The Phantom Empire (1988)

The Phantom Empire is a very meta film. Its title refers to the 1935 Gene Autry movie serial — which was kind of remade as part of the show Cliffhangers! — as well as having Robby the Robot in its cast, Jeffrey Combs’ character Andrew Paris saying that he went to Miskatonic University (the same school from Re-Animator) and vehicles from director Fred Olen Ray’s movie Star Slammer and Logan’s Run show up, as well as footage from 1977’s Planet of Dinosaurs. Maybe by referential sometimes I’m also saying cost-effective.

Ray got the idea for this film while filming Commando Squad in a Bronson Canyon cave. He wrote the script over the weekend and then started filming the day after Commando Squad wrapped, using the same cast and crew. That’s impressive but the original inspiration for the 1935 Phantom Empire is wilder. Writer Wallace MacDonald came up with the entire movie — plot, characters, their names, costumes, literally every single moment of the serial — while he was being treated with nitrous oxide by his dentist.

A cave creature with millions in diamonds around his neck emerges from a cave and rips someone’s head off before it’s stopped. A party is made of Cort Eastman (Ross Hagen), Denae Chambers (Susan Stokey), Andrew Paris (Combs), Professor Strock (Robert Quarry) and Eddy Colchilde (Dawn Wildsmith, Ray’s wife) to enter the caves and see what they can salvage.

They soon find a hidden world, Robby the Robot and a queen played by Sybil Danning, which is really why most people rented this. Throw in Michele Bauer as a cave girl and that’s why they definitely rented this.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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