The Mole People
Movie watching is often a fairly solitary business for me. I love watching movies with other people, but people usually don’t want to see my movies. They don’t want to see gory, unsettling horror movies and they don’t want to see campy, ridiculous sci fi. My friends usually want to see “mainstream” movies with action, adventure, and romance, not googly-eyed aliens. I’m not sure why they don’t like bad movies (or good horror movies for that matter), but I assume it’s because they’re defective. That’s why it’s such a treat to meet one of those few completely sane folks who appreciate fine cinema. That’s why it’s so special when you rescue a seemingly defective person (ha!) from the jaws of mainstream Hollywood and introduce them to the wonderful world of B-movies. My friend Pam’s birthday is today and I want to honor her induction into the cult of cult classics. She told me that thanks to her sister Alice’s efforts and mine, she’s become fascinated with bad movies. She also said she’d rather watch an old, cheesy B-movie than a modern, brainless blockbuster any day. I swear my heart grew three sizes that day. (“Fahoo fores, dahoo dores…”) So in honor of her birthday, I’m reviewing a movie she suggested, The Mole People, which is truly a classic.
The Mole People is about a group of archeologists looking for the ruins of a lost Sumerian civilization. Piecing together information from stone tablets and Mesopotamian flood myths, they reason that the civilization must have boarded an ark to weather the storm. Thanks to a chance discovery by a small boy, they find the ruins of the lost civilization perched high atop a mountain. The archeologists investigate a temple to Ishtar, goddess of love, sex, and war. The filmmakers apparently didn’t know that Ishtar is a Babylonian goddess, unlike a scholar like me, who knew that as soon as he looked it up on Wikipedia. They descend into the depths because the temple has a large vertical drop into the mountain for some reason, and wouldn’t you know it the rope breaks as they’re climbing down. The archeologists have no other choice but to explore the inside of the mountain. They try to rest when they come upon an ancient Sumerian city, which had sunk when a cavity in the rock had collapsed, but they’re beset upon by a gang of mole people. The mole people look nothing like moles besides the long claws. Instead they’re scaly, hunchbacked, and their mouths are…I don’t know what’s with their mouths. Needless to say, the mole people are great looking monsters and totally gangster. They cinch bags over the archeologists’ heads and abduct them by dragging them underground.
When the archeologists remove the bags from their heads, they’re confronted by armed, human guards and taken to the descendants of the Sumerian civilization that inhabited the now sunken city. The Sumerian king and the high priest of Ishtar want to put the visitors to death because they don’t have enough food to support them, but the archeologists manage to escape and flee to the tunnels after sending them running with a flashlight; the Sumerian descendants have become albinos with light-sensitive eyes from living underground for so long and the flashlight burns them. One of the archeologists is torn apart by mole people in the tunnels. The two remaining come upon the Sumerians again, who now greet them as messengers of Ishtar; they believe the flashlight they carry is the light of Ishtar. Poor stupid Sumerians. They don’t know what flashlights is.
The archeologists’ new positions of power allow them to survey the Sumerian society. They have a limited food supply because the only things they can grow are mushrooms, and they use the mole people as slaves to produce and harvest their crops. Because of the limited food supply, the society has to sacrifice people to Ishtar to maintain a reasonable population size. The society also has weird issues with elitism, as they discriminate against a servant girl who is ‘marked,’ that is to say, who isn’t an albino. If it weren’t for the intervention of one of the archeologists, who, of course, is falling in love with her the minute she appears on screen, the high priest would have had her whipped. In summation, Sumerian cave society sucks.
However, all is not well within the slave-owning, human-sacrificing, elitist society. The high priest begins to suspect the archeologists aren’t really messengers of Ishtar when they question the Sumerian society’s rules and decry things like whipping servants and the enslaved mole people. The clincher is when a group guards discover the body of the archeologist that was mauled by mole people, proving that the archeologists were lying when they said their friend went back to heaven and that they are immortal beings. He hatches a plot with the king to capture the archeologists and seize the flashlight from them. In the meantime, the archeologists free a group of mole people who were being chained up and whipped, but the flashlight goes out after they chase off the Sumerian guards. When they return to the city, the servant girl, Adad, who’s in love with one of the archeologists (I can’t remember his name, I think it was Roger or something stupid), gives them mushrooms at the behest of the priest. But unbeknownst to Adad or the archeologists, they were mushrooms laced with drugs!
The archeologists wake up bound in ropes. The Sumerians plan on sacrificing them to Ishtar. Adad, who’s not actually a father in spite of her name, goes to enlist the help of the mole people, who were grateful when the archeologists freed them. In the meantime, the ceremony begins with a long dance and the sacrifice of three beautiful young ladies, because their society has no sense of priorities as to who should be sacrificed. The sacrificial victims in question enter a chamber filled with light, which is behind a large bolted door. When the ladies are taken out, they’re roasted black like marshmallows that catch flame. The trussed up archeologists are then pushed into the chamber and they die a horrible, agonizing death…or not. Adad and the mole people come to save the day. The mole people slaughter all of the Sumerians (because screw those guys) and help Adad open the door to the chamber filled with blinding light. It turns out that the chamber isn’t a burning volcanic furnace but in fact is an open shaft letting sunlight into the mountain; the victims burnt because they were albinos, and everyone knows that albinos are basically vampires. The archeologists and Adad escape as the mountain starts to quake, but Adad starts to run back to the temple and is killed by a column. No, really. Suck it romantic subplot. The End.
As with most B-movies, The Mole People is mostly just a fun film, but there were some things that I found particularly clever. The idea of a Sumerian civilization living trapped in a mountain is ridiculous but interesting, and I thought that the plot explored some interesting implications of their situations: reliance on mushrooms as a food source because it’s the only thing that will grow underground, human sacrifice as a religious ritual and a necessity to maintain population control in a society so limited by resources, and the evolution of the Sumerians to adapt to their new environment. I also liked the subversions of typical movie tropes by casting the mole people as the good guys being unjustly oppressed by the humans and by killing off Adad, wrecking the standard happy ending and standard conclusion to the romantic subplot; although I must admit that I enjoyed that second one in part because its abruptness made it darkly comedic, tragic to the point of absurdity.
Pam, I want to wish you a happy birthday and welcome you to the bad movie club. It’s only fitting that I review a movie as awesome as The Mole People for someone as awesome as you. Cheers!