HoliDANGER! #8: The Mole People (1956)
The DANGER: A hungry race of subterranean, humanoid mutants! Can burrow through the Earth with their large, clawed hands! Drag their captives beneath the ground, to strip their bones of flesh! HOWEVER, they are only victims themselves, slaves to...
The REAL DANGER: High Priest Elinu! Maintains a myopic, fundamentalist culture through force! Whips and enslaves the mole people, starving and forcing them to do his bidding! Sacrifices members of his society to Ishtar! Plots against any who challenge his authority, even the king! Really has it coming to him by the end of the film!
Like the treatise on radar at the beginning of The Deadly Mantis, The Mole People opens with a professor giving an exposition of various hollow Earth theories. Given that he's a professor of English, I'm not sure of his geological expertise on the subject, but hey, a degree's a degree. He goes on to say that the following movie is a fiction, but one with a message, and we should "study" it. I'll do my best, teach!
The Mole People has the feel of a classic adventure, with our protagonists discovering a forgotten world, and falling into danger and intrigue therein. The heroes this time are thoughtful, upstanding men of science - no pushy military types to be found. The world they discover, an ancient, subterranean civilization preserved in a living state, is not the paradise that such places sometimes appear to be.
Here a flashlight is a powerful weapon, due to the light sensitivity that has developed in the underground denizens. The people live on mushrooms, and strict population controls, enforced by sacrifice, are implemented to balance the demand for food. We bear witness to one such sacrificial ceremony, and are treated to a ritual dance. These ritual dance sequences are present in scores of movies that deal with exotic, often fictional cultures, and they are always boring as hell. Fire Maidens From Outer Space, also from 1956, is positively bloated with these (as the crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000's Satellite Of Love will tell you).
Beyond being an entertaining enough adventure and monster picture, The Mole People does indeed have a message, just as our professor said. The clawed creatures turn out to be an oppressed, starving species, and Elinu, near the top of the social order, is revealed to be the real monster, an enforcer of cruelty and ignorance. In the wonderful world of science fiction, the "monster" can be the hero. Though the film has an abrupt and unexpectedly downbeat ending, there is hope in seeing the freed mole people storm the halls of their oppressors. It's a welcome sentiment of overturning corrupt authority, one that is certainly relevant today.