video review by
Gary Johnson

 

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The Hammer Collection
Anchor Bay Entertainment is now expanding its "Hammer Collection" with a trio of Hammer Film Production's less-heralded movies--Prehistoric Women (1966), The Vengeance of She (1967), and The Viking Queen (1966). These movies definitely are not among the best that Hammer had to offer, but they aren't without interest. In fact, Prehistoric Women is one of the most notorious camp fests in the entire Hammer catalog.

As the titles indicate, these movies give us women in the lead roles. Martine Beswick is the evil Queen Kari in Prehistoric Women, Czechoslovakian beauty Olinka Berova stars in She, and Finish model Carita plays a warrior queen in The Viking Queen. The success of each movie is directly tied to how well each actress fares: Beswick far outdistances Berova and Carita. With sharply angular facial features and a stunning physique, Beswick commands attention every moment she's on screen. Her sensual features are balanced by the haughty, almost evil counters of her face. Given the opportunity she might have become another Barbara Steele.

Beswick first came to attention of moviegoers in a pair of James Bond movies, From Russia With Love (as a wrestling gypsy) and Thunderball (as a Jamaican spy). Subsequently, Hammer signed her to appear in One Million Years B.C., opposite Raquel Welch. Impressed by her performance and eager to utilize the One Million Years B.C. sets for another production, producer Michael Carreras enlisted her to star in Prehistoric Women.

While many critics joke about the poor sense of history clearly on display in One Million Years B.C., it looks like a model of historical research compared to Prehistoric Women. Prehistoric Women gives us a tribe of white amazon warriors deep in the African jungle (all the sets look like something you might see on Gilligan's Island). The amazons wear skimpy drawstring outfits, false eyelashes, and makeup. They worship a white rhino god and frequently make sacrificial offerings of slave women to their god. The phallic implications of the rhino--in a tribe completely consisting of women--help make this movie a treasure trove for connoisseurs of camp.

One day during a safari, big-game hunter Michael Latimer stumbles upon the tribe. A group of dark-haired women warriors escort him to their queen (Beswick), and she takes an immediate interest in him. However, he has already met one of the fair-haired women (Edina Ronay) that the dark-haired women hold as slaves, and it was love at first sight. So he resists Beswick's advances, even when she's sprawled on her bed, wearing nothing more than a push-up bra and bikini panties. He's a man of principles.

Needless to say, Prehistoric Women is one of the looniest movies ever produced by Hammer. It's a thinly-veiled bondage fantasy, primarily for males into that sort of thing. But with Beswick as the center of attention, who wouldn't be? She's alternately, seductive, bratty, childish, and sluttish. When the warriors first push Latimer before the queen, she parades in front of him stark naked, proud of her body and oblivious to anything remotely resembling modesty. (All nudity in Prehistoric Women is implied rather than shown.) In her first name-above-the-title starring role, Beswick treats the role seriously, with no trace that the movie should be considered as tongue-in-cheek. In interviews, she said, "I'm going to make this work no matter what this is!" Her enthusiasm is what makes Prehistoric Women so engaging today. By no means in this a good movie, but it's certainly not boring.

While Martine Beswick's sharp, dramatic facial contours made her appear evil, Olinka Berova in The Vengeance of She is all gentle, soft curves. While she's definitely pleasant to look at, Berova's acting talents are minimal at best. She stars as a mysterious woman named Carol, who is plagued by a force that makes her mind scream unless she continues moving toward the east. Unknown to her, King Killikrates (John Richardson) in the lost city of Kuma believes she is the reincarnation of his beloved Queen Ayesha and he commands her to return to him. Doctor Philip Smith (Edward Judd), apparently with nothing better to do, accompanies her on the mission.

The movie itself is little more than a second run though of the original She story, filmed previously by Hammer in 1965 with Ursula Andress in the lead role. While Berova is classically beautiful, she's rather diminutive in comparison to Andress (who refused to appear in this sequel). As a result, she looks more like a cheerleader or a beauty contest winner than a regal queen of a lost kingdom. Once she reaches Kuma, she definitely looks out of place, and therefore, there is little doubt about how the situation will be resolved. This lack of tension once the participants reach Kuma is the movie's single biggest weakness. Without an actress of Andress's stature, the movie collapses.

A similar problem bedevils The Viking Queen. We have to believe that Finish model Carita is capable of leading the Britons in a revolt against Roman domination. But she's definitely no Xena. Carita is soft and feminine; there is nothing muscular about her, certainly nothing to make an audience believe she could ever be a warrior queen. In the movie's big scene, she jumps into a chariot that has huge, three-foot long blades extending from the axles. As she bears down on the Roman soldiers, they cleverly stand in place while the blades mow them down.

Her co-star Don Murray is also miscast. Hammer movies frequently suffered from casting decisions made with hopes of ingratiating their product with American moviegoers. But Don Murray of Bus Stop fame as a Roman general? It's hard to take The Viking Queen seriously for a second. Only when Andrew Keir takes center screen as a harsh Roman officer does the movie ever risk coming to life.

The filmmakers only use the historical setting as a stepping stone for reaching their real area of interest-- sex and sadism. In one scene, a druidic ceremony begins to resemble a devil worshipping ritual, complete with sacrificial altar and a chorus of barely-covered young women. In another scene, director Don Chaffey places a naked prostitute in the foreground of a street scene and asks us to pretend she is a natural part of the environment. In another scene, we see men roasted alive in a cage over a burning pit. And in yet another scene, the camera takes us inside a brothel, where the prostitutes wear pasties and the Romans officers drip oil and sweat. These scenes might not attract so much attention if the movie itself were of a larger scale. But during its battle scenes, The Viking Queen becomes claustrophobic, with camera placements that rarely allow you to see more than a few combatants at any time.

 


The newest releases in Anchor Bay's "Hammer Collection" include Prehistoric Women, The Vengeance of She, and The Viking Queen. These movies are presented in widescreen format and the videotapes come in clamsell cases. In addition, the videos include theatrical trailers. Suggested retail price: $14.95 each.