Hammer Films may mostly be known for their horror pictures, with the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing battling it out across the screen for years and years, but they did branch out from horror from time to time and one key example of this would be their “Cave Girl” series, which featured scantily-clad women running from creatures that had been extinct for millions of years – science was never that important for these kinds of movies – and with the success of One Million Years B.C. the people at Hammer were eager to see if this genre had legs.
In 1967 the studio released the second of their “Cave Girl” movies titled Prehistoric Women yet that one had no dinosaurs and featured a modern-day Big Game Hunter who just so happened to have stumbled across a lost Amazon civilization, one where blondes had been enslaved by brunettes – I kid you not, that was the premise – but that film was a critical and box office disappointment so the good people at Hammer Films decided to go back to the formula that worked and thus in 1970 they released their third installment in this “Cave Girl” franchise titled When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, a film with a similar prejudice against blondes as the movie opens with the Cliff Tribe about to sacrifice three blonde women to their Sun God.
One of the women, Sanna (Victoria Vetri), is able to escape when a freak windstorm interrupts the ceremony and she is blown off the cliffside into the sea below, lucky for her, a raft consisting of a group of men from the Sea Tribe just so happened to be in the neighbourhood and she is pulled from an almost watery grave by the film’s male protagonist, Tara (Robin Hawdon). When this merry little group makes it back to the home of the Sea Tribe Sanna’s blonde hair makes quite the impression with the tribe’s leader (Patrick Allen ), a typical brutish caveman, but less so with the beautiful brunette Ayak (Imogen Hassall), who is clearly interested in Tara as a potential mate and is not too keen on some fresh blonde floozy showing up on the beach to steal her man. This friction results in your standard catfight between Sanna and Ayak but as the two girls fight it out in the surf Sanna’s former tribe arrives to reclaim their escaped sacrifice. Needless to say, Sanna doesn’t hang around to discuss allegiances or who should or should not be sacrificed to the Sun God, so she flees into the interior. Lucky for us this will mean more encounters with cool dinosaurs and other random creatures because the cavemen in this world are a real bore and anything that doesn’t involve them is a definite plus.
When this film was originally released critics at the time received a press book that explained how “a fiery ball breaks away from the sun, giving birth to the moon” which is more information than modern viewers will ever get when sitting down to watch When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, now, the film does open with narration to explain some of the story’s background, pointing out that this is “A time of beginnings, of darkness, of light, of the sun, the earth, the sea, of man! The beginnings of man living with man, by the sea, in the mountains. The beginning of love, hate, and fear. Man’s fear of the unknown. Man’s fear lest the sun should leave him, leave him alone in everlasting darkness. A time when the color of a woman’s hair condemned her to sacrifice to the sun. A time when there was as yet no moon.” Yeah, that expository dump was pretty damned informative and from that, we were supposed to extrapolate that a piece of the sun breaking away to form the moon is the cause of this movie’s upheaval. I’ll grant it that this movie is a sequel to One Million Years BC, and thus not to be considered a documentary, but the moon is 4.43 billion years old and yet they expect us to swallow that man also witnessed the formation of the moon?
This ludicrous story isn’t helped by all the dialogue being spoken in “Basic Caveman” in which people back in 1970 had access to a dictionary that was posted on display outside their local theatre if you wanted to translate what you were going it hear, but no such dictionary is provided with the Bluray and thus it makes following the story two parts tedious to one part annoying. If people shouting “Akhoba!” for ninety minutes is your bag then this may be just the film for you, otherwise, you may find yourself hitting the fast-forward button to skip past all the silly human shenanigans to get to that cool dinosaur action. And when it comes to dinosaur action the film does not disappoint, even though legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen wasn’t available to return for this outing we do get some nice work from effects man Jim Danforth, who would later work on the Ringo Star comedy Caveman and would later assist Harryhausen on Clash of the Titans. It’s clear to anyone that the stars of this movie were the dinosaurs and not the human players; as attractive as Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri was she didn’t have the screen presence of Raquel Welch and all the bearded men in the cast blended together so badly that I could barely tell one from another, but as mentioned, it’s Jim Danforth’s prehistoric creations that are the stars here and are the only real reason to sit through this otherwise wearisome adventure tale.
• It makes sense that the Sea Tribe would have a fish-based economy but hunting Plesiosaur doesn’t seem to be the safest occupation in the world. I’d try kelp farming before trying to tackle one of those creatures.
• While hiding in a tree a boa constrictor winds its way past Sanna, leaving her completely unharmed, to then kill one of the Cliff Tribe, which has to be one of the best nods to the story of Adam and Eve that I’ve ever witnessed.
• Our “heroes” encounter a Chasmosaurus, a relative of the Triceratops, living in a desert cave but what a giant herbivore is doing living in the desert is beyond me. Was he subletting from Fred Flintstone?
• Despite the film including wonderful stop-motion animated dinosaurs the filmmakers, for some reason, still included monitor lizards with fins glued on them to pass off as prehistoric beasts. Worse is that the film also borrowed footage from the 1960 adaptation of The Lost World as well. Note to future filmmakers, if you are going to borrow effects footage from other films it’s best to pick them from good ones.
• We get your typical caveman rapist in this movie, but hey, turns out that the cavegirl in question was really into it. Sigh.
• I know dinosaurs weren’t supposed to be the brightest creatures to ever walk the Earth, but in this film, a Megalosaurus mistakes Sanna for one of its young simply because it found her sleeping in one of its broken eggs.
The subplot of Sanna being “adopted” by a dinosaur is the highlight of the film and if it had been the actual focus of this movie, and not the Cliff Tribe and Sea Tribe’s endless hunting for her so that she could be sacrificed to the Sun God, we may have had a really charming movie, as it stands, the whole affair is a disjointed mess with nary a character to identify with or really care about – Sanna is a vacuous blonde who comes across dimmer than the dinosaurs – and when the film reaches its “exciting and earthshattering conclusion” most viewers will be beyond caring. As a film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth remains nothing more than a minor footnote in the genre because other than a few cool dinosaur moments it’s a rather forgettable affair.
Note: If remembered at all, it will most likely be for inspiring the banner in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)
Movie Rank - 5/10
The charm that made One Million Years B.C. so entertaining is missing in this Hammer Film outing but dinosaur fans may still get a kick out of Jim Danforth’s prehistoric creations.