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Slave Girls

aka Prehistoric Women

D: Michael Carreras / 90m

Cast: Martine Beswick, Edina Ronay, Michael Latimer, Stephanie Randall, Carol White, Alexandra Stevenson, Sydney Bromley, Robert Raglan

The second of Hammer’s “cave girls” movies, Slave Girls begins with stock footage shot in Africa, then moves to a set bound hunting expedition led by David Marchand (Latimer). Tracking a wounded leopard, he ventures into the lands of the Kanuka tribe, where he is captured. Taken before their leader, he is told of their god, the white rhinoceros, and the legend surrounding it, that all trespassers on their lands will be executed until either the white rhinoceros (now extinct) returns, or the large white rhinoceros statue they worship is destroyed. At the point of his being executed, David reaches out to touch the statue. There is a flash of lightning, the tribesmen are frozen in time, and the rock wall behind the statue opens to reveal another part of the jungle.

David explores this new area and encounters a girl, Saria (Ronay).  She attacks him but he knocks her unconscious. Immediately, he is surrounded by other women brandishing spears and taken prisoner. The women are part of a tribe led by the malicious Queen Kari (Beswick). It soon becomes clear there is a hierarchy here where brunette women have the power and blonde women are used as slaves. The men are all imprisoned in a cave. Asked by Kari to reign by her side, David refuses, and is imprisoned as well. Meanwhile, the blonde women plot to rebel against Kari and regain their freedom.

Slave Girls - scene

Watching Slave Girls over forty-five years on from its release, the first thing that strikes you isn’t the overtly sexist approach taken by writer/director Michael Carreras, or even the dreadful, convoluted storyline. Instead it’s the sense of déjà vu: isn’t this all terribly familiar? Well, yes it is, because the viewer is looking at the same sets and costumes that were used for Hammer’s first foray into the cave girl mini-genre One Million Years B.C. (1966). Full marks for economising then, but it’s subtly distracting. Once you get past that though, the full awfulness of the movie hits you full in the face, from the pallid direction to the atrocious dialogue to the contra-feminist approach to the material to the dreadful acting (some of the blondes don’t do themselves any favours in this regard), to the tribal dance routines designed to pad out the movie’s running time to the men all seemingly borrowed from a ratty beard and hair club.

And yet, as so often with Hammer’s movies from the mid- to late Sixties, Slave Girls retains a kind of quirky likeability. Despite its glaring faults (some as large as the white rhinoceros statue itself), the movie holds the attention throughout, is well-paced thanks to editor Roy Hyde, and offsets the limitations of the budget by providing some decent special effects in amongst the painted backdrops and cardboard-looking sets. The campy feel that would detract from several later Hammer movies is kept to a minimum, and Beswick is suitably cruel and manipulative as Queen Kari, while Latimer, all brooding stares and rampant masculinity, overcomes some awkwardness in his early scenes to gain increasing confidence in his role. As David’s love interest, Saria, Ronay proves surprisingly good, providing a strong counterpoint to Beswick. (Look out too for a brief appearance at the end by Steven Berkoff in his first, credited, screen performance.)

Made quickly as a response to the success of One Million Years B.C.Slave Girls fails to match that movie’s quality but does manage to be entertaining enough for all that. Hammer would go on to make two more cave girl movies, 1970’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, and 1971’s Creatures the World Forgot (also scripted by Carreras). Both films traded heavily on even more scantily clad women as part of their attraction, but neither were as barmy in terms of its script as Slave Girls.

Rating: 5/10 – saved by strong performances and Robert Jones’ art direction, Slave Girls holds a fascination that makes up for its many mistakes; a bit of a cult movie now and well worth watching on that basis.