❉ Indicator have paired this Hammer throwback with some very cool extras worth the price of admission alone, writes Lee from @realgonerocks
For those over a certain age, the sight of Raquel Welch in a furry bikini and battling with stop-motion dinosaurs on the cinema screen in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. created an indelible image. Even for those not old enough to have seen it the first time around, via pioneering animation work from the legendary Ray Harryhausen and a sense of adventure, the film has become a much-loved cult classic.
Creatures The World Forgot – the final instalment of Hammer’s prehistoric adventures, released in 1971 – has no such naive charm. It features no bona fide stars. Despite Julie Ege’s valiant attempt at holding the screen, her performance is unlikely to be as fondly remembered as her role opposite Leslie Phillips in The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins or her appearance in Hammer’s own Legend of The Seven Golden Vampires. The male leads aren’t that distinctive, despite very clearly suffering for their art. The film has no stop-motion dinosaurs to ensure a retro cool factor. It has no dialogue, and no genuine excitement within its plot. This leaves the viewer with something that amounts to little more than a bunch of scantily-clad people, a lot of tension and a bit of unpleasant sexual violence. This shouldn’t sustain a full 95 minutes – it’s essentially a 35 minute short stretched out for a lot of extra padding – and yet it all just about works, despite itself.
A huge chunk of Creatures essentially involves a tribal leader and others trekking across vast expanses of land and climbing across rocks in a manner that would cause a modern health and safety expert to break out in a cold sweat. Most of the action centres around fighting between two different tribes, or a cave person who seems intent on raping young women. Occasionally, everything breaks from this rather formulaic approach and the viewer is treated to something a little more interesting. A scene with an exploding volcano – recycling shots from One Million Years B.C. – supplies brief excitement via some cheap special effects from the sixties, and visually also feels like welcome throwback to Chaffey’s much-loved and vastly superior Jason & The Argonauts. In addition, a scene with a woman giving birth to twins gives the viewer something with which they can empathise. However, this goes a bit weird plot-wise, thanks to an unexpected lightning strike which causes a Biblical style burning bush. This implies a wrongdoing somehow (the film is rather thin on actual details, as well as being devoid of any kind of subtlety), which results in another baby being born mute. Portrayed as an adult by Marcia Fox – an actress whose CV didn’t really amount to much else – the mute character holds the screen very well, and her gentler demeanour also allows for further empathy in a film where there is precious little.
Scenes of hunting play a little uneasily but add, presumably, something of a realistic element, but a scene involving two half-naked women wrestling says more about the misogyny of the era than the film’s relatively poor script. It’s there for titillation only, and certainly doesn’t pass muster in terms of any expected “Hammer Glamour”. Some of the film’s weaker elements might be more forgivable if a huge climax supplied a few genuine thrills, but that merely involves increased violence, Julie Ege wrangling with a snake, and even more monosyllabic noise. Overall, this is a film that wavers between tense, strange and oddly unsettling. It’s rarely fun, and never truly supplies anything that an audience of adventure lovers would expect.
As the sleeve notes in Indicator’s deluxe reissue are keen to point out, Hammer producer – and Creatures script writer – Michael Carreras believed that the cinema audiences of the early ‘70s would be swayed by an increase in sex and violence. He was wrong. Upon release, cinema goers weren’t enthusiastic. The critics were even more scathing. Not that many of them had much good to say about Hammer’s output at the time anyway, but with Creatures, they may well have had a point, since of the eight horror/fantasy films released by Hammer in 1971, it’s easily their worst.
Its absence of dialogue really doesn’t lend itself to mass acceptance, and looking back, it seems rather strange that it was given a general release. Making its cinematic debut in the same week as the much-lauded Blood On Satan’s Claw, it really doesn’t hold up anywhere near as well. However, if looked at as an unexpectedly experimental piece, it is surprisingly brave. Approaching it as an “art film” doesn’t make it any more watchable, of course, but it has a ballsy quality that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Looking a little more closely, a couple of the fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed – they bring a real energy to the piece; so much so that it’s easy to forget they prop up something that plays like a short film stretched to feature length. Vincent Cox’s cinematography is gorgeous, and he uses his camera to make Namibian desert plains and rocks as much of a character as the largely mute actors. Although not as classy, there are similarities to Barbet Schroeder’s La Vallee in the way the vast landscapes are used, and although it couldn’t hold a candle to Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout – a film that would be released later in ’71 – Creatures boasts the kind of visual scope not always associated with many of Hammer’s features. Best of all, though, is Mario Nascimbene’s score. Taking full advantage of the lack of dialogue, his choice of music is a vital ingredient when it comes to making the film work. Heavy percussive passages build tension; mournful woodwind sounds allow the viewer to feel occasional sympathy for characters with whom they would otherwise have little connection, and hugely unsubtle swathes of brass are almost a callback to a couple of James Bernard’s earlier, more bombastic Hammer scores.
