Thursday, April 15, 2010

PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967) (shown January, 1993)

We began the New Year with an entry from Hammer Films, 1967's SLAVE GIRLS (or PREHISTORIC WOMEN, as it was known in America). This is not to be confused with the 1950 Cinecolor cavewoman epic of the same name, nor should it be mistaken for the 1966 WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, which was re-cut as a sequel (in name only) in 1968 as VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN. Confused yet? Believe me, it only helps for this muddled mess.

Establishing African veldt footage (leaping gazelles, a pack of lions enjoying their McZebra Happy Meal, etc.) quickly gives way to a studio-bound African set and Great White Hunter David Marchand (Michael Latimer). He has to enter a forbidden area of the jungle, after the British Colonel he is acting as guide to shoots early and wounds a leopard. Ignoring the warning of his First Boy and porters, David treks on and puts the leopard out of it's misery. He is instantly surrounded by the fearsome tribe of the country, who tell him he is to be put to death for his sacrilege in killing a protected creature in the Land of the White Rhino.

By the way, if you love rhinos (white or otherwise), this is your movie! There's a White Rhino Mountain, two fake white rhinos, blondes and brunettes who worship and dance for white rhinos, fierce African natives known as "The Devils of Darkness" who wear rhino masks ... the whole movie is rhino-rific! If you don't like rhinos, you, my friend, are on the (rhino) horns of a dilemma with this time-killer.

David is frogmarched to the Cave of the White Rhino where he is told of his death sentence, learning that the evil whites were responsible for hunting the White Rhinos to extinction. The legend goes that when the tribe was about to kill the whites for their crime, they convinced the natives they would give them an even better God and created a (pretty convincing, actually) White Rhino statue. For buying into this scam, the natives were cursed and every white man must be killed until the re-appearance of the White Rhino or the destruction of the statue. About to be speared to death, David reaches out and touches the horn of the false God, which instantly freezes everyone in place and opens the back wall of the cave, transporting him to Prehistoric Times with lots (and lots) of ... you guessed it, Prehistoric Women!

The first one he meets is the tiny blonde Saria (Edina Ronay), who is trying to escape the domination of the evil (brunette) Queen Kari (Martine Beswick). Quick side note: in this film, blonde = good, brunette = bad. OK? Good. Continuing ... Saria gets re-caught by Kari's guards, who bag the stranger, as well, and they are brought before the Queen. Saria is led off to be punished, while Queen Kari likes the looks of the handsome newcomer. Oddly enough, all the women speak perfect English, and odder still, these ladies have access to Max Factor and Maybelline in prehistoric times, as false eyelashes, eyeliner and makeup abound!

Queen Kari makes it known David will be her sex toy (in so many words; this IS 1967, after all). When he spurns her advances, she throws him in with the other men until he is willing to crawl back to her. A sorry lot, this - emasculated and enchained, they have lived too long as slaves and their spirits are broken. David makes friends with an old man, who explains that he has been a slave as long as he can remember.

A fearsome ceremony then occurs, as one of the blondes is ritually chosen as The Bride of the White Rhino and given as a sacrifice to the Devils of Darkness. This is Kari's way of keeping rebellion down and her own band safe. The Chosen One is dressed up with flowers and put on the back of the White Rhino statue, while her golden-tressed sisters pay homage and say their silent goodbyes, knowing they will never see her again. Saria knows it is only a matter of time before it's her turn and begs her sisters to rebel against Kari, saying she is sure the stranger will help. They tell her he is in prison with the other men, so she tells them her cunning plan ...

Sneaking into the prison under the cover of darkness, Saria convinces David to agree to be Kari's boy toy. He asks her if she really wants him to do that, as he is in love with her and she with him. She bites her lip and says yes, as it's the only way for the plan to succeed. David agrees and goes before Kari, who proceeds to humiliate him and take him to bed. Later, in front of the entire tribe, Kari does a seductive dance for David and demands he bring food and drink to her cave, so she can satisfy ALL her hungers. This is too much for Saria, who screams "I free you from your promise!", as she can't stand the idea of her beloved with the Evil Queen. Upon finding out the truth, Kari goes ballistic, throws David back into the men's prison, promising he'll NEVER see the light of the Sun again ... and makes instant plans for a new Bride of the White Rhino ceremony ... starring Saria.

