Wednesday, January 10, 2018

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) & Creatures the World Forgot (1971)



          Never willing to let a viable franchise go fallow, UK’s Hammer Films generated three successors to its ridiculous hit One Million Years B.C. (1966), otherwise known as “that movie with Raquel Welch in a fur bikini.” First came Slave Girls a/k/a Prehistoric Women (1967), a sexed-up jungle adventure, and then came When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. (Like One Million Years B.C., this film pretends dinosaurs and humans once coexisted.) In When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, cavewoman Sanna (Victoria Vetri) escapes a murderous sun-worshipping tribe. Rescued by members of a fishing tribe, she gets caught in the middle as the two tribes battle each other. Amid the primitive-human drama are several episodes of violent dinosaur action, plus a cutesy subplot in which Sanna befriends and tames a dinosaur. Despite the inherently stupid premise, an issue plaguing nearly all of Hammer’s cave-babe pictures, the script for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth aspires to literary qualities. Among other things, the filmmakers created a new language so characters could communicate consistently instead of just grunting.
          For the most part, the plot is easy to follow, no small achievement given the absence of English except for a bit of narration. Additionally, the monster scenes look pretty good. Although the great stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen only worked on the first picture in this cycle, those who continued his work did him proud, so the creature design in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth is credible and the monsters’ movements are fairly smooth. (One scene uses the old trick of pasting fins onto real lizards.) Naturally, the performances are not the strong point, since most of the actors were cast for physical beauty, and of course it’s absurd that all the women have perfect grooming—a more appropriate title would have been When Estheticians Ruled the Earth. Nonetheless, solid craftsmanship makes the lurid costuming and nostalgic stop-motion effects more or less palatable.
          Unexpectedly, Hammers fourth and final cave-babe saga is a respectable movie, in some ways a precursor to the acclaimed Quest for Fire (1981). Like that picture, Creatures the World Forgot imagines the daily lives of prehistoric humans in a relatively grounded way. Although the picture still has plenty of titillation, the primary focus is on the difficulties early man faced while trying to master communication and socialization. One suspects the picture sprang from writer/producer Michael Carreras’ imagination rather than extensive research, but nothing in the film is overtly silly—a huge change from earlier films in the cycle. Telling a complex story sprawling over two generations, and presented without any English-language dialogue or narration, the movie tracks the ascension of Mak (Brian O’Shaughnessy) to leadership of his tribe, and later the adventures of his adopted son when a fresh battle for leadership arises. Shooting mostly on real locations, lots of parched deserts and rocky hills, Carreras and director Don Chaffey do a tidy job of world-building, sketching a culture rooted in mysticism and patriarchy. Men battle for dominance, women suffer the lusts of savages, and noble souls earn loyalty even as craven types gather supporters through fear.
           The myriad fight scenes are exciting, with thrilling stunt work performed by half-naked actors, and the romantic bonds that form between characters are fairly convincing. Interestingly, even though Hammer elected to quit teasing audiences with sexy costumes by actually featuring topless cavewomen in Creatures the World Forgot, the company avoided casting its usual buxom starlets, so the presence of exposed skin is less distracting than the cleavage in earlier cave-babe flicks. Creatures the World Forgot is far from perfect, thanks to bumps including the terrible bear suit a stunt performer wears during an animal attack inside a cave, and the plot is ultimately a classier riff on the same hokum that permeated the other movies in the cycle. But if it’s possible to imagine a Hammer cave-babe picture that one can watch without feeling ashamed, this is the one—a noble swan song for an ignoble franchise.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: FUNKY
Creatures the World Forgot: FUNKY

2 comments:

William Blake Hall said...

Also, one more cavebabe adventure was Darryl Hannah in 1986's Clan of the Cave Bear (and to think, that was based on the first of a series of novels). Meanwhile, thank you for reminding me of the silly Prehistoric Women, one of my favorite recollections of Bond girl Martine Beswick, who played the evil queen.

Steven Thompson said...

With its nude scenes cut, DINOSAURS...got a G rating in the US. These days, its star, Victoria Vetri, is in prison for attempted murder.