Prehistoric Women/The Witches (2004) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
The Witches aka The Devil’s Own is an interesting but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Hammer to make a serious(ish) movie about witchcraft. Nigel Kneale’s screenplay displays some of his customary intelligence, but here he seems hindered by working not from an original story but by adapting Norah Loft’s novel. A deathly pale Joan Fontaine is the schoolteacher recovering from a nervous breakdown who takes a job in an outwardly idyllic English village only to gradually suspect that there are darker forces at work - although this could just be in her own imagination. Of course, we know that she’s clearly bonkers after her horrible offscreen experience at the hands of witchdoctors in Africa (well, a soundstage in Bray) while the credits were running, but we also know that just because she’s had one turn of the screw too many doesn’t mean there aren’t real witches at work…
It’s good at the unpleasant undercurrents in ostensibly beautiful small country towns and also looks at the attraction witchcraft has for women of a certain age (it’s a power thing, apparently, with magic as a substitute for waning sexual power). Unfortunately, it goes downhill pretty fast once the cat is, quite literally, out of the bag and the last reel orgy plays more like a bad amateur modern dance performance that goes on forever than a terrifying pagan ritual (the silly costume doesn’t help, although it’s probably the only 60s film to feature faecophiliacs at play if that’s your thing).
`Beware the lash of the savage goddess - ruler of a kingdom of women - where men are chained… tortured… and made slaves to desire!’
Hammer were infamous for coming up with a title, a tagline and a poster before they ever bothered with anything as mundane as a script, and never was this more apparent than with the truly bizarre quota quickie Prehistoric Women, which spliced their caveman pictures and recycled sets from One Million Years B.C. with the lost city/evil queen aspects of She to results so surreal even for the 60s at their most psychedelic that they almost defy synopsis. Alan Bates imitator Michael Latimer’s big game hunter finds himself out of the frying pan and into the fire after a tribe of African natives in rhino masks try to sacrifice him because “Your presence has disturbed the spirit of the white rhinoceros!” when a bolt of lightning sends him back in time where Martine Beswick’s evil white rhino worshipping Amazon queen and her tribe of `Dark Ones’ (brunettes) enslaves all `Fair Ones’ (blondes), who she forces to dance for her or sit on a statue of a rhino before being wed to the `Devils of Darkness,’ and imprisons all men in a cavern of chains with Sydney Bromley…
There’s no lost city or dinosaurs, but all the other lost world staples are there, from `savage rituals’ that look more like bad floor shows at naff clubs (there are almost enough dance routines for it to qualify as a musical) to the obligatory slave revolt and intervention of Mother Nature in a bad mood (well, it rains and there’s the odd bit of thunder), though they’ve rarely seemed quite so insane as in this: you have to wonder what writer-director and Hammer heir apparent Michael Carreras was on when he concocted this one. Even Hammer knew they were on a loser with this one, cutting it by 17 minutes, retitling it Slave Girls and barely releasing it in the UK. The dialogue is as delirious as the plot (“What makes you so cruel?” “Cruelty has made me cruel!” or “He hates you. Why?” “The man he used to hate died last week. He needs someone new.”) but credit where it’s due to Michael Reed’s vivid comic strip widescreen color cinematography. You won’t believe what you see or hear, but you’ll never quite be able to forget it… especially when the `real’ white rhino makes its dramatic appearance on castors in the finale!
About Prehistoric Women/The Witches (2004)
Starring: Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh, Martine Beswick, Edina Ronay, Michael Latimer
Director: Cyril Frankel Michael Carreras