“In 2020, after the colonisation of the moon, the spaceships Vega, Sirius and Capella are launched from Lunar Station Seven. They are to explore Venus under the command of Professor Hartman, but an asteroid collides and explodes Capella. The leader ship Vega stays orbiting and sends the astronauts Kern and Sherman with the robot John to the surface of Venus, but they have problems with communication with Doctor Marsha Evans in Vega. The Sirius lands in Venus and Commander Brendan Lockhart, Andre Ferneau and Hans Walter explore the planet and are attacked by prehistoric animals. They use a vehicle to seek Kern and Sherman while collecting samples from the planet. Meanwhile John helps the two cosmonauts to survive in the hostile land.” (courtesy IMDB)
I’m honoured to have your company again, although this week’s film might make you think otherwise. The Russian film Planet Of Storms (1962) is a high-quality science fiction film with state-of-the-art special effects. Unfortunately, the American rights were purchased by Roger Corman, who promptly violated it three times to make Queen Of Blood (1966), Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women (1968) and this week’s pastiche, Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet (1965).
How could the ethical man who made The Intruder (1962) and The Masque Of The Red Death (1964) do such a damnable act? Well, I happen to know that while he was very busy making other films, his evil robot double negotiated with these Russians. They should have been on their guard as it was the same evil robot who, five years earlier, bought another Russian film called The Sky Is Calling (1959), ordered young Francis Ford Coppola to add footage of monsters that looked like, um, private parts, and released it under the title Battle Beyond The Sun (1960).
It must have been the evil robot double, because the real Roger Corman set up New World Pictures in 1970 and, like a man of good character, he distributed many worthy foreign language films in the United States – without violating them! No raunchy sex scenes were crudely edited into Cries And Whispers (1972), no lawless motorcycle gangs slotted into Amarcord (1973), no blatantly metaphoric alien monsters abruptly appearing in Dersu Uzala (1975)! But I’m rambling. Just sit back and enjoy what used to be a good film, until it fell into the hands of the wrong Roger Corman, and became Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet.
I don’t think these space explorers are as smart as they would have us believe. You hear them say the rockets have traveled two hundred million miles to Venus, but the distance from Earth to Venus is only about twenty-four million miles. They must have taken the scenic route. If they’d shown some common sense and taken the direct route, they would have accomplished their mission and been home in time for tea. More importantly, the collision with the meteor would never have happened.
The additional footage was directed by Curtis Harrington, hiding behind the name John Sebastian, who started as a film critic but switched to directing, and made the interesting low budget horror film Night Tide (1961) starring Dennis Hopper. He then swallowed his pride and directed the added scenes for Queen Of Blood under his own name. He continued working in the horror genre, making noticeable movies like How Awful About Allan (1970), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1971), The Killer Bees (1974), and an uncredited remake of Diaboliques (1955) called Games (1967). Once it became known that Curtis Harrington and John Sebastian were one and the same, they both stopped making films, and they were sentenced to directing episodes of Dynasty, Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angels. Being hung, drawn and quartered would be less cruel.
The making of this movie was not a happy experience for Basil Rathbone. A prominent Shakespearean actor of the twenties, notable villain and loser of many sword fights in the thirties, and famous as Sherlock Holmes in the forties, but by the mid-sixties his career and health was in severe decline, and he was desperate for money. How desperate? Roger Corman desperate! Roger paid him three thousand dollars for five days work and, although you don’t see it in the two minutes and forty-one seconds he’s on screen, we are watching one seriously stressed actor here. Poor Basil had trouble remembering his lines and many retakes were necessary using cue cards. Things didn’t improve – he passed away in 1967 after the indignity of Hillbillies In A Haunted House (1967). To see Basil’s last good performance, I urge you to watch The Comedy Of Terrors (1963). Most of his dialogue is drawn from that certain Scottish play, and his scenes are a joy to behold. It’s bad luck to say MacBeth, you know – ow!
The only other sequences in Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet not containing communists are those featuring Faith Domergue as Marsha, who simply mimics her Russian counterpart in Planet Of Storms. Faith made her film debut in 1941 and is best remembered for It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955) and This Island Earth (1955). Those of you who have seen Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) will know Faith was the former girlfriend of Howard Hughes, who reminds him of their past passion by ramming her car into his. Faith moved to Europe in 1968 and, after a few horror films like The House Of Seven Corpses (1974) and Psycho Sisters (1974), retired from acting and passed away in 1999.
And let’s spare a thought for Pavel Klushantsev, who also shuffled off this mortal coil in 1999. He’s the talented gentleman responsible for all that is good about Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet, notably the high standard of special effects, which can’t be said about most Roger Corman films. The walking jukebox – I mean robot – had some forty-two moving parts, more than Robby The Robot, and yet he still drops the tablets in the Venusian dirt – rather unhygienic, if you ask me. After this movie, Pavel fell from favour with the Russian power elite and made no further full-length films. I certainly think Roger Corman’s Lifetime Achievement Award was well deserved, but he’s lucky this film didn’t put a stop to it. Perhaps the awards committee had forgotten about this one – or maybe they were rabid anti-communists who approved of sabotaging Russian films – or maybe they were aware of the evil robot double and knew it wasn’t the real Roger’s fault.
The only American additions to the film with any artistic merit were the surrealistic paintings by John Cline during the opening credits. Much of the dialogue was near identical to the original and stayed that way when Peter Bogdanovich – pretending to be Derek Thomas – turned it into Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women. The scenes with Basil and Faith were removed and replaced by footage of Mamie Van Doren and her posse sunbathing in skimpy costumes. Which version is better or worse depends on whether one is more moved by a scantily-clad Mamie Van Doren or a fully-clothed Basil Rathbone. Having astounded you with this evidence that Roger Corman’s robot doppelganger was an evil philistine, I’ll now take my leave of you and look forward to seeing you here again next time in…Horror News! Toodles!