkins is introduced as the world’s foremost spelunker who gets recruited by a group looking to survey the Swiss mine led by “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”‘s Colm Meaney in what has got to be the low point of his career. Atkins suspects something just isn’t right about the offer but cannot resist the big money they’re offering. This decision doesn’t sit too well with his family who he had promised a vacation, especially his spoiled teen daughter who hates her daddy’s occupation as she astutely proclaims at one point, “I don’t wanna be a tour guide for bored rich people. I want to be the bored rich person.”
Off to Switzerland the family goes where he meets up with the rest of the group and still he doesn’t think anything is suspicious, despite the group looking like a ragtag bunch of Eastern European nogoodnicks. He doesn’t even bat an eye when they unveil the state of the art laser rifles they plan to use to blast through some of the rocks. Thank goodness they did because laser guns are a giant prehistoric rhinoceros beetles worst enemy.
While Atkins leads the group into the mine, the rest of the family stays atop so the daughter can start making googly eyes at cute young member of the group while mom does her best to keep nature from taking its course. Meanwhile, their adolescent son Miles follows the group down into the mine, even after being forbidden to tag along. Mom eventually comes across a dead body the bad guys conveniently left in a place where anyone could come across it, and Atkins finally learns the truth after Marcel, the hot-headed grandson of the original mine survivor starts killing off his own people.
Marcel is the kind of dumb ass villain type that keeps popping up in Sci-Fi Channel movies. I don’t know if there’s some unwritten rule to include a human villain who constantly sabotages his own agenda through sheer idiotic villainy. He doesn’t want them to blow their cover and yet he murders one of his own men after a squabble and tries to pass it off as an accident. They’re outnumbered by beetles and he still decides to go ahead and kill off another guy just out of spite. They’re trapped over a thousand feet underground with monstrous insects stalking them and all he can think about is getting to the emeralds and keeps coming close to murdering the only person (Atkins) who can potentially get them out of this situation alive. The guy is a complete ass clown and seems to be so for no other reason than bad screenwriting; and as I said, I’ve seen too many similar characters in Sci-Fi Channel movies. Mutant creatures, lousy computer effects, and moronic villains seem to be the hallmarks of Sci-Fi Channel productions.
Following a cave in caused by their battling the underground bugs, a fissure opens up in the ground allowing some of the creepy crawlies to get loose on the surface so they can chase around the wife and daughter. Their encounter with the beetles is actually far more compelling than the one going on underground due almost entirely to Angela Featherstone’s steely resolve as Mrs. World’s Foremost Spelunker. Featherstone, looking an awful lot like Daryl Hannah spliced with Virginia Madsen, definitely a different look than the last time I saw her in a movie, is a fine actress (and I do mean that in more ways than one) that deserves better than being relegated to a thankless supporting role like this. She is so much more convincing heroine than Atkins turn as the film’s hero that I wish they’d left Blue Lagoon boy on the surface and let her be the film’s star. And while they’re at it, they should toss the extremely irritating daughter down a very one of those chasms in the mine and I’d be happy.
But Caved In: Prehistoric Terror has other problems seriously undermining it. The mineshafts they’re spelunking (and by spelunking I mean simply walking around with little difficulty other than the occasional giant beetle onslaught) is a most obvious soundstage combined with green screen background effects. Thanks to a plot convenience that allows the power in the old mine to still be function it isn’t even dimly lit. The mine is so well lit it destroys any chance at creating an atmosphere of dread that other cave monster movies like The Descent, The Cave, and even Sci-Fi’s own Centipede from a year ago achieved.
And, as always, there’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room in the form of the cheaply computer generated creatures. I’m used to seeing unconvincing CGI in Sci-Fi Channel films, but there are moments in the film where the computer effects are so poor I wanted to retitle the film Caved In: Prehistoric Terror for the Sega Dreamcast. Even when the effects were bad in the classic creature features of the 1950s there was a hokey charm to them. Bad computer animation has no charm to it especially when the movie is as short on creativity as this. Even going past the awful computer effects, the beetles are treated like such a generic monster menace. We get no real explanation as to how they came to be or how they’ve been able to thrive since there are swarms of them and yet no sign of any sort of viable food supply to sustain them. They just show up, gore people with their horns, and snap them in half with their mandibles. I don’t know what I really expected from this film but I was honestly expecting more. The beetles don’t even give you the willies on a creepy crawly scale. After viewing the bug pit scene in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, watching something like this is all but embarrassing.
This is all the more depressing because I got the sense that there was a good b-movie that wanted to break out of Caved In: Prehistoric Terror but every time it peeped its head out for a few seconds the movie instantly put the boots to it and stomped it back in. Watching guys with laser guns blast beetles that explode like the video game Asteroids and hearing lines of dialogue like “Your plan isn’t just coming apart! It’s being ripped apart by giant bugs!” is the stuff good cheesy B-movies are made of. Most of the time we’re saddled with lame scenes like the young son having to cross a rickety rope bridge to safety. And of course the only way out of the mine forces them to go right through the beetles’ nest which comes complete with a giant queen beetle. Thank goodness Miles turns out to be an authority on insect behavioral patters. Sigh.
Well, here’s to a brand new year of Sci-Fi Channel original movies. God help me. God help us all.
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