Prehistoric Women

A favorite premise for many fantasy filmmakers has always been to put a strapping young hero, or heroes, into a world ruled by gorgeous women.  There have been islands full of women, planets populated only by women…I mean, let’s face it, it’s probably every never-been-kissed screenwriter’s fantasy.  Well, in 1967, our old friends at Hammer gave us a whole jungle full of “Prehistoric Women.”

The films centers on David Marchant (Michael Latimer), who is leading a hunting expedition.  When he follows a wounded cheetah deep into jungle, he ends up the prisoner of a group of natives who worship a life-sized statue of a white rhino.  They are just about to execute poor David when suddenly someone hits the pause button and all the warriors freeze.  Lightning crashes, thunder rumbles, and a huge crack opens up in the cave wall.  On the other side is a lush jungle which David wanders into with wide eyes…like Judy Garland crossing from black and white to color in Munchkinland.  But rather than the Lollipop Guild, he encounters a blonde woman in one of Raquel Welch’s leftover costumes from “One Million Years BC.”  By the way, that’s not a joke.  This film really was made using sets and costumes from that production.

It doesn’t take long for David and the girl, Saria (Edina Ronay), to end up captured by a bunch of scantily clad brunettes.  David soon learns that he is in a world of women, and that the dark-haired ones rule while the light-haired ones serve as slaves.  They are ruled by the beautiful but sadistic Queen Kari (Bond girl Martine Beswick).  She gets her jollies by having the slave girls do bizarre dances and, every now and then, sacrificing one of them to the weirdos in rhino masks that live in the jungle. See, these prehistoric women also worship the image of the white rhino.  This is played out in awkward ways throughout the film as the large, phallic looking horn of the rhino statue appears with the women in many strangely framed shots.

Kari desires to have David for herself, but he rejects her advances.  He’s thrown into a dungeon of sorts with the other men…ah, so that’s where they all are.  But Saria convinces David to give in to Kari’s desires so that he can get close to her and be well-positioned to aid in the slave girl revolt.

I suppose you could try to get deep with a review of this film.  There are certainly feminist angles you could dwell on, with the dark-haired women ruling over the light-haired women.  One could make a case that there is a subtle commentary on the racial tensions of the 60’s thrown in, as well.  In one scene, an old man tells David that they once were the rulers, keeping the dark-skinned people, they call “devils,” as slaves.  But the slaves revolted, imprisoned the men and placed an evil woman in charge.  And then, on top of all that, there’s more veiled sexual imagery than even Freud would know what to do with.  Yes indeed, someone smarter than me could certainly give a deep analysis of this flick.  But dwelling on all that would detract from the silly fun of this film.  You’ve got lots of pretty girls, natives worshiping rhinos, knife fights…it’s the stuff drive-in movies are made of.  It does get a bit goofy, but it’s definitely never boring.

The two female leads both do a great job. Edina Rovay as Saria is convincing as a character discovering her strength, and Martine Beswick is way better than the average evil female ruler…though her “You will NEVAH see him again” scene was a wee bit over the top.  We’re not talking Oscar caliber performances here, but they bring the right tone to these parts.  Wish the same could be said for leading man Michael Latimer, who in some scenes is barely even allowed to speak and comes across as pretty flat throughout the film.

Ultimately, we’re dealing with a cavegirl flick here.  A very strange cavegirl flick, as a matter of fact.  You have to be in the right frame of mind for this sort of thing…and if you are, you’ll have fun with this movie.  But come on, the title is “Prehistoric Women!” Chances are, if you’ve decided to watch this movie, you have an idea what you’re in for.

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