In this 1974 television interview (including film clips from ONE MILLION, B.C. and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), Ray Harryhausen demonstrates of the basics of the stop-motion special effects technique and explains how the special effects sequences were dreamed up for his movies.
1960 was not necessarily the Year of the Dinosaur, but it did feature a pair of science fiction films that clearly delineate two different approaches Hollywood used during this era to portray the ravenous reptiles on screen: DINOSAURUS and THE LOST WORLD. Neither film is a milestone in its presentation of carnivorous carnosaurs, but each has its own goofy charm for those with an appreciation for the sort of old-fashioned special effects used in the days before computer-generated imagery – in this case, stop-motion puppets and live-action lizards.
By 1960, both techniques had been well established. The use of stop-motion to depict prehistoric beasts on screen dated back to the silent era, when Willis O’Brien pioneered the technique on short subjects like GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1915) and the feature-length THE LOST WORLD (1925), the first adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, about a expedition to a plateau where evolution has hit a stand-still, allowing the supposedly extinct animals to continue living into the 20th Century. O’Brien went on to perfect the technique in KING KONG and SON OF KONG (both 1933). However, because of the time and expense (stop-motion involves shooting miniature armatures one frame at a time, adjusting the armature between frames to create the illusion of movement), stop-motion was never widely adopted, and only a relative handful of films utilized it to depict dinosaurs: THE LOST CONTINENT (1951), THE ANIMAL WORLD (1956), and THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (1956).
The first known use of modern reptiles to replicate dinosaurs on screen had occurred in ONE MILLION B.C. (1940),* which saved time and money by simply gluing fins and horns onto monitor lizards, baby alligators, and iguanas. Of course, the results resembled dinosaurs only in terms of being reptiles with scales, teeth, and claws. As if this were not bad enough, the treatment of the animals is clearly inhumane (a death by avalanche is depicted by dropping a load of rocks onto an iguana; the big dino-fight set piece features the monitor lizard and the alligator biting and clawing each other – for real). According to Denis Gifford in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, this all-too-real carnage raised the ire of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, leading to a ban on similar scenes. Consequently, later low-budget dinosaur films either used men in dino-suits (e.g., 1957’s THE LAND UNKNOWN) or recycled ONE MILLION B.C.’s footage: PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1950), TWO LOST WORLDS (1950), UNTAMED WOMEN (1952), ROBOT MONSTER (1953), and TEENAGE CAVEMAN (1958). Nevertheless, at least a few subsequent films shot new footage of made-up lizards as dinosaurs: UNKNOWN ISLAND (1948), KING DINOSAUR (1955), and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959).
This, then, is the historical backdrop against which DINOSAURUS and THE LOST WORLD painted their pictures of prehistoric life surviving into the modern world. The former picture is an attempt by the team behind THE BLOB (1957) – producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth – to upscale with a bigger-budget production, shot in widescreen and released by a major distributor (Universal Pictures). The story involves a Brontosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus Rex accidentally brought to life on an isolated island resort. Hired to provide the special effects was the team of Tim Baar, Wah Chang, and Gene Warren, with uncredited help from model builder Marcel Delgado (who had worked on KING KONG) and several stop-motion animators.
The advantage of stop-motion over costumed lizards or men in suits is that the miniature model can be far more anatomically correct in terms of proportions and resemblance to actual dinosaurs. The advantage of stop-motion over mechanical models is that the frame-by-frame shooting process allows careful positioning of the puppets, which helps imbue the creatures with life-like movements. The disadvantage is that miniature models can be hard to detail correctly; also the fact that the models are not actually moving when each frame is exposed creates a perfectly clear image, lacking motion blur, which results in a staccato, stroboscopic look, especially when the creatures are supposed to move quickly.
Unfortunately, the dinosaurs in DINOSAURS fall victim to these disadvantages. The creatures are convincingly terrifying to youngsters, but older viewers will most likely find them quaint in their execution. Nevertheless, fans of the stop-motion process will find them interesting, and some of the action is imaginative, such as the final-reel confrontation between the T-Rex and a steam shovel.
