When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

Enter an age of unknown terrors, pagan worship and virgin sacrifice…

A violent tremor interrupts a religious ceremony where three cave girls are about to be sacrificed to the Sun God and one, Sanna, tumbles into the sea below as a result. Eventually being rescued by Tara, a member of a seafaring tribe, the two fall in love to the annoyance of Tara’s current mate. Pursued by the high priests who were unable to finish the sacrificial ceremony and appease the god, Sanna and Tara must battle prehistoric monsters as well as hostile tribes in order to survive.

 

Clearly trying to capitalise on their success of One Million Years B.C. (purely down to some quality special effects from Ray Harryhausen and a poster featuring Raquel Welch in that fur bikini), Hammer sought to continue their foray into the prehistoric monster genre. Following on from One Million Years B.C. and Prehistoric Women prior, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth adheres to the same formula of stunning, top-heavy, scantily-clad women, cavemen with big beards and ripped torsos and a few vaguely dinosaur-like monsters to torment them.

But this 1970 entry into their short-lived dinosaur trek took a bizarre turn – not because of the content but because of their decision to not feature any traditional English dialogue in the script. The cave people all talk in a nonsensical language which was devised solely for the film. So they grunt, shout the same words to each other such as ‘ataki’ and ‘neecro’ and point and gesticulate a lot in order to express themselves. It’s a bit disengaging for the audience, though I can understand the logic and novelty value of them using such an approach. It makes for a more realistic account well as realistic as it can, given we should forget the major flaw in the narrative where dinosaurs and cavemen are existing side-by-side which didn’t happen in real life. Many films, comics, cartoons and games have done that over the years, so this film isn’t the only guilty party.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth seems to get a lot more love amongst filmmakers, whereas I preferred the cheesier charms of One Million Years B.C. (and the natural charms of Raquel Welch). Steven Spielberg was influenced by the film and threw in a token nod to it back in Jurassic Park with the banner that unfolds at the end of the T-Rex and raptor fight. Whilst Hammer enlisted the help of veteran special effects guru Ray Harryhausen to bring to life the dinosaurs in One Million Years B.C., the producers went for the budget option here with Jim Danforth. Danforth was a decent effects guy but his work pails in comparison to Harryhausen – look at the comparisons between Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Danforth’s Jack the Giant Killer for a nice example. Danforth fares better here and the dinosaurs are pretty good for the most part. The crabs and pterodactyls look decent and are involved in some reasonably entertaining action scenes. The film does have the annoying tendency to throw in a live lizard rampaging through some miniature sets from time-to-time which takes away a bit of the shine from the stop-motion monsters. But whenever there’s a dinosaur on the screen, the film at least maintains audience interest.

It’s hard to rate performances when all the characters do is grunt, scream and cry, and I have to ask myself why anyone half-decent would even attempt to star in something like this. The only noteworthy actor I can recall from other films around the time is Patrick Allen, from Captain Clegg and The Night of the Big Heat. Former Playboy model Victoria Vetri just needs to look good in a tiny bikini and provide the glamour. Every other woman parades around in a bikini and every other man sports a big, bushy beard. It’s very hard to know who is who, and how they’re all connected when they can’t talk to each other. This is where the simplistic plot helps. Throw in some out-of-place nudity (most of it is usually cut from transmission during the day) and lots of panting and grunting, mascara-wearing cavewomen and perfect hairstyles and you have one very sexualised prehistoric place. One other point of note with the cast is the appearance of Drewe Henley, most famously known as the courageous Red Leader from Star Wars.

 

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth is ok for what it is – the limited plot and lack of real dialogue stop the audience from really making any firm connections with the film and characters but there’s enough dinosaur action and top-heavy women to make you want to wheel out your leopard skin budgie smugglers when the sun comes out and start beating your chest.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doom Asylum (1988)

Doom Asylum (1988)

SLASHING with a snicker, SLAUGHTER with a smirk…

A group of teenagers wind up on the grounds of a creepy abandoned asylum and think they have found the perfect place to have a party. However, they don’t realise that the asylum is home to a deformed maniac who was driven to madness by the death of his fiancé many years ago.

 

Made in the dying days of the slasher era during the late 80s, Doom Asylum is scraping the barrel just about as much as it can. Guerrilla filmmaking at it’s best (or worst) with a micro budget, extremely short shooting schedule, a dearth of skill in the audio and visual departments and scripts, make-up effects and actors looking like they were picked up in the local second-hand shop. Clearly with a sub-zero budget at their disposal, the makers of Doom Asylum tried their best but it’s hardly going to touch the likes of The Evil Dead or The Blair Witch Project in the budget versus quality stakes.

Doom Asylum is borderline parody, and I’m not quite sure whether that’s intentional or not. There are plenty of comedic and light-hearted moments, even during some of the more serious kill sequences – one victim telling the killer she is a Republican and voted for Reagan in attempt to save her life comes off as rather forced. It doesn’t help when the script is truly appalling and delivered by a group of actors so stilted and monotone in their dialogue that you’d think they had stage fright. Doom Asylum is probably most famous for being the film debut of Sex and the City star Kristin Davis, who is far too attractive to be playing a nerdish bookworm, and no doubt will deny this film’s existence on her resume. I would. I’m already trying to erase it from my mind as I write this review.

