After one week of my Hammer boxed-set, I have to admit, I’m now completely Hammered. I saw a sign for a shop called Price Crushers and genuinely thought it said Peter Cushing, so it’s probably time for a short rest from the horrors. But not before some praise for one of the main attractions, Don Chaffey’s quite remarkable One Million Years B.C.. Anything but a typical Hammer film, it breaks the mould in every way; instead of endless drawing room politeness, there’s practically no dialogue. Instead of masks and Kensington Gore, there’s stunning stop-motion effects from imported Hollywood master Ray Harryhausen. And instead of Caroline Munro or Jacqueline Peace, there’s imported big name Raquel Welsh. This was a game-changer for Hammer, and although sequels followed, the formula never gelled again.
One Million Years BC takes place in a pre-historic setting that never existed, where fearsome dinosaurs and manicured, eye-shadow-wearing women in furry bikinis live in close proximity. Tumak (John Richardson) tires of the patriarchy of his tribe and legs it over the mountains to the utopian enclave of Loana (Welsh). It’s a step-up for a caveman social climber, but there’s a lot more beasties on Loana’s side of the tracks, and Tumak must risk everything to protect his new love from her seemingly inevitable mastication.
Harryhausen’s work is impressive here, with the integration of the creatures and cave-men still boggling the eye; sure, there’s a few dodgy process shots, but not on Harryhausen’s watch; it’s quite a feat to see spears tossed by humans hitting dinosaurs square on the napper, or a flick of a mighty tail bringing down a shelter on unfortunate combatants. Harryhausen didn’t just get the technical aspects right, but he imbues each creature with personality; sure, Jurassic Park has great physicality, but the monsters never engage like the ones featured here.
So we don’t come to One Million B.C. for a history lesson, we come for entertainment, and there’s loads of thrills and spills, as well as comedy and social commentary; it’s clear that Tumak’s personal battles reflect man’s evolution, and one can see why Kubrick would admire this enough to use clips for Alex’s dreams in A Clockwork Orange. Welsh’s furry bikini also features in The Shawshank Redemption, but Chaffey’s film is more than just a cult influence, but an enjoyable film in itself. Before I ever went to the cinema, this was the first film I saw at 4 years old, sitting on my mother’s knee on a Sunday afternoon, and it still engages me today.