Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Prehistoric Pap

"Enter an age of unknown terrors, pagan worship and virgin sacrifice..." The "gigantic spectacle" of WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

AFTER the world-wide success of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., Hammer's first cash-in was actually completed while the Raquel Welch extravaganza was still in post-production: PREHISTORIC WOMEN. Even though the studio flirted with forgotten lands in 1967's THE LOST CONTINENT - whose monsters acted more as a prelude to Amicus' lost world pictures of the 70's - Hammer's follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. proper didn't appear until late 1970. Developed into a screenplay by director Val Guest from a treatment by novelist J.G.Ballard, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH begins with Kingsor (Patrick Allen) sacrificing blonde virgin Sanna (auburn-haired Victoria Vetri, sporting a blonde wig). She is saved when winds sweep her over a cliff and into the arms of Tara (Robin Hawdon), a man from a fishing tribe. Tara welcomes Sanna into his clan and they fall in love, much to the annoyance of Ayak (Imogen Hassall). When the moon appears in the sky for the first time the tribe panics, with Ayak accusing Sanna of witchcraft. The outsider flees into the jungle where she is forced to survive amid prehistoric beasts, which includes being accepted by a mother dinosaur as one of her own hatchlings.

The real curse of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was that Hammer found itself unable to afford the star attraction of Welch, or control the runaway success of its stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was engaged with THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, and suggested Ohio-born SPFX creator Jim Danforth to lead Hammer's visual effects department on the picture. Danforth would eventually be rewarded with an Academy Award nomination, but only after an exhausting association with his employers. With little time for location work, a decreasing deadline and spiralling budget, he was aided by Roger Dicken, David Allen and Brian Johnson. With the use of real-life lizards and alligators acting as padding, the production still had to lose two major effects sequences: one involved a horde of giant ants, the other involving two pterodactyls. Against this backdrop of blood, sweat and tears, Danforth delivers a number of memorable scenes, such as villagers fighting off a rampaging Plesiosaur with flames, and a Triceratops pursuing a caveman to the edge of a precipice.

Imogen Hassall is jealous cave girl Ayak. Referred to as "the countess of cleavage" because of her revealing outfits worn at film premieres, the actress was a regular performer in 60's and 70's cinema and television. In 1980 - at the age of 38 - she committed suicide at her Wimbledon home by overdosing on Tuinal tablets.

21-year-old Vetri is hardly an equal to the iconic memories of Raquel Welch. In fact, in Tom Weaver's 2003 McFarland interview book Double Feature Creature Attack, Guest describes the starlet as "a nitwit" and "a real nothing, and a very strange mixed up lady." As Angela Dorian, Vetri was Playboy's Playmate of the Month for September 1967 and subsequently was the 1968 Playmate of the Year. Before donning the fur bikini, Vetri turned down the title role of Stanley Kubrick's LOLITA, and worked mainly in television - including BATMAN and STAR TREK - but she did have a bit part in Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY. Later appearing in sexploitation entries INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS and GROUP MARRIAGE, the actress made headlines in 2010 for shooting her fourth husband, Bruce Rathgeb. A year later the charge against Vetri was reduced from attempted murder to attempted voluntary manslaughter, to which she pleaded no contest. The judge sentenced her to nine years in state prison.

The Canary Island locations give WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH an expansive glow that belies the merits of such a juvenile fantasy. As with ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., there is no intelligible dialogue, only a series of grunts and gesticulations; in Wayne Kinsay's book Hammer Films: The Elstree Studio Years, Guest states "I invented and wrote a whole new language. I actually thought if we could do this really believing in what you're doing we may get away with it." Ballard said that he was "very proud that my first screen credit was for what is, without doubt, the worst film ever made." Why such an experimental new wave science fiction author would become involved with a Hammer dinosaur picture has remained a mystery. In the finished product, the writer's main plot thread of the formation of the moon is placed after the coming of man but before the extinction of the dinosaurs, heartily accompanied by a choir of heavenly voices.

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