AKA SLAVE GIRLS
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 95 min/78 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
British explorer David Marchant, along with Colonel Hammond and some guides, are pursuing a leopard on an African safari. Still chasing the wounded animal at night, he passes a tree with a picture of a white rhino on it and, after shooting the leopard dead, is ambushed and captured by a primitive tribe who accuse him of disturbing the Spirit of the White Rhinoceros. Just as he’s about to be killed, David touches their rhinoceros statue and a flash of lightning opens a giant crack in the cave wall. He finds himself in a lush paradise jungle within a large valley where a tribe of dark haired women has enslaved a blonde tribe….
I was eagerly looking forward to seeing Prehistoric Women for the first time, as it’s a film which may often be regarded as one of Hammer’s worst but is also a film considered to be of the “so bad it’s good” variety. It’s not a remake of – as some claim – the 1950 prehistoric film Slave Girls from 1950, and though considered to be one of Hammer’s prehistoric flicks is actually far closer to She than One Million Years B.C.. It’s also oddly reminiscent of several science fiction films of the 1950’s e.g. Cat Women Of The Moon where astronauts would encounter a tyrannical all-female society and, despite becoming objects of desire, would set the sexual balance right, though Prehistoric Women lacks even the occasional wit of those films. There’s no doubt that some laughs can be had with it, but mostly it’s just bad and isn’t as much fun as it sounds, being little more than an excuse for lots of scantily clad women to parade around and dance, something which even I got bored with after a while. None of it really makes any sense, but the film lacks the gusto to make up for this, and also lacks any of the style and artistry which could have made up for the absurdly low budget on which this thoroughly tatty looking, thoroughly brainless farrago was made – though saying that, I saw four or five worse pictures at the cinema last year so I guess it’s not that awful, and I guess there’s something admirable about the fact that it’s all handled with a straight face!
This film was actually put into production while One Million Years B.C. was having its lengthy post-production period due to Ray Harryhausen adding his time-consuming animation. The dinosaur flick had been unusually expensive for Hammer, so Michael Carreras was asked to hurriedly write and direct a film which would use some of its sets at Elstree Studios and some of its costumes before the former were dismantled. In fact the setting where Tumak fights and kills that young Allosaurus is re-used, slightly disguised, throughout. What was originally entitled Slave Girls Of The White Rhino was renamed Prehistoric Women after the screenplay was written. The film was then shot in four weeks. It was intended to be double billed with the much re-edited and delayed The Old Dark House, then with The Witches, but then studio head James Carreras pronounced it not up to Hammer’s standards [he wasn’t kidding], after which it lost 17 minutes, was re-titled Slave Girls and was eventually released double billed with The Devil Rides Out 18 months after its debut in the US where it was shown uncut and under the Prehistoric Women title. Details of the cuts can’t seem to be found, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the song and dance numbers were removed as that would constitute around ten minutes for a start. In fact I have the oddest feeling that this could be one case where the abridged version of a film is better and it’s a shame that it hasn’t been released on DVD or Blu-ray.
The opening titles, which are set to surprisingly un-dramatic music, occur over a couple of minutes of stock footage of African wildlife, which isn’t in as bad shape as some of the shots used in the old Tarzan movies, but then we jarringly cut to the studio jungle. Little attempt has been made to make it actually look like part of a jungle, and it’s painfully obvious that in some shots there’s nothing further away from about 30 feet. David and company are supposedly hunting a leopard, only their target is unmistakably a jaguar, an animal that actually lives in South America and not Africa. He kills the wounded creature but because his act “has disturbed the Spirit of the White Rhino” he’s taken to be sacrificed and we get the first of the film’s lengthy song and dance routines with one female native dancing provocatively to David for no apparent reason until he inadvertently transports himself into another land by touching the horn of a white rhino statue while all the tribespeople freeze. There, David encounters the fair haired Saria who has escaped from bondage and who instantly bites David when he tries to help her. Then both are captured and taken to Queen Kari, ruler of the dark haired women who enslave the blondes. She immediately fancies David, but he’s too turned off by her cruelty to give in to her advances and is locked up with all the other men.
It’s all a bit confusing and not very well thought through. The imprisoned men seem to be mostly blonde, so where’s the dark haired men? What about children? The dark haired females are aided in their rule by ‘devils’ who shield them from the “cruel world” outside as long as they receive a sacrifice every now and again. I couldn’t work out if these ‘devils’, who are actually black tribes folk, are the same lot who David not long escaped from or not. The sacrifice scenes consist of all the blondes slowly walking around to be picked until the fashion show is ended and the chosen one sits on top of a white rhino statue. Saria and David fall in love but then Saria convinces David to give in to Kari so he can be near her and maybe influence her, but two or three scenes later Saria gives the game away to Kari because she can’t stand seeing David humiliated. Noboby really behaves in any logical fashion. Kari, a person who has clearly killed many, doesn’t publicly kill Saria but just seems to knock her out and let her be carried off by the blondes where she wakes up all fine. Saria is worried that, true to what is prophesised [don’t you hate these movie prophecies which tell us the plot?], Michael will abandon her after saving the blondes, but at the end actually convinces him to leave. Eventually, after lots more dancing and some lamely handled fighting where it seems that we’re going to get a good set-to between Sari and Kari but it doesn’t happen, an actual live white rhino turns up, and by now viewers won’t be surprised that the model used clearly has no legs and is being pulled along. The last five minutes are totally baffling, though was this the first film to have its hero leave the heroine but then encounter the spitting image of her in the ‘real’ world?
Of course everyone speaks English, something lamely ‘explained’ away with this exchange between Saria and then David: “Can you speak our tongue”? “Yes”. There’s no logic to the thing whatsoever, which may have still made for a highly entertaining piece if it wasn’t all handled in such an unimaginative, pedestrian manner. There’s no feel for adventure or fantasy and Carreras as director doesn’t even seem to be trying. At least his The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb had some good shots and nice camerawork. Here, the camera barely moves. While Kari suggestively strokes the horn of the rhino statue, first appears to David naked out of a pond, drapes herself seductively on her bed [how on earth does David resist?] and cracks a whip, Prehistoric Women also seems terribly restricted by its ‘PG’ rating. It may have come off better if it were made a few years later considering the exploitative nature of a film which seems itching to get its girls naked and which therefore could have come across more honestly instead of all this pussy footing around, especially as it’s too slow and dull to have much appeal for kids, and is also too totally lacking in wit to come across as any kind of satire on the roles of the sexes.
They couldn’t really have picked a more wooden lead actor in Michael Latimer, who seems to show little surprise at the strange land his character finds himself in, and Edina Ronay is little better, but at least Martine Beswick does the evil queen thing with a great deal of conviction and actually shows up the mediocrity of Ursula Andress in her very similar part. Talking of Andress, the voice of the woman who dubbed her in She and Dr. No Nikki Van der Zyl is heard so often voicing various small parts in this film that it becomes highly amusing, and – would you believe it – Steven Berkoff appears right at the end. Carlo Martelli’s score has its exciting as well as its sedate passages, but the composer doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. Some Bernard Herrmann-style chords and chord progressions are heard from time to time. I would say that Prehistoric Women has to be seen to be believed as it’s so ridiculous, but to be honest I don’t think it’s really worth the bother, and you’ll probably get more fun and perhaps even slightly more intelligence out of Carry On Up The Jungle which seemed to borrow from it in places.