The stage is set for the rebellion. David has his chains broken and rallies the men to attack the brunette guards, while Saria is on the verge of being sacrificed. He rushes to her aid, unmasking the Devils as ferocious jungle tree-dwelling natives (the hint of cannibalism is whiffed here, as well). Following his example, the other men and the blondes follow David's lead, taking the battle to the jungle. Kari orders everyone to be killed and, in the middle of the battle, spies the reappearance of the White Rhino, in the knobbly flesh! Kneeling before her God and averring that He would never hurt her, Kari makes her last wrong choice. She is impaled and flung aside (in a particularly unfortunate effect, as you can EASILY see this isn't a real rhino, but the self-same statue ON WHEELS being pulled at a rapid clip through the set like a kid's pull toy gone horribly awry).

With Kari dead and the Devils defeated, the blondes and the men revel in their hard-fought freedom. David promises to stay with Saria, but she tells him the other part of the legend: that when the stranger had freed them, he would go back to his own world and never be seen again. He turns away, and - ZAP! - is back touching the White Rhino horn from the beginning of the film. Everyone unfreezes, a giant crack is heard, the statue disintegrates and the curse is lifted! The tribe frees David, seeing him as their deliverer, and gleeful dancing ensues.

Upon his return to camp, the heartbroken David is pondering what he just experienced. Was it a dream? Was it real? Was it a hallucination? His First Boy tells him he was in the cave for only a moment, but upon reaching into his shirt pocket, he pulls forth the White Rhino emblem that Saria wore about her neck. Pondering this new angle to the mystery, he is called out of his tent to meet the new arrivals to camp, including the Colonel's daughter Sara ... who in one of the hoariest (dare I say Prehistoric) cliches of films of this type, is the spitting image of Saria. A new love is born and White Rhinos rejoice everywhere! :)

Sounds like fun, right? Where to begin ... well, let's be honest. The ONLY good thing that saves this stinker is Martine Beswick. Leading man Michael Latimer is a total stiff and it's a mystery as to why he was cast. Hammer had many good leading men, such as Francis Matthews, John Richardson and Robert Urquhart, who could have done this role in their sleep. At no time is Latimer convincing in the role, seeming far too callow to be an experienced hunter. Edina Ronay is equally miscast, being fine eye-candy, but at 5'4", her climactic fight against Martine looks ludicrous.

The film has a LOT of filler; dancing, dancing and MORE dancing. Natives, blondes, native blondes, blonde natives, even the fake Rhino jiggles a bit. Can't figure out where to go next in the script? Throw in another dance! Not all of it is bad - Martine's dance is one of the highlights in the film. She knew her sex appeal and how to use it. She had previously done so in TWO James Bond films (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THUNDERBALL), as well as going up against Raquel Welch in Hammer's ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. in 1966 as the wickedly seductive Nupondi, who drove the cavemen wild by ... dancing. Sadly, no White Rhinos were in that production.

Martine did have this to say about the filming, "We giggled a lot on the set. It was probably the silliest film ever made." I had a chance to meet her many years ago at a FANEX film convention in Maryland and brought along a copy of the poster (pictured above) for her to sign for my friend Kate. Everyone was standing in line with THUNDERBALL and RUSSIA items, or ONE MILLION YEARS B.C photos, etc., and I finally got my turn. Unfolding the one-sheet poster, I asked her to sign it to Kate with the inscription "Happy Birthday, Kate ... and Beware the White Rhino!" She graciously did so and said, "I was wondering when THIS was going to turn up!" :)

To clear up one last mystery, WHY was this chosen for Conjure Cinema? One scene and one scene only: the MAGICAL transporting of David back to Prehistoric Times and back again at the end. The slenderest of threads to justify it's inclusion, but people bore up bravely. The film is available on DVD (sadly, NOT from Rhino Video!) through as part of a double feature with another Hammer opus THE WITCHES (aka THE DEVIL'S OWN), which was the second film we showed upon starting Conjure Cinema. Buy it and have your own White Rhino Dance Party!

Next Time: We dare to gaze at the unblinking Eye of Agamotto when we encounter Marvel Comics' Sorcerer Supreme in his only live-action feature, the 1978 TV-movie DR. STRANGE! Return, Fearless One, at the appointed time ... the Eye commands it!

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