1976’s Land of the Minotaur comes from Crown International Pictures, one of the more prolific names in the world of grindhouse, exploitation, and drive-in fare that dominated much of the sixties and seventies. I’ve become a pretty big fan of the studio and distributor, but I’ll be the first to admit that their catalog of titles is a really mixed bag. Some of their stuff works really well, but a lot of the movies made or released by the company fall short of their potential. Such is the case of Land of the Minotaur.
Because this was the mid-seventies, the horror in this movie is religious and occult based. Apparently that’s pretty much what 86 percent of horror movies were about between the years of 1970 and 1978, before a Mr. Myers was unleashed upon the world. Donald Pleasance plays a priest (just like in Prince of Darkness) living in Greece and squaring off against a group of Satanists led by Peter Cushing. Well, to be truthful, they aren’t full-on Satanists. See, these guys worship the Minotaur, the monster of Greek myth who was half man and half bull and lived in a maze called the Labyrinth. The pagans in this movie are all about respect for the old gods, but they also believe that the Minotaur was just another name for the devil, so…okay, I guess they are devil worshipers. The Minotaur itself is actually really cool; it’s a statue, but the big, stone, anatomically-correct behemoth breathes fire and IT TALKS!
The cult of the Minotaur is led by Peter Cushing, playing a character called Baron Corofax. At this point in his career (just one year before Star Wars) the actor was even thinner than in most of his Hammer horror work, looking like a skeleton with skin stretched over the bones. He preens and grimaces with unveiled menace, doing what Peter Cushing does, which is pretty much just looking pissed off in a very polite, English way. When he’s dressed in red robes for the sacrifices, Cushing appears quite capable of murder, despite appearing as if a strong breeze might blow him over. Even the completely-CGI Peter Cushing form Star Wars: Rogue One seemed threatening, and that wasn’t really even him.
I also continue to struggle with wanting to like Donald Pleasance more than I do. On the Prince of Darkness podcast, I brought up an episode of Columbo that I still think is his best work. I suppose I prefer him as a nebbish, ineffective man who finds himself in over his head and must then come to terms with his circumstances. There’s an innate puppy-dog quality to the actor, a slight pitifulness that I can’t quite put my finger on but that tends to lend him sympathy. I find him to be a lot less effective when he takes matters into his own hands, which is what most scripts require of him. I know that part of the appeal of the actor is seeing an “everyman” play against type and rise to action, but I think he works better as someone who struggles internally rather than physically. In the Halloween series, he increasingly becomes a hunter. In Prince of Darkness, he seeks action. And here, in Land of the Minotaur, he once again chases down the evil itself, like a small, balding Rambo, only if Rambo rode in the passenger seat.
The music for the movie is notable, at least in theory if not in execution. There’s a song in the movie that Paul Williams performs, and the score is provided by Brian Eno. I think it’s fair to call Eno a big deal in the music industry, as he’s an accomplished ambient musician in his own right. Eno is also the producer behind albums by David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Devo, and U2. There aren’t really any noticeable themes in this soundtrack (or much of anything you can pick out, really), but then again, that’s kind of what Eno does. “Huuuummmmmmm……Buuuuuuuuduuuuuuuuuuummmmm……” NAILED IT.
Read more of Heath Holland's writing at his blog Cereal at Midnight!