When approaching this Hammer adventure for basic entertainment, it’s fair to say that even with the most forgiving eye, Creatures comes up short. In terms of film alone, Indicator have bought themselves a relative duffer. They likely know it. They also know there are enough Hammer apologists and completists to have pre-ordered this deluxe Blu-ray edition on day one, so they weren’t ever going to lose. Being smart, they’ve also paired a pretty marginal film with some very cool extras, most of which are worth more than the price of admission.
At the top of the bill, a feature length commentary with Kim Newman and writer Sean Hogan is one of the best listens ever. Newman kicks off by claiming he and Sean are doing it “because all of the Hammer experts turned it down”, and then spends the duration sharing his usual blend of knowledge and humour. Along the way, Newman taps into the idea that Creatures was released at a time when counterculture groups were looking at alternate lifestyles and religions, and suggests the film almost seems to be a distorted reflection of that. A bit of a stretch, maybe, but it’s an interesting point.
The ever-reliable Jonathan Rigby provides an excellent twenty-five-minute piece to camera which fills in a lot of information regarding the film’s inception, a couple of early story outlines, and how Creatures came to be made. The most enlightening fact concerns why the film got green-lit in the first place. It transpires that the whole thing was inspired by a repeat double screening of One Million Years and Hammer’s 1965 film She, which had been a massive success with audiences in 1968. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising so many found Creatures rather disappointing upon release.
A featurette with David Huckvale discussing Mario Nascimbene’s work adopts a very technical approach. Those who have bought previous Hammer titles from Indicator will know exactly what to expect here, but when discussing such fantastic arrangements, Huckvale really sparkles. A selection of trailers, and a featurette about Julie Ege (another instalment of Hammer’s Women) round out Indicator’s usual Hammer-related features, but it’s with something only tangentially related that this deluxe set comes into its own. Three features from the Children’s Film Foundation archive, directed by Don Chaffey in 1953, provide excellent additions to the bonus materials. Although included due to a directorial connection, their biggest selling point comes from legendary Carry On star Peter Butterworth taking a starring role in both Watch Out! and A Good Pull-Up. Despite neither being as much fun as 1955’s That’s An Order! or as well-rounded as 1958’s Blowing Your Own Trumpet (the latter arguably Butterworth’s finest CFF vehicle), these slapstick shorts are good natured and mildly diverting. Collectors should note that A Good Pull-Up is presented in a ropey state. Lacking the standard of restoration usually associated with an Indicator release, both sound and picture are effected, making it a very rough watch. However, new commentaries from the knowledgeable Vic Pratt on each of the films make up for any obvious imperfections. The longer Skid Kids is vastly superior, and a genuinely brilliant addition to this release. The archetypal early CFF outing in many ways, it centres around middle-class-pretending-to-be-working-class kids, organised bicycle races, some not very threatening thieves, some outdated stereotyping and a climax where the kids triumph, Beano style. Despite not being so different from 60s fare like Go Kart Go, or Cup Fever, for lovers of the CFF, it’s a charming and unmissable treat.
The main feature may be an acquired taste, but this deluxe release of Creatures The World Forgot is great. Thanks to some brilliantly curated bonus materials, it transforms a world of grunting and gravy granules into something that deserves a place on cult film fans’ shelves. It’s worth picking up for the CFF features and the Newman/Hogan commentary alone – and it really cannot be understated just how brilliant that commentary is, but if anything else greets the viewer favourably, that’s more than a bonus.
❉ ‘Creatures The World Forgot’ (Don Chaffey, 1971) Limited Edition Blu-ray released 25 July 2022, RRP £18.99. BBFC cert: 18. Click here to order directly from Powerhouse Films: https://www.powerhousefilms.co.uk/products/creatures-the-world-forgot-le
❉ Lee Realgone has been a keen viewer of cult cinema for decades. He spends a lot of time watching Blu-rays from Indicator and Arrow. At other times, he does pretty much everything at the music website Real Gone. Find REAL GONE on Twitter at @realgonerocks. Like REAL GONE on Facebook at www.facebook.com/realgonerocks