Thursday, January 30, 2014

Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) – MST3K Review

Space may be the final frontier, but for the crew of the Cosmos 1, it’s time to head home. Admiral King (Wendell Corey) is in command of a convoy of ships. With them are the Centaurians, a race of aliens that look a lot like Asian people. They are treated like second-class citizens aboard the ships. Because they are tired of being oppressed, some of the Centaurians rebel and force the Cosmos 2 off course. It crashes into a inhospitable planet. Admiral King mounts a rescue, but because of the time lag caused by traveling near the speed of light, the rescuers don’t arrive at the crash site of the Cosmos 2 for 18 years local time!

King sends a rescue party consisting of Dr. Farrell (John Agar), Lt. Bradley (Paul Gilbert) and a couple red shirts. It becomes apparent that the planet is populated by prehistoric life forms, like giant lizards, enormous arachnids and cavemen. Meanwhile the lovely Centaurian, Linda (Irene Tsu) wants to explore the planet and meets the handsome young Tang (Robert Ito). He is a decedent of the crashed crew, and the only survivor. Can Linda convince the crew of the Cosmos 1 that Tang is a good caveman? Can Lt. Bradley stop making bad jokes? Can John Agar at least attempt to look interested in the role? And will we ever see the Women of the Prehistoric Planet or is the name a clever ruse?

Movie Review:
Welcome to Pre-hysterical times!
I don’t think anyone can deny that Women of the Prehistoric Planet is not much more than a low budget flick that looks like it was thrown together fairly quickly. Originally called Prehistoric Planet the title was not snazzy enough, so the producer decided a name change was in order. Supposedly, there is some additional footage floating around of women in furry bikinis, but the version here is devoid of any prehistoric women, sorry about that.

But the movie does score high on the goofy meter. It’s not as interesting as the similarly titled Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (or the horrible re-edit Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women). It also lacks the scope of something like The First Spaceship on Venus or even The Phantom Planet. Instead it feels like a low budget cousin of all these flicks, but obviously made in America, with an American cast, instead of being a dubbed import.

Nothing like waking up to see Tang in the morning.
Part of the fun of the movie is the low budget special effects. The spaceships look a bit like metallic footballs. There’s some fun model work as they land on the planet. But the sets for the planet itself are pretty limited and make some of the sets used in the original Star Trek series look realistic. But even though you can tell they crew is walking over the same patch of set over and over again, it works for the most part.

For me the highlights of Women of the Prehistoric Planet are the alien creatures. We get a giant dinosaur like creature. Well actually it’s more like a lizard propped on a rock and superimposed behind the actors. It reminded me strongly of The Giant Gila Monster, but without the long lickery tongue. The lizard isn’t very convincing and the actors don’t help the matter. Even better are the giant spiders that attack the crew at the wreck site. These puppety creations are adorable, and you feel for the actors as they try to look terrified of them. There is also a killer rubber snake, but you kind of expect that on your prehistoric planet.

John Agar has this look on his face... the whole movie.
The sound and music in Women of the Prehistoric Planet are pretty average. They support the action well enough, but nothing really stood out. That’s a good thing actually. At least the music wasn’t so bad that I immediately noticed it.

As for the acting, well it’s a real mixed bag. I’m not sure what was going on with Wendell Corey. He was very good as Jimmy Stewarts police pal in Rear Window, but here he ends up talking fast and slurring a lot of his lines. You get the feeling he was here to pick up a paycheck, and wanted to get through the film as quickly as possible. Or maybe he was having a cocktail or two between takes and they started to add up. His “mannerisms” become so pronounced that it gets tough to understand him at times.

On the opposite end is John Agar. He does his usual performance style, a bit stiff with a heaping helping of smug. Well that’s not exactly right, he seems to be leaning more toward the wooden side of things here - also around for the paycheck. This would be the first time Mr. Agar would appear in a MST3K film, but it would not be the last. Season 8 seemed to be a regular John Agar-a-thon.

Gilbert's "humor" drives Joel to kill!
To bring some levity to the Women of the Prehistoric Planet we get Paul Gilbert, who constantly has some kind of silly pun, goofy story or pratfall to enact. He’s really trying, a little too hard I think. Most of his material isn’t that funny, and he keeps getting too much screen time. He’s probably as annoying as Sid Melton from Lost Continent.

But there is a bright side to the cast and that is Linda and Tang. Tsu and Ito actually have some chemistry, and seem to be having a good time running around the silly set. Tsu gets a bit more screen time as she interacts with other characters aboard the Cosmos 1. She has a natural charm that helps those scenes (even the ones with Gilbert mugging in the background). She also looks good in her cave-girl outfit. Ito plays off of her really well and you wish he had been in the movie from the beginning. Oh well.

"Um... guys, you can walk around this peril."
I do like some of the ideas in the script, such was the time lag because the ships were traveling near the speed of light. Some of the adventure moments are fun, with the rescue party coming across a boiling churning pool, or the creature attacks. I even appreciate the message of racial tolerance that comes up. You wouldn’t expect something called the Women of the Prehistoric Planet to deal with anything that complex, but the Centaurians and the way they are treated comes into play in the story and as a kind of message to the film.

Still the film does have its flaws. It moves in fits and starts, sometimes keeping things interesting by throwing in some fun visuals or an action scene. But other times it slows down to a crawl with long dialogue scenes that don’t add much to the film or spotlight Gilbert’s comedic antics. But compared to some of the other rocket movies out there, this one works well enough. It’s got plenty of fun stuff going on in it, and enough for Joel and Bots to work with for their final episode of the first official season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Episode Review:
Rock me Tang-a-deus!
That’s right, no matter what the episode numbering says, this was the last episode of Season one. Due to a delay and some confusion, Women of the Prehistoric Planet appears to be the fourth episode of the series, but they make reference to Robot Holocaust in this episode and that wasn’t seen until episode 10. I hope you’re taking notes because there will be a quiz.

But this is a good thing, because as season one went along the riffing got better and better. Women of the Prehistoric Planet is not my favorite of the season, but it is a strong episode with some very funny lines.

"Any of you have change for a twenty?"
Some of the riffs are based around the low budget look of the film. But many of these are actually pretty obvious jokes, such as Joel commenting that the ships look like chrome footballs. But a couple creative riffs do make it in. Tom gasps when a crewman is attacked by a giant spider and says, “Oh my god, how horrible! To be killed by a plush toy!” Or when they find the downed Cosmos 2, Crow says, “It looks like an interstellar Denny’s”.

The boys get some good jabs in at the cast too, with the comic shenanigans of Bradley and the slurred lines of Admiral King taking the most hits. When King unleashes a long speech, Joel wonders, “Did you just get a shot of Novocain?” Crow theorizes that it was more like “a shot of Jim Beam”. After the first round of Bradley’s jokes, Joel the bots start dreading his appearance. He walks by in the corridors of the Cosmos 1 and Joel announces “Moron patrol!” One of the characters asks Bradley to stop joking and “Don’t be funny”. Tom responds with “Don’t worry, he won’t”. By the time we get to the half-way point of the film Joel and bots just start yelling “SHUT UP!” whenever he starts talking.

HI-KEEBA! Nuff said.
Still Bradley does give us one of the longest running call back jokes of all of Mystery Science Theater 3000. He tells an elaborate joke about taking karate lessons. It ends with him yelling HI-KEEBA! and falling on his ass. From that day forward, anytime combat antics occurred in a MST3K film, Joel, Mike or one of the bots would yell HI-KEEBA! It became a regular riff, and one that I’ve even heard on Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic. Hell, I’ve been known to say it when watching a combat scene.

But some of the best riffing in Women of the Prehistoric Planet revolves around the character Tang. And really how could the boys resist such a name? When Tang introduces himself, Tom adds, “I’m not just for breakfast any more.” As Linda starts interacting with him, Joel asks if she can call him Ovaltine. Crow has Tang explain that Linda needs to “stir me around or I settle at the bottom” as they swim in a lake. But my favorite moment is when they wake up in the morning and Crow declares “Wang, bang, thank you Tang!”

As is the case with most of the first season episodes, the riffing here is on the slower side and not quite as clever as we would get in the next season. Luckily the film contains enough goofy moments, silly dialogue and strange acting choices to provide riffing opportunities that the boys use.

Joel doesn't have a chance... or does he?
The host segments are a bit on the strange side. For the invention exchange the mad scientists create a raw meat restaurant, Clay and Lars Flesh Barn, where the cow is brought right to your table. They sing a disturbing jingle about it. Joel replaces the classic ship in a bottle with toilet paper in bottle. It’s perfect for your nautical themed bathrooms. At the first break the bots play This is Your Life with Joel (something they do to Mike in a later season). This interlude is interrupted by a Doomsday satellite hurtling toward their ship. The boys bring it aboard and try to figure out how to disarm it. At the next break the Joel and bots muddle through a instruction manual for the doomsday satellite and discover it was written by Isaac Asimov and then translated into Korean and then back into English. Needless to say, it’s confusing as all heck.  When we come back, they are still messing around the doomsday device and cut the wrong wire. Suddenly all three turn into Isaac Asimov… yeah, I’m not sure what they were drinking when they came up with that one. When the movie ends, the boys joke around and discuss the film.
Dr. Earnhardt, we hardly knew ye.

This would be the last episode with Josh Weinstein playing both Tom Servo and Dr. Earnhardt. While I enjoyed Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo a bit more, and I feel that Frank Conniff was a better foil for Trace’s Dr. Forrester, I still enjoyed Weinstein’s work. He’s a funny guy, and was obviously an important part of the show in its first season. Eventually he would join Joel, Trace and Frank as part of Cinematic Titanic a couple decades later.

Women of the Prehistoric Planet is one of those episodes that sometimes works for me really well and other times leaves me a bit cold. It suffer a bit from the Season 1 syndrome, but it is one of the better paced episodes of the season. I had fun with it this time, so I think…

I think Linda has had enough of Bradley's puns too.
I give it 4 HI-KEEBAs out of five

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Volume 9.


  1. Released in the same year as the campy (and much higher budget) “One Million