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3.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing near-miss plus one of Hammer's maddest, 24 April 2012
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Prehistoric Women & Witches [DVD] [1966] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Anchor Bay's useful double-bill DVD neatly pairs two Hammer films that oriinally went out on the same program.

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).

Along with a nice widescreen transfer, Anchor Bay's DVD offers an episode of TV documentary sieries World of Hammer - Wicked Women, US trailer and 2 TV spots for The Devil's Own + Prehistoric Women.

`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!

Anchor Bay's DVD includes the uncut version in a good widescreen transfer with episode of TV compilation series World of Hammer - Lands Before Time, original theatrical trailer and 2 TV spots for The Devil's Own + Prehistoric Women.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing double bill, 30 May 2010
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This review is from: Prehistoric Women & Witches [DVD] [1966] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Here we have a double helping of what are perhaps two of Hammer's lesser-known films from the 1960s.

First of all there's "Prehistoric Women" (a.k.a. Slave Girls) where a hunter in Africa discovers a lost valley and encounters an ancient tribe of women who worship a god in the form of a white rhino! Unfortunately, this film is as daft as it sounds and is definitely not a patch on Hammer's "One Million Years B.C." In fact it almost turns out to be Hammer's equivalent of "The Wild Women Of Wongo". Yes, it really is that bad at times. The film's one saving grace though is the stunning Martine Beswick as Kari. Martine is always good to watch even if some of the films she is in aren't!

"The Witches" (a.k.a. The Devil's Own) stars Joan Fontaine as Gwen Mayfield, who takes a job as headmistress at a private school and gets mixed up in all sorts of nonsense involving witchcraft. This film isn't really much of an improvement over "Prehistoric Women" and is ultimately one of the least interesting of all the Hammer Horrors. The film's director, Cyril Frankel, also helmed the far superior Hammer thriller "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger" but with "The Witches" it's a case of not such a nice one Cyril.

If, like me, you have a desire to check out every single Hammer film ever made then you'll probably want to track down these two films. Anyone else though would be best advised to leave them well alone.
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