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Posts Tagged ‘Prehistoric Women’

Having recently flown the flag for Hammer Films’ reputation as a maker of serious and thoughtful fantasy and suspense films, I suppose in the interests of balance I must now turn my attention to one of their movies which really is just a piece of kitsch exploitation cinema. Which is it to be? (Turns to DVD collection.) The Witches? No, far too serious. Vengeance of She? Too disappointing in the light of how good the original She was. The Viking Queen? Hmm, now there we have possibilities, but I think we can do worse… In 1966 Hammer enjoyed a big hit with the ‘prehistoric fantasy’ (i.e. rubber dinosaur movie) One Million Years B.C., which, with its winning combination of imported American talent (Raquel Welch), lavish location filming (the Canary Islands), and painstaking special effects (courtesy of the genius Ray Harryhausen), made them a lot of money. But not, apparently, quite enough to satisfy producer Michael Carreras, who in an attempt to make the sets and costumes pay for themselves decided to re-use them in another film, only this time without the imported American talent, lavish location filming, and painstaking special effects. The result was Prehistoric Women (1967). The opening titles play over sumptuous, stock-footage vistas of African wildlife, in a brave attempt to prevent the viewer from noticing that the rest of the film is shot on a sound-stage in Darkest Borehamwood. (This attempt fails.) Here we meet David Marchand (Michael Latimer), a slightly moody White Hunter escorting tourists on safari (the setting seems to be Edwardian, not that it matters). In pursuit of a wounded leopard, Marchand trespasses on the territory of a mysterious and hostile native tribe, who explain they’re obliged to sacrifice him to their Rhino God. (There is a bit more exposition and back-story at this point, but it’s essentially gibberish.) But as soon as Marchand touches the idol of the god (i.e., a stuffed rhinoceros that someone had to paint white) there is a flash of light and he finds himself transported into a new, prehistoric world (basically it’s the same sound-stage with the trees moved around a bit and the lighting turned up). It gets even better. In this prehistoric world, Marchand finds lots and lots of prehistoric girls (hence the title), but not so many prehistoric men. This sounds like good news for our hero, but it transpires that the prehistoric brunettes are nasty and keep the prehistoric blondes as slaves. The prehistoric men are all grizzled old coots who are kept down a hole somewhere. The evil prehistoric queen of the prehistoric brunettes (the imposing Martine Beswick) takes a bit of a shine to David Marchand, as he is neither grizzled nor an old coot, but he easily resists her rather unsubtle advances (this is probably the least plausible thing that happens in the movie, and as you can see that’s saying something) as he has fallen for one of the blondes (Edina Ronay). The queen has him flung down the hole with the old coots. But the blondes are plotting revolution, and to succeed they need someone to get close to the queen and spy on her – Marchand is the obvious candidate. Can our hero bring himself to let the queen have her evil way with him? Sometimes you just have to grin and bare it… (Sorry, I mean bear it. Or do I?) I hope I have given some impression as to the quality of this film, which emanates from some specially-dug bunker deep below the bargain basement. However, the fact that it was made in the mid-sixties means that while it’s deeply and obviously exploitative, it’s also incredibly coy and restrained (this movie has a PG rating in the UK). There are acres of straining chamois-leather and many close-ups of taut, undulating feminine midriffs, but that’s pretty much your lot. The pleasures of this film lie in other areas. Chief amongst these, I must say, is the presence of top-billed Martine Beswick, who had a pretty good thing going in the sixties, dancing in the credits of Dr No and acting in two other Bond movies, as well appearing in the aforementioned One Million Years B.C.. Later, of course, she went on to possibly her finest moment, playing one of the title roles in Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (I will leave you to guess which), one of the best late-period Hammer horrors. Here, to be honest, Martine’s performance is a bit rubbish, with lots of shouting and unconvincing evil laughter.

Surprising new evidence that the bubble-bath was in fact invented before the wheel.

I blame the director, who is Carreras himself. All the performances in this movie are rubbish, from Martine at the top of the cast list to Steven Berkoff at the bottom (yes, the celebrated actor, director, and playwright shows up for a couple of lines at the end – he was young, he needed the money). But then blame must also go to the scriptwriter, who is… oh, hang on, that’s Carreras too, operating under the in-jokey (trust me, you don’t want to know) pseudonym Henry Younger. All the African tribesmen and prehistoric folk of this film speak with astonishing articulacy, even when they’re filling in the ludicrous backstory or floridly bemoaning their miserable lot. And there are no jokes in it. Everything is very earnest and serious – actually, for the cast to keep a straight face throughout is a significant achievement, given the number of sequences involving the stuffed rhino (which is put on a trolley and wheeled across the soundstage during the climax, when it doubles up as a real rhino). I suppose that Prehistoric Women is at least noteworthy for inspiring a spoof version that’s actually much better known (and much better) – I refer, of course, to Carry On Up The Jungle, which replicates both its look and (in some respects) plot, with almost forensic attention to detail. That one has jokes in it, of course, and the acting is rather more accomplished. Given the choice between watching a good Carry On and a good Hammer, I would usually have to flip a coin – but Prehistoric Women is not a good Hammer by any stretch of the imagination, and thankfully by no means representative of the studio’s output even at its most cash-strapped.

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