Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

“Man is evil! Capable of nothing but destruction!” A lot of diehards hate the first sequel to Planet of the Apes (1968) but I discovered the film to have enough eclectic moments to keep me reasonably entertained through its 95-minute running time. Major spoiler alerts ahead! The film opens with Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) riding on horseback through the Forbidden Zone where they encounter mysterious phenomenon and Taylor suddenly disappears. Meanwhile, another spaceship crash lands in the Forbidden Zone with astronaut Brent (James Franciscus, who looks exactly like Heston from the original film) as the sole survivor. Brent hooks up with Nova and they make their way to Ape City to find out what happened to Taylor. There they discover General Ursus (James Gregory, Inspector Luger from the Barney Miller TV show) whipping all the apes into a frenzy for a possible invasion of the Forbidden Zone. After their capture and dramatic escape, Brent and Nova stumble upon an underground city built among the post-apocalyptic ruins of New York City and populated by a strange tribe of telepathic humans (who hide their grotesque mutations behind masks) who worship an atomic bomb. Taylor returns just in time to partake in the film’s bleak ending (personally I think Heston should have sat this one out entirely). The film contains some interesting references to the Vietnam War (note the chimp peace protesters for instance!). Reprising their roles from the original film are Kim Hunter as Zira, Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius and (the voice of) Roddy McDowell as Cornelius (McDowell was committed to another project but reportedly dubbed all of Cornelius’ lines). Orson Welles turned down the role of General Ursus and Burt Reynolds was reportedly briefly considered for the role of Brent. Directed by Ted Post (Magnum Force), Beneath the Planet of the Apes was followed by Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Legendary voice actor Paul Frees (the “Ghost Host” in the Haunted Mansion at both Disneyland and Disney World) provided the film’s ending narration: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”

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