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Posts Tagged ‘The Vengeance of She’

It’s quite common, when people make their start-of-year lists of the films they’re anticipating mostly keenly, for these things to be heavily loaded with sequels, follow-ups, and remakes – generally, there seems to be a lot more excitement about Age of Ultron than Jupiter Ascending, for instance. Sequels are respectable, at least with studio bean-counters. They have money thrown at them and are often planned well before the initial film comes out.

It was not always thus. There was a time when the follow-up was a slightly disreputable beast, and those that got made generally had to work with rather lower budgets and less impressive material, with correspondingly less stellar results. Such is definitely the case with The Vengeance of She, a Hammer sequel released in 1968.

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Directed by Cliff Owen, this movie is set fifty years on from the original She (i.e., the late 60s, when it was made) and mainly concerns the travails of Carol (Olinka Berova), a young woman from somewhere in Europe (she claims to be ‘from Scandinavia’, but no-one seems very convinced by this, mainly due to Berova’s Czech accent). As the movie opens, Carol is wandering south through Europe, driven by impulses she doesn’t fully understand, and – it seems – subject to harassment by virtually every man she meets.

The movie indeed opens with an episode of spurious and rather iffy Fem Jeop, with Berova discovering the perils of lone hitch-hiking, which concludes with her assailant managing to run himself over. Following this, things take a more Mediterranean bent, as Carol ends up on the slightly pokey yacht of a shady millionaire (Colin Blakely), which appears to be crewed exclusively by fringe figures from British telefantasy – the captain is George Sewell from UFO, while the first mate is firebrand producer and general grumpy-trousers Derrick Sherwin, in what must have been one of his final acting roles before becoming script editor on Doctor Who.

Anyway, everyone soon realises that Carol has got issues: she has bad dreams and is obsessed with travelling south, for some reason. This is because she has had the ‘fluence put on her by a cabal of sorcerers in the fabled lost city of Kuma, which has really gone downhill since the 1965 film.

The back-story here gets a bit tangled. In charge of Kuma in the late 60s is Kallikrates (Hammer hunk and jammy git John Richardson), an immortal in a dodgy costume, who is awaiting the reincarnation of his lost love Ayesha. The implication seems to be that Kallikrates is really the Leo character from the first film, who in the intervening time has lost his original identity – they’re both played by Richardson, for one thing, although his haircut is radically different this time – but this isn’t gone into. Basically, Kallikrates has hired the sorcerers to find his girlfriend’s reincarnation so they can be together again, in return for which he will tell their not-at-all-sinister leader (Derek Godfrey) the secret of immortality.

Well, Carol eventually arrives in north Africa and heads for Kuma, but in pursuit of her is a psychiatrist friend of the millionaire, who has taken a bit of a shine to her. (The psychiatrist is played by Edward Judd.) Will he be able to save her? Will the evil sorcerers learn the secret of eternal life? And, perhaps most importantly, is Carol really the reincarnation of Ursula Andress…?

I’ve said some pretty lukewarm things about the original She in the past, but one thing guaranteed to make it look like a classic is watching this sequel to it. All the problems which She has – a less-than-powerful central performance, an unengaging plot which takes forever to get going, zero chemistry between the romantic leads, and so on – recur here, but with the additional issue that this film was, relatively speaking, made on the cheap.

Oh, okay – they did do all the location filming in Spain, I’ll grant you that, and it does fill in for north Africa surprisingly well. But for something which is supposed to be a grand romantic adventure, everything looks depressingly washed-out and mundane, and totally lacking in glamour. There’s a reasonably lengthy sequence on the yacht, which is – I presume – supposed to conjure up the excitement of the international luxury lifestyle, but it’s just dull, and you wonder if it’s there to serve any purpose other than padding out the film to a frankly overlong 100 minutes.

The same is true of most of the other exploits Carol wanders into on her way to Kuma, beset by lechers and unconvincing back-projection every step of the way. The most bemusing of these, for the savvy viewer, is her encounter with a benevolent scholar and magician who tries (unsuccessfully) to aid her against the evil sorcerers. Again, it feels very much like filler, except for the fact that the guy is played by Andre Morell. Morell was, confusingly, in the original She, of course, but here he seems to be playing a totally unconnected character. Given these films are actually about reincarnation and the same faces reappearing throughout history, reusing an actor this way is a bit of a mis-step, but a relatively minor one.

(And if we’re going to be super-critical about this film’s links with the other one – a spoiler approacheth – what’s going on with the ending? Kallikrates has his immortality revoked and instantly reverts to a raddled skeleton, which crumbles into dust. If he really is meant to be Leo from She, then he would quite possibly still have been alive in 1968, albeit at the age of 80 or so, and time catching up with him might not have been so instantly and spectacularly fatal. But I digress.)

The original She hugely benefited from lavish production values and a strong cast of charismatic performers, which just about compensated for its other weaknesses. Vengeance of She is much more slipshod by comparison, which means that the problems with the story are thrown into sharper relief. And like the original, it’s a fantasy film in which very little that’s actually fantastical happens – there’s hardly any horror, not much in the way of action, nothing really dramatic to speak of, just people talking near-gibberish to each other very earnestly, other people wandering the landscape, and a slightly turgid romance. You can make a reasonable movie out of this sort of material, but you need to have style, ideas, and the money to put them into practice. Vengeance of She has none of the above – and, by the way, it doesn’t even have any vengeance in it worth mentioning. One for the bottom drawer.

 

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