From the vault, Shout Factory releases Universal-International picture, THE MOLE PEOPLE on Blu-ray. This 1956 black and white film merge science fiction and horror in an untraditional way. A team of archeologists investigate the epicenter of an earthquake only to discover an ancient civilization living under the surface. The film explores this alternate reality from the perspective of archeologists who are forced to adapt to their new environment when they become stuck underground. Out of their element, the archeologists must use their quick wit to outsmart the hostile natives in a fight for survival.
Since it has been over 50 years since the making of this film, it has an unexpected meta quality which is interesting to the viewer. It is almost hypocritical watching archeologists outsmart and judge the Sumerian people as primitive, while viewers also judge the film as somewhat dated given the decades that have passed since its release. In the context of our current social climate in viewing women’s issues, it is interesting to observe the archeologists judging the Sumerians towards their treatment of women, while the film also perpetuates a sexist damsel in distress trope. Among the Sumerians, women are treated as slaves. One archeologist attempts to liberate a woman that was “given to him” and attempts to empower her to be independent. The archeologist clearly lacks understanding of the systemic power structures which she lives in. He provides simplistic behavioral alternatives stemming from his own feelings of guilt and pity for her that could potentially jeopardize her life. There is a stark contrast between the hostile sexist attitudes perpetuated by the Sumerians and the benevolent sexist attitudes of the archeologists present in the film.
In addition to themes of sexism, there is also commentary made on religion throughout the film. The Sumerians are portrayed as blinded by their religious beliefs and are close-minded to the ideas of the archeologists. The rigid black and white thinking of the Sumerians proves destructive not only for the Mole people in lower positions of power but also to the high-ranking members of Sumerian society who are easily fooled by the archeologists. It appears that the religious beliefs of the higher-ranking Sumerians are used to marginalize and oppress people who they deem as different. However, the othering that takes place within different sects of the Sumerians is also reflected in the archeologist’s view of the “primitive” civilization. Due to its depiction of religion and othering, this film can serve as a metaphor for a myriad of different social issues throughout history and in the present.
Overall, THE MOLE PEOPLE is a layered and interesting film that can be appreciated on many levels. Although it feels dated, that is also part of the appeal of the film. At times the set design feels almost like you are watching a play. Although It is considered a horror movie, it would not be considered scary by today’s standards. In many ways, the film shows how as a society we have become desensitized to horror. But also, we have become more diverse and understanding of social issues. It is slow at the beginning and takes roughly 30 minutes for the appearance of the Mole people. These monsters do not have as much screen time as contemporary audiences might hope. However, they do make for visually stimulating monsters that may provoke emotions other than fear.