Hammer Adventure: When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

Written by Val Guest
Directed by Val Guest
Starring Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon
US Release March 17, 1971
RT 96 min.
Home Video Warner Bros.
Classic Horrors rating = 6 (out of 10)

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Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of movie revealed.

Ten years after director Val Guest made Stop Me Before I Kill! for Hammer Films, he returned in 1970 with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. This was the third movie in Hammer’s “Cave Girl” series and does not offer much original for those familiar with the first, One Million Years B.C. It’s a variation of the same story with many striking similarities. Fundamentally, it’s a love story between a man and woman from different tribes, tribes that are distinguished by the color of their hair. The two are separated and then reunited at the end to survive a great disaster.

What it does offer new is more skin… and full female nudity. The women’s bikinis are a little smaller and those who wear them more frequently lie in provocative positions that caused me to wonder, how in the world do they stay on? However, it’s also an equal opportunity movie. For the first time, I noticed the amount of skin showing from the men, as well. Their loincloths seem a little smaller, their posteriors more frequently exposed. Their bodies are also more fit, perhaps reflecting a change in what body types were considered attractive in the early 1970s. In previous movies, the men were larger and hairier.

On the other hand, When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth also seems more childish. When our blonde heroine, Sanna (Victoria Vetri) climbs into the shell of a dinosaur egg to keep warm, the young Megalosaurus and its mother think she’s part of the family. She plays and frolics with her “sibling” and momma subsequently shows up just in time to protect and/or save her. Accompanying these scenes is uncharacteristically “cutesy” music. It’s all like something I’d expect from the television series, Land of the Lost… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The unique plot element here is that the movie takes place, as our narrator tells us, during “a time of beginnings… a time when there was no moon.” The natural phenomenon experienced throughout the movie is a result of the moon being formed. That means strange lights in the sky and, ultimately, a huge tidal wave. That sounds scientifically sound to me, with what little I know about the moon and tides. It also makes for a beautiful final shot following the wave and the first lunar eclipse. This may be a little less scientifically sound; I’m not sure.

As with its predecessor(s), When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth has a subplot about a jealous woman from the man’s tribe fighting with the new blonde and attempting to sabotage a budding relationship. Here, it’s Ayak (Imogen Hassall) bitch slapping Sanna, and regularly starting catfights, over the affection of Tara (Robin Hawdon). It’s not just fighting among the women, though. Fights break out in these primitive tribes for seemingly no reason. In fact, the word most repeated from their ten or twelve word vocabulary is “Neekro,” which supposedly means, “Kill.” This aspect becomes repetitive.

Besides more skin, the movie shows more “gore.” An attack from a Chasmosaurus that suddenly emerges from a cave is fairly graphic. Tossing a man with its horns, the resulting wound is clearly shown and he lies in a pool of blood. This is a good time to mention the special effects by Jim Danforth. He replaces Ray Harryhausen from One Million Years B.C., but does comparable work. Still, I was surprised to learn that he was nominated for an Academy Award for this movie. (Harryhausen was never nominated, although he was honored with a special award in 1992.)

A favorite sequence of mine in When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth occurs when Sanna is trapped inside a carnivorous plant while hiding from a Megalania (giant iguana with a very long tongue). She’s able to cut her way out; however, her hair remains caught in it somehow. She cuts a chunk of her hair to escape. The next time we see her, she’s sporting a shorter haircut as if she’s just paid a visit to the beauty salon. This represents the silliness of the movie and is one reason I don’t like it as much as I liked One Million Years B.C.

On the other hand, the encounters with various monsters do seem less random and more integrated into the story. I feel like I am very familiar with this movie. I distinctly remember seeing the trailer for it many times at the Enid Drive-In when I was growing up. However, I don’t know that I actually ever saw the movie. It probably arrived at the theater on a double bill. If I remembered the other movie, it might spark a clearer recollection. Anyway, back to the present. The Hammer “Cave Girl” movies aren’t my favorites, even though we’re still in for one more surprise, which I’ll write about tomorrow…

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