Doom Asylum is at least gory. The demented lawyer has a large group of teenagers to dispose of and does so in various ways, which is a good given how irritating the characters are. The gore looks extremely cheap at times, with obvious dummies and prosthetic limbs, but the killer keeps the kills racking up fairly frequently and you’ll be impressed at the make-up effects given how low the budget clearly was. I am sure this looked ‘amazing’ on grainy VHS back in the days of the video rental stores to give it an extra edge – the sort of front cover you’d notice as a kid when you were in the video shop but were never allowed to rent until your dodgy friend was able to source a copy. At least they managed to film inside a real abandoned asylum to give the narrative a bit of realism and scope. But there’s literally no tension or suspense whatsoever as the characters just walk around a lot through the hallways of the asylum. And I mean a lot.

The pizza-faced madman off the poster looks like a bargain basement Freddy Krueger and has his annoying habit of spouting off lame one-liners. For some unknown reason, the bulk of the film is set during the day and so this guy’s make-up is exposed in every single shot you get of him. He’s not menacing in the slightest, nor is he funny enough to make the jokes work. There are attempts at humour but none of the script writers have a funny bone to know what would work and what would fall flat – the large majority of it doesn’t even get off the ground. I guess the makers of this were rolling around in hysterics at the things they’ve written but no one else will find it funny.

There’s also a lot of black and white footage lifted from old Tod Slaughter horror films from the 1930s-50s which the killer sits back and watches in his abandoned asylum lair – it’s blatant padding to keep the run time resembling a real film and not some amateurish hour-long home movie.  Some of the footage is a lot more interesting than the actual film however and has made me curious about these vintage British horrors released around the time that Universal were hitting their Frankenstein-Dracula-The Wolfman peak.

 

With a plot you could squeeze onto a postage stamp, a set of actors who would struggle to recite a nursery rhyme and a total lack of anything resembling tension, fear or seriousness, Doom Asylum is an excruciatingly bad watch, even for ardent slasher fans.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ghost of Frankenstein, The (1942)

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Stark Terror! Added Thrills! in a Spine-Tingling Experience !

Having survived being shot by Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Ygor finds the Monster in a sulphuric tomb in the depths of the castle. As villagers head to the castle to finally destroy it and rid themselves of the Frankenstein curse, Ygor and the Monster head off to find Ludvig Frankenstein, the second son of Henry Frankenstein, to help the Monster regain its strength. Ludvig originally wants nothing to do with them but the ghost of his father appears and tells him to cure the Monster’s insanity.

 

The fourth entry into Universal’s Frankenstein films, The Ghost of Frankenstein is content to rehash the exact same Frankenstein narrative as had gone before it – even the later Hammer Frankenstein films quickly reverted to type, with each sequel simply existing as a slight twist on the same old story. It’s almost like no one knows what to do with the story – maybe not bother churning out another sequel then?

Even at a sleek sixty-eight minutes long, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems to drag its heels and doesn’t really tell an engaging story. Some attempts are made to link the film with the previous one, The Son of Frankenstein, but like many horror sequels if you try to fathom out real continuity, you’ll come away scratching your head. The film goes through the usual motions – reluctant scientist drawn into the shady world of creating life, the Monster coming to life and causing havoc, and then the inevitable finale when the townspeople are sick of the problems caused and storm the castle. You know when a film is struggling to pad out a story when flashbacks are used and footage from the original is included here to waste a few minutes of screen time. It’s just that there’s something lacking here – whether it’s the obvious budget reduction over the previous films or the general lack of attention to detail. The Frankenstein series clearly shifted from ‘A’ quality films to that of the ‘B’ movie variety here. It’s the last time that the Monster played a significant central role in the Universal films, with the creature being reduced to a mere prop alongside the likes of The Wolf Man and Dracula in a number of ‘monster mash’ crossover films such as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and House of Dracula.

If there is one big plus about the film, it’s with the casting. Newcomers Sir Cedric Hardwycke and Lionel Atwill are both decent in their roles of Ludvig and his disgraced doctor friend Bohmer respectively – classic moustache-twirling villains of yesteryear (though Ludvig is hardly a villain). Bela Lugosi has some fun in the supporting role as Ygor, the crippled servant who has survived from the previous film – arguably one of Lugosi’s best performances. This marks the first of the Frankenstein films not to feature Boris Karloff as the Monster. Lon Chaney Jr. would be more famously known as The Wolfman in later Universal horror films but he’s behind the Monster make-up here, turning the brute into little more than a walking, lumbering zombie with arms out-stretched and no real sense of the humanity that Karloff managed to imbue. In an interesting twist, it is Ygor’s brain that is put into the monster’s body and the crippled manservant was no slouch when it came to intelligence so it’s nice to see, albeit if briefly, the potential of the Monster with a clever brain, rather than a damaged or criminal one. These scenes allow Chaney Jr. to act more menacingly and with purpose.

And what would a Frankenstein film be without an angry mob of villagers desperate to burn something in the finale? Actually, we’re spoilt rotten here as there are two angry mobs, both of which bookend the film. Even this shows a lack of genuine ideas to breathe new life into the series.

 

The Ghost of Frankenstein goes through the motions fairly adequately (and it was made during World War 2 so there’s obviously going to some knock-on effects from that with finances, cast and crew) but it’s the worst of the first four Frankenstein films by far and is rather symbolic of how little manoeuvrability the original story has when you’re trying to put it on the big screen.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