The 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD is an attempt by producer Irwin Allen (LOST IN SPACE) to remake the 1925 silent classic with sound and color, featuring an all-star cast: Michael Rennie from DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), David Hedison from THE FLY (1958), and Claude Rains from THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), along with Jill St. John along for sex appeal. Although Willis O’Brien, from the original film version of THE LOST WORLD, is credited as an effects technician, stop-motion was eschewed for cost reasons, with L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr. optically enlarging monitor lizards made up to resemble (allegedly) their prehistoric ancestors.
The advantage of real lizards is that they are clearly alive, and they move very convincingly: their tongues flick; their claws grasp, and their bodies flop about, without the artificially precise stylization inherent in stop-motion. The disadvantage is that they are obviously not dinosaurs. The addition of fins and horns does little to create a resemblance to Stegosaurus or Triceratops, and Professor Challenger, the film’s alleged expert in paleontology, comes across as a bit of a fool as he identifies each new hybrid monstrosities by name, suggesting for example that one belly-crawling beast is a Brontosaurs, a creature structured more like a suspension bridge.
The other big problem with the live-action approach to special effects is that, once again, we are presented with a real-life tussle between two wild animals. Fans of cockfighting may not have much problem with this, but more enlightened viewers are likely to shake their heads in wonder that only five decades ago, Hollywood filmmakers still thought that watching animals harm each other on screen was an innocent evening’s entertainment. (To be fair, one should note that even today, the prospect of witnessing animal atrocities draw eyeballs to YouTube videos of animals devouring each other. But at least in cases like these, the action has not been staged for the camera.)
Modern viewers, accustomed to the glossy digital dinosaurs in films like JURASSIC PARK (1993) and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008) will likely be disappointed by the old-fashioned effects in DINOSAURS and THE LOST WORLD. Even fans with a nostalgic fondness for classic films will prefer the superior work seen in the previous version THE LOST WORLD and in the subsequent remake of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (featuring Ray Harryhausen’s dynamated dinosaurs, upstaged by Raquel Welch in a fur bikini). Nevertheless, the 1960 versions of DINOSAURUS and THE LOST WORLD provide a marvelous snap-shot of Hollywood’s efforts to recreate extinct life forms in the era before special effects became the province of computer operators.
- As Mark Leeper points out in comments below, THE SECRET OF THE LOCH (1934) used a live iguana to portray the Loch Ness Monster. Whether Nessie is a dinosaur is at least open to debate, but the film definitely deserves credit for using live-action lizard technique before ONE MILLION B.C. Although the film itself is rather slow and dated, the composite effects used to place the monster in the same scene with the actor (during a dive beneath the loch’s surface) are very effective. Unfortunately, the effect is somewhat diminished by the fact that, instead of swimming, the monster crawls on the loch’s bed – without, rather miraculously, raising any swirling silt to muddy the water.
Below, check out more images from DINOSAURS and THE LOST WORLD.
Let’s face it: When it comes to movie monsters, the Order of Crocodilia get little respect. Sure, the snapping jaws of alligators and crocodiles (and their lesser known cousins, caimans and gharials) can send a shiver up your spine, but will they give you nightmares after the movie is over? Their prehistoric, scaly appearance suggests a living dinosaur, but they are a bit too slow and lazy to inspire the sort of irrational mortal dread we associate with sharks (which get a bum rap for being man-eaters because something about their sleek, silent appearance registers in our brains as an archetype of Grim Death). Consequently, no killer croc movie has ever captured the public’s imagination a la JAWS; instead, aggressive alligators are more likely to appear in low-budget exploitation films. Fortunately, fans of rampaging reptiles – if they are not too timid to explore the blood-stained depths of the cinematic swamp – may find a few fresh titles floating side by side with the corrupt carrion.
