Thursday, May 1, 2014

Video Cheese/Oddball Film Report: PREHISTORIC WOMEN

NOTE: Mr. Ken Begg of www.jabootu.net did me a huge favor. Unable to watch VHS, but having a huge collection in the format, Ken invited me to take a number of tapes off his hands. Since I love and still watch the format, it was felt mine would be a good home for merchandise which would otherwise be considered worthless. The treasures found in those boxes of tapes were a dream come true for me. God bless you, Ken!
   Ken also invited me to jot down my thoughts on said films, and the reviews would be posted on www.jabootu.net as part of his Video Cheese series. After the first few of these, one thing or another prevented further postings. Mr. Begg kindly gave me permission (from the beginning) to post these reviews here instead. I held off for a long time, since I actually wrote them for Ken, but recent events have made it clear it's best if I go ahead and post them here. So, here we go, as I incorporate Video Cheese into the Oddball Film Report.


PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1950)
   "They feared no beast -except the beast in man!"

   I'm somewhat puzzled by the video box for this old Rhino Home Video release, which plays PREHISTORIC WOMEN up as some sleazy exploitation piece. In reality, it's a pretty decent flick, and in many ways is perfect for the kiddies. Weird. (The tape itself was chewed up, so for this review I'm using my release from Treeline on DVD.)

  Also, I should point out that this 1950 film has no connection to the 1966 Hammer film of the same name (if anything, the British film is far wackier).

   I should also note, the film is rather daring for it's time in not including any dinosaurs to menace our cast. We get a giant brute of a man who terrorizes both man and beast, and in one scene there's an attack by a giant pelican(!), but that's it as far as fantastic creatures the film offers (insert your own pretty girl joke here). Given the matinee nature of this film, it strikes me odd that it would avoid creating a monster for the poster.

   On the other hand, maybe they figured a half dozen beautiful cave-girls would suffice...









   I suppose you could raise issue that the girls here are a bit too glamorous to be realistic cavegirls (what with their perfect hair and teeth and make-up), but seriously, who would want to watch a movie about "real" cavegirls? This is Hollywood! This is glamor! This is entertainment! And that's just what the girls look like. Our star(let) is actress/model Laurette Luez, who, despite a tendency to pop her eyes in a needlessly comical way when angry, fit the part of a fiery, untamed, though innocent, jungle girl to a tee. She's quite spectacular physically, too, and would have been a perfect choice to play Matt Baker's Phantom Lady had the comic character been brought to the screen.

    As the title has already confirmed, it's the dawn of time and humanity is just getting started. Per the tradition that began with ONE MILLION B.C., PREHISTORIC WOMEN limits it's characters to a handful of primitive words and heavy use of pantomime. Despite the events being easy enough to follow, we're given a narrator to fill in the blanks. Although he occasionally leaves the soundtrack and lets things unfold as we see them, he spends a lot of time describing what we're seeing as it happens (like having a charter howl in pain and being told the character howls in pain)! There are times the film comes across like watching a movie with a description-for-the-blind service turned on. That said, he isn't nearly as annoying as he sounds, coming across like he's reading a bedtime story for his kids or something.

   There are a few moments of silliness here and there, and the biggest offender comes right off the bat. One of the first things we're told is that this film is based on a story connected to a recent archaeological find. His mistake is tying all this to a single find. Had he told us the story was based on evidence found in archaeology and left it at that, he would have been fine. The indication now is that the entire story of the two (well, three) tribes we will examine in the next 70 minutes is based on facts gleaned from a single dig site.

   Making his claim even more problematic is that "we don't know exactly when" these events took place, being anywhere from "10,000" to "100,000 years ago." I admit, I'm no professional in the field, but isn't archaeology supposed to be more definite on the aging of finds? Isn't that what the whole affair boils down to? (Granted, it's been an extremely problematic field. There are camps with solid evidence to support their findings that the earth is mere thousands of years old to many trillions of years old. Given that gauge, I guess our narrator is within his rights.)

   Anyway, it's the dawn of time, although as you'd expect man has been around for a while already. At this point, though, he still eats raw meat and his tool use is somewhat limited. (We'll see our lovely title characters a bit more advanced in this regard than their male counterparts, having discovered the lever and being proficient with slings, so even here the idea seems to be that women are actually a lot smarter than men if left to their own devices.) 

   Life is harder than usual for an all-female tribe, for they have been without men since childhood. Not knowing why their blood burns for the touch of a man, they dance away in the night beneath the full moon (the night scenes are a little dark, but I'll attribute that to the transfer). Knowing what the girls (now all in their 20's and their hormones raging) are going through, the group's single elder, the Wise Old Woman ("Older than the moon, wiser than the sun.") let's the girls, and us, in on the backstory.

   Some years earlier, they were the children of a brutish tribe which abused it's women and made them do all the work (like lugging around the game killed by the men). Being a bit less rugged than I'd expect their breed to be, the women, lead by the mother of Tigri -the current leader of the girls (Luez)-, rebel and herd their children off into the jungle to start their own tribe.

   Although the women display a knack for picking up survival skills cold-turkey, there is still danger in the jungle in the form of Guadi, a monster of a man "over nine feet tall" who more or less just wanders around looking for something to kill. (Actor Johann Petursson was actually a mere 7' 8" and made a living as tall man with the circus.) Guadi kills the adult women, save the Wise Old Woman, and the girls still fear this specter from their childhood, who continues to roam the wilderness. (I suppose I should mention the kids have a habit of looking into the camera, although I'm never sure how hard I should be on child actors, more so since these are probably just kids of the cast and crew and not professional actors.)

   Anyway, now the babes have grown into babes and their blood is burning. They'll need to find mates by the rising of the next full moon, although I'm not sure why they'd be on some sort of time limit. At any rate, the Wise Old Woman has made it clear the girls must seek mates. Given they've not seen a man all these years, I'm not sure how they plan to track their potential husbands. The only thing they know about men is that their mothers fled their cruelty. Still, woman needs man, and man must have his mate. This no one can deny.


   As providence (or scripting) would have it, there's a hunting party of handsome cavemen who number the same as our love-hungry maidens. Happening across these guys trapping a tiger, the girls look on as their pet panther rushes toward the strange bipeds. The leader of the cavemen, Engor (TV actor Alan Nixon), fights the jungle cat to the death, something which riles the girls who launch an attack with slings. Although these stones are hurled with enough force to knock out an adult male -caveman, no less- it seems they only have this effect if they make contact upon the target's head. The men manage to survive a volley of stones for some time by crouching over slightly and raising one arm in front of their faces. Ultimately, though, the women claim the men as their slaves.

   Engor manages to escape, despite his wounds from the fight with the panther.

   Back at the girl's camp, the Wise Old Woman approves of the prizes the hunting party has claimed. Turns out you can judge the worth of a man the same way you judge the worth of a horse. The men become (you gotta figure half-way willing) slaves to the girls. Their duties, however, are more or less limited to helping the girls with their hair and such. Each girl has a platform in the trees circling the camp, oddly enough just large enough for two people. A patrolling panther keeps the men from escaping. Seems they could escape pretty easily if they wanted to, though.

   Back at the cave of men's tribe, a couple of weeks have passed and Engor is in fighting shape again. Despite the objections of his tribe (which seems odd, given the bulk of their men have been abducted), Engor plans to go and save his friends, and bring back the wild women captive (which makes complete sense, just from a pride point of view. I can't be sure why the rest of the tribe doesn't back Engor up on this). Anyway, Engor's mother offers some help, since she's heard of the all-girl tribe (I don't know if this means Engor's tribe is the one Tigri's mother fled, or if it just means the story of Tigri's people has spread*).

(* On the one hand, the brutish tribe did have some young boys who could have grown up to become Engor and his fellows, indicating this to be the same tribe. Then again, Engor's tribe is a lot less brutish. They could have mellowed out after the majority of their women fled, but I'm pretty sure Engor's people represent a completely different tribe from the one we saw before.)

   While hunting down the girls, Engor must flee from a charging elephant. He drops his ax and sets about making a new one. In chipping the stones to make an edge, Engor discovers fire when the stones he's clanking turn out to be flint. In short order, Engor discovers fire is hot, uses it to chase away a python, and learns water extinguishes the flame. He'll later use fire in battle. I will admit, the first use of fire is an important moment, and perfectly able to sustain a feature. (I haven't seen it, because it looks frighteningly dull, but I assume QUEST FOR FIRE to be about the same thing.)

   Somewhere in here there's a scene I didn't remember from my previous viewings, the only scene that could have sent this film to raincoat theaters (but the film was a staple at kiddie matinees the rest of it's decade). Tigri and a couple of her girlfriends are diving down at the swimming hole in the moonlight.

   I wouldn't think they're unclothed, but they actually do appear to be nude! This is filmed from a distance, and again the night scenes are a tad dark on this print, but if this is the case, in 1950, wow! That's out of step with the rest of the film, but when they show close-ups of Tigri the camera stays on her face and shoulders. The girls diving into the water, when the camera moves closer, is shown by focusing on their feet.... So....

   Another odd thing about this scene is the narrator noting "Strangely enough, the swan dive was invented before the swan." You're telling me swans don't date back this far? We've seen elephants, pythons, panthers, and tigers so far. I don't imagine swans came into existence much later than those animals (in fact, according to Genesis, the animals were created en-mass before the creation of Adam, who named each creature).

   Tigri and the girls spot the approaching Engor and set an ambush for him. This involves Tigri feigning unawareness as Engor comes up on her from behind. Before he can capture her, however, the two other girls launch out of the bushes and take the man out. 

   Later, when showing off the new catch, Tigri discovers jealousy when one of the other girls makes eyes at him. Before long, Tigri claims him as her own. That night, he tries to escape, but the pet panther starts making noise and the girls are awoken. Engor must admit defeat and return to his place, sleeping next to an impossibly beautiful girl. I'm sure he's just heartbroken.

   Another night finds the girls again dancing to the moon light. Engor and his brethren look on "with mixed feelings" as the gaggle of gorgeous gals gyrate to the drums (the Wise Old Woman is the designated drummer of the group). The next day the men are set to work. Tigri smugly chuckles over Engor's inability to move a huge bolder. He gets her to move the rock, she's so smart, and she uses a large branch to shove the rock forward. Engor is impressed (although why would she know this and he not? He looked to come from a more advanced tribe) and he and Tigri start to fall for each other.

   Freedom is not given up easily, however, and Engor still plots escape. He discovers some flint in the camp and sets about making a torch as the other men look on curiously. Tigri watches too, at first amused by her pet but growing worried that he's up to something. She decides to stop Engor, but then a huge shadow plays across the ground.  This is the arrival of "Korass, the flying dragon! The scourge of the skies!" In other words, a giant pelican...

   Hey, points for being different. Like the giant sea lion in HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES, this creature is so unexpected as to be admired!

   Korass moves in to snatch up Tigri, who has tripped and fallen. Engor gets his torch aflame just in time and sets fire to the flying beast as it swoops over Tigri. (Men owe more to women tripping than car trouble!) Korass defeated by this new element known as fire (Peer, in cave-talk), the men seize their chance and take the women captive. 

   The next day finds the women now tending to the men, which I admit I found pretty funny (which has nothing to do with their sex, but everything to do with their earlier smugness). The guys start to get carried away, though. One guy eats a hunk of meat as two hungry girls look on. Rather than share the meat, he tosses the roast-sized hunk into the fire.

   Engor and Tigri return from hunting. Intrigued by the smell coming from the fire, Engor samples the cooked meat. The others find this rather disgusting, but at his urging the others try the altered food and it's universally agreed that cooked is better. Engor goes so far as to toss the rest of the meat into the fire. So that's how it happened. Well, I'm just glad it happened! 

   This moment of discovery also brings the men and women closer together. Engor, missing his mother, decides they will all return to his own tribe. Along the way, they run across Guadi and.....

   For the sake of anyone wanting to see the film for themselves, I'll stop there. There have certainly been worse caveman movies. Just remember the first words of romance, people.

   "Engor nikro Tigri."

1 comment:

  1. Great review .I'm adding this one to my list.

    ReplyDelete