ALLIGATOR (1980). Undoubtedly the highpoint of this small genre, this tongue-in-cheek horror film boasts a fun script by John Sayles that is loaded with inside jokes and clever characterization. The story follows a baby alligator, named Ramon, who is flushed down the toilet and grows to giant size thanks to eating discarded animal experiments filled with growth hormones. Director Lewis Teague keeps the action moving and serves up the bloody violence with gusto. A times we cringe at Ramon’s predations (the film violates one of the cardinal rules of horror cinema, by having the gator eat a young kid); at other times we cheer Ramon on (as when he crashes the wedding party hosted by the owner of the company responsible for the animal experiments). Filmed in the days befor computer-generated imagery, the alligator effects are technically dated, but they remain among the most effective ever seen, including a full-sized mock-up and a live alligator (a juvenile filmed against miniature backdrops to make it look huge). You wont’ see any alligator acrobatics or death rolls, but the texture of of the live-action effects is more than enough compensation, and clever editing hides the clunkiness of the full-scale prop. Special kudos go to this film for answering the question that plagues all rampaging reptile movies: in real life, the cold-blooded creatures spend most of their time lying around, eating only occasionally, so why is Ramon so aggressively attacking and eating everything in sight? Those growth hormones have artificially accelerated his metabolism. Upon learning of the unhealthy side effects of the gator’s chemical cocktail diet, our hero drily remarks, “Maybe it’ll die of cancer.” Eleven years later, ALLIGATOR was “honored” with a sequel, the now-forgotten ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION.
ROGUE (2007). Greg McLean’s follow-up to WOLF CREEK is an obvious attempt to fashion a JAWS-type film with a crocodile instead of a shark. A fairly elaborate production, the film features good characterization and some admirable restraint in terms of gore and special effects. The titular Salt Water Crocodile is only briefly glimpsed until the end. The CGI may not completely fool a sharp eye, but it is very well rendered, and the croc’s behavior is mostly scaled down to believable levels, which makes the horror more convincing. Of course, like all movies of this type, the animal displays the metabolism of a mammal rather than a reptile. The script goes some way toward addressing this issue by stating that the croc is territorial – killing the invaders and storing them for later, rather than eating them all at once.
LAKE PLACID (1999). This is a schizophrenic effort: half horror, half comedy. It works in bits and pieces, but the bits and pieces never mesh together into a satisfying whole. Blame it on a conflict of sensibilities between writer-producer David E. Kelly (known for his witty television shows) and director Steve Miner (known for his gory FRIDAY THE 13 sequels). The alligator is not bad, but the film cannot make up its mind about how to treat it. When it bites off someone’s head, we’re supposed to scream; when we see an eccentric old woman (who has “adopted” the gator) feed it a live-cow, we’re supposed to chortle in amusement at the absurdity. As crazy as it is, this is worth a look-see, for the strange combination of humor and horror. 2007 gave us a made-for-television sequel LAKE PLACID II, which featured no returning talent from the original.
PRIMEVAL (2007). In this pretentious political allegory, a man-eating crocodile is a metaphor for civil war in an African country. Although loosely based on a true story about a crocodile known as Gustav, the concept is hard to take seriously, and you get the feeling that the screenwriters are talking down to their audience, lecturing them with redeeming social consciousness instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty with the alligator action. Gustav himself is fun as long as you give up any hope of actually believing he’s a real animal. The computer-generated effects go for broke, showing the animal runing like a gazelle, leaping from the water like a marlin, and pretty much doing anything else the effects people can think of. In the end, the film is actually entertaining, though not in the way intended: because the scenario takes itself so seriously, the result emerges as unintentional camp, good for a laugh.
EATEN ALIVE (1977). Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE features Neville Brand as a crazy motel proprietor who feeds his guests to the ferocious alligator living next door in the swamp. Most of the focus is on the human psycho, with the alligator in a supporting role, occasionally popping up to munch on a pet dog or kill off one of the supporting cast. (Freddie Kruger fans take note: Robert Englund makes his debut in this film.) Decades later, Hooper made another croc movie, appropriately titled CROCODILE (2000), which somehow inspired a sequel, appropriately titled CROCODILE 2: DEATH SWAMP (2002).
HATCHET (2006). Talking about psycho killers in a swamp, here’s another one, and there is an alligator in this film, too. The opening scene features a couple of poachers killed off while hunting a big gator, and later an alligator (perhaps the same one) munches on the leg of a tourist after the tour boat runs aground. It could be just a coincidence but EATEN ALIVE’s Robert Englund plays one of the unfortunate poachers; I tend to think that writer-director Adam Green cast him as a deliberately jokey inside reference to the Tobe Hooper film. Also worth noting: the basic set-up of HATCHET is recycled in ROGUE.
ERASER (1996). This action flick features a memorable crocodile cameo. While battling the bad guys in a zoo, Arnold Schwarzenegger shoots the glass of a crocodile pen, releasing the animals so that they can chow down on the villains. Coming a few years after JURASSIC PARK (the big breakthrough for computer-generated reptiles), this film may feature the first example of CGI crocodiles. Typically, these are turbo-charged beasts that bear little resemblance to the real thing – they act as if their handlers haven’t fed them in weeks. Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger shows little gratitude for the assistance they provide, casually shooting one while deliering the lame-ass one-liner, “You’re luggage.”
DINOCROC (2004). This Roger Corman production aims to recreate the feel of an old drive-in exploitation movie, to mostly good effect. The titular monster is the result of some kind of experiment at one of those good-for-nothing evil corporate laboratories that proliferate in this kind of film (and in real life for that matter). Perhaps more dino than croc, the monster is not really convincing, but if you take the leap of faith known as suspension of disbelief, you will have a pretty good time with this. Notable for the unexpected death of a characters whose youth seemed to put him safely in the “Survivor” category.
ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). Producer Hal Roach was too cheap to fork over cash for stop-motion effects, so this prehistoric fantasy features real-life reptiles made-up with fins and horns to resemble dinosaurs – including a baby alligator that fights a lizard. The animal action is, unfortunately, real, and it is the kind of thing the SPCA would never allow today. Recycled as stock footage, this alligator-versus-lizard fight became almost a staple of low-budget sci-fi films, being reused in the awful ROBOT MONSTER among others.
THE LOST WORLD (1961). Decades after ONE MILLION B.C., producer Irwin Allen employed the same cost-saving technique (modern reptiles made-up as prehistoric dinosaurs) to film this color remake of the 1925 silent film based on the Arthur Conan Dolye novel. The SPCA were still not on the ball, and you can clearly see the monitor lizard and the alligator really biting each other during their battle. Also like ONE MILLION B..C., this footage ended up being recycled – in the “Terror on Dinosaur Island” episode of Allen’s TV series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.
And so it goes. Family members of the Order of Crocodilia have shown up in THE GREAT ALLIGATOR (1979), KILLER CROCODILE (1989) and KILLER CROCODILE II (1990), and KROCODYLUS (aka BLOOD SURF, 2000). Never one to let an old idea die a painless death, the Sci Fi Channel gave us 2007’s CROC, about a man-eating crocodile menacing a tourist location in Thailand. The most recent efforts to reach U.S. shores are not one but two Australian productions, BLACK WATER (2007) and ROGUE, which arrived on DVD after pretty much bypassing theatres. In the case of ROGUE, that is altogether unfortunate, because the film is good enough to redeem the genre’s reputation if only it had been given half a chance to find an audience. Oh well, like I said at the top, as movie monsters go, alligators and crocodiles get no respect.
10,000 B.C.,which opens this week, is only the latest in a line of films that stretches all the way back to ONE MILLIONS YEARS, B.C. – and beyond. Hollywood has long had a fascination for portraying primitive life as it might have been lived before the invention of modern technology, but more often than not these films are outright fantasies with at best a passing interest in scientific accuracy. Most notably, the desire to see cave men confronting dinosaurs is usually too much to resist – even though the last dinosaur died out over 50-million years before the first primitive men were born.
The appeal of glamour is also not to be discounted: depictions of life before the invention of the toothbrush seldom show neanderthal men and women walking around with rotting teeth in their mouths, and you can bet that, despite their loin clothes and fur bikinis, early examples of homo erectus inevitably have perfect skin and well coiffed hair; look closely and you may even note a trace of eye liner on the leading ladies. And when you stop and think about it, can you really blame Hollywood? After all, remove the dinosaurs and the babes in clam-shell bikinis, and all you’re left with is a bunch of hairy ape-men grunting around the fire for 90 minutes – and who wants to watch that? To be fair, there are one or two worthy exceptions to this rule, which you will find as we take you on a tour of prehistory…
THREE AGES (1923). Silent comedian Buster Keaton’s first feature film steals the structure of D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, telling three stories set in three different eras. In each of them, Keaton stars as the put-upon hero who must win the love of a woman against all odds. One sequence, set in prehistoric times, has Keaton competing with a bigger, stronger caveman rival for the lady’s affections. There is also an amusing, if crude, early special effects shot that depicts the character riding on the head of a brontosaurus. The story goes that Keaton chose the episodic structure so that, if the feature film failed, it could be cut into three short subjects. He needn’t have worried. THREE AGES is a gem of silent comedy, still worth seeing today.
ONE MILLION B.C.(1940). The first major trip down memory lane to the distant, distant past establishes many of the conventions that would persist throughout these films for decades to come; most notably, we see that cave men looked pretty much like their modern counterparts. However, ONE MILLION B.C. does something that its descendants did not bother to do: it accounts for the modern appearance by framing the story with a modern day prologue, in which an archaeologist interprets some cave drawings for the benefit of a young couple (Victor Mature and Carol Landis); not knowing what the characters in his story really looked like, he suggests that his audience imagines themselves in the roles. Their prehistoric adventures involve lizards and baby alligators optically magnified to suggest battling dinosaurs – a rather immoral bit of animal cruelty censored when the film screened in Britain (nevertheless, the sequenced was recycled as stock footage in several subsequent low-budget movies). Lon Chaney, Jr. also appears, as the leader of a cave man tribe. Ironically, considering that Keaton’s THREE AGES was a spoof of INTOLERANCE, producer-director D.W. Griffith had a hand in this production, although he eventually stepped aside and had his name removed from the credits.
PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1953). An obscure, low-budget entry, apparently filmed in the “wilds” of El Monte, about some stone-age women who decide they hate men but must keep a few around for procreational purposes. One of the men discovers fire, which he uses to defeat some prehistoric beast, proving that men really should be the ones running the show. 4 million years of male patriarchy, sexism, and spousal abuse follow.
TEENAGE CAVEMAN(1958). A young – but clearly not teen-aged – Robert Vaughn stars in the title role of this tale of primitive life. Despite his animal fur clothing, Vaughn sports a very modern haircut, but the surprise ending sort accounts for that. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but once you’ve seen the ending, you realize that this film doesn’t really belong in a list of “prehistoric” movies.
ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.(1966). This remake of ONE MILLION B.C. is probably the apex of achievement for this kind of film, thanks to the unique convergence of two profoundly entertaining fantasy elements: Raquel Welch in a fur bikini and stop-motion dinosaurs animated by Ray Harryhausen. For young boys around the world, both seemed equally fascinating and unattainable, yet here were their dreams, displayed on the movie screens bigger than life. Suddenly, the unreal became real, at least for an hour-and-a-half. The anthropology here is rather ridiculous: Raquel hails for an advanced tribe of blond-haired, blue-eyed people, who have developed something resembling a culture (not to mention skin and hair care products, judging from their good looks). She hooks up with John Richardson, whose tribe of dark-haired swarthy types are obviously several rungs down the evolutionary ladder. As absurd as it it, it hardly matter, not when you can count on one of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs to intrude at regular intervals, rather like a string of vaudeville entertainers, each of whom gets a few minutes on stage before being ushered off to make room for the next. Highlights include the archetypal battle between a peaceful plant-eager and a ferocious carnivore (guess who wins?), Raquel being kidnapped by a pteranodon, and a fight between cave men and a young allosaurus who invades their village.
WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1970). This Italian film (co-written by the respected Lina Wertmuller) is apparently a sex comedy spoof of prehistoric movies. Beautiful Senta Berger stars as a cave woman who meets some orphaned cave brothers who have been living alone on an island without women all their lives. She falls for one and introduces him to the joys of sex, but when the other brothers start wondering what the couple are doing together in private, trouble starts brewing.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH(1970). This follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. substitutes Victoria Vetri for Raquel Welch and Jim Danforth for Ray Harryhausen. Both are quite good, but neither can quite live up to the impact of their predecessors. The results are much the same as before, with another class between an advanced, blond-haired tribe and a retro bunch of dark-haired troglodytes. Aclaimed science fiction author J.G. Ballard, who wrote the original treatment, later said, “I’m very proud that my first screen credit was for what is, without doubt, the worst film ever made.” (Apparently, Ballard never saw PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.) Whatever the short-comings, Vetri (former Playboy Playmate of the Year) looks great, and her interaction with mommy dinosaur and its baby is loads of highly improbably fun: she takes shelter inside and egg shell and ends up adopted into the family!
CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT(1971). Hammer films, the company behind ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, tries one more time with this flick, but they forgot one thing: the dinosaurs! All you get is a snake. Oh well, Julie Ege make a pretty cave girl, but she is not striking enough to pose a threat to Welch or Vetri.
QUEST FOR FIRE (1981). A rare attempt to portray a scientifically accurate view of primitive mankind, this film avoids the obvious mistakes (such as dinosaurs co-existing with humans), but the science is still a bit off (the screenplay was based on an outdated book). The story has a tribe losing its sacred flame when it is attacked by a rival group of savages. A trio heads out to recapture the fire. Along the way they encounter a more advanced tribe that has actually learned the secret of making fire (as opposed to just preserving a flame that started naturally). Reduced to its bare bones, the plot is not that different from ONE MLLION YEARS, B.C., but the grungy production values make it all seem much more believable.
CAVEMAN(1981). The lovable Ringo Starr plays the title role in this spoof of prehistoric movies, featuring comic stop-motion dinosaur effects by Dave Allen. The jokes are not great, but the whole thing is so light-hearted and good-natured that it hardly matters. Despite the comic tone, the special effects are very impressive – as technically polished as anything in a serious movie. The highlight has to be the T-Rex; played for laughs here, the predator is decidedly not fearsome, especially when he gets stoned on a mouthful of berries from a very special bush.
CAVEGIRL (1985). A low-budget spoof in which a high school nerd on a field trip finds himself transported back in time, where he falls in love with the titular character.
CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR(1986). Adapted by John Sayles from a book by Jean M. Auel, this film is another attempt, a la QUEST FOR FIRE, to take a serious approach to the depiction of prehistoric life. Still, with Daryl Hannah in the lead, the film’s depiction of its primitive leading lady is inevitably more beautiful than the real thing.
THE FLINTSTONES (1994). The long-running TV cartoon becomes a live-action feature film. The joke here, as on television, is that everything in the past exactly parallels the present, just with stones, rocks, and dinosaurs in place of electricity, hydraulics, and pets. Followed by a less successful sequel, VIVA ROCK VEGAS in 2000.
DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS (1996). An ultra-low-budget comedy about a modern man who gets sucked into the past where he helps out a tribe of women in fur bikinis. There are a handful of special effects shots, including some crude stop-motion and some magnified lizards, but mostly the film tries to sustain itself on the running joke that these women are the prehistoric equivalent of Valley Girls (as immortalized in the song by Frank Zappa). The big joke is that their crude grunting language includes syllables that sound suspiciously similar to “For sure.”
ICE AGE (2002). This computer-animated comedy about life in the titular ice age focuses on an unlikely team of wild animals (mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, etc). It’s all good fun (especially Scrat, the squirrel-rat forever chasing down an acorn), and in a way it’s no more impossible than DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRL. If anything, the glimpse we get of early humans – a nomadic tribe of hunters – is probably more accurate. Followed by ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN in 2006.
It is no secret that the much of the appeal of prehistoric movies lies in pulchritude. No one really cares what real life was like back in the days before civilization, and only little boys and a few paleontologists care about dinosaurs. No, the reason that (predominantly male) audiences watch these films is for the opportunity to see beautiful women clad in minimal clothing, usually fashioned from furs and/or clam shells. It’s a bit of a joke to characterize all men as primitive cro-magnons who would be happy tossing bones onto the cave floor after dinner; perhaps prehistoric movies tap into this atavistic part of the male soul, suggesting that you can be an uncouth, inarticulate, hairy brute – and still cavort with Raquel Welch. In-depth insight or pop culture psycho-babble? We leave you to ponder that question while perusing the following gallery of pre-history’s sexiest women.
European beauty Senta Berger plays a cave woman who teaches an ignorant cave man about the joys of sex, in the Italian comedy WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1971).
After battling Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., Martine Beswicke graduated to playing the Queen of a a lost tribe of Amazonian warriors in PREHISTORIC WOMEN (a.k.a. “Slave Girls,” 1967). Of all prehistoric leading ladies, along with glamour and beauty, she captures something a bit more primitive and thrilling, elevating this campy film into something worth seeing.
Julie Ege took spear in hand for CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT, the third of three prehistoric-themed movies produced by England’s Hammer films. Unlike its predecessors, CREATURES featured no dinosaurs, only a snake. Still, Ms. Ege makes it worth a look.
In THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, Dana Gillespie is, technically, not a prehistoric woman, since the film is set in the 20th century. Rather, like Beswicke in PREHISTORIC WOMEN, she is playing a primitive character who lives in a lost world that has survived unchanged into modern times. Whatever – she certainly fits the bill when it comes to filling out her fetching cave girl outfit.
One of the earliest big-screen cave girls was Carol Landis in ONE MILLION B.C. (seen above with Lon Chaney, Jr.). Ms. Landis bared considerably less skin than her successors; nevertheless, she made a fetching example of prehistoric pulchritude.
Caroline Munro plays the princess of Pelucidar, the lost world in AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1977). Technically, she is not “prehistoric” in that the story takes place during the Victoria Era, but she comes from a prehistoric-type world, complete with revealing clothing that will make any man sigh in gratitude.
Edina Ronay plays the good, blonde cave girl in PREHISTORIC WOMEN, the polar opposite of the Evil Queen played by Martine Beswicke. Of course, the “Good Girls” are usually less interesting than their seductive rivals, but Ms. Ronay overcomes the handicap thanks to the way she fills out a fur bikini.
The Queen of all Prehistoric Women has to be Raquel Welch, seen her in the role that made her famous, Loana in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., the 1966 remake of the film starring Carol Landis. Ms. Welch’s impossibly perfect figure turned her into a sex goddess, serving as a fantasy figure for an entire generation of young boys who went to the film only to see its dinosaurs and came away with the first inkling that there was something far more fascinating that prehistoric reptiles.
When Hammer Films wanted a follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., they titled it WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) and cast Playboy Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri in the lead. Although she did not go on to international stardom on par with Raquel Welch, she cut almost as striking a figure in her primitive garb.
RELATED ARTICLE: The History of Prehistoric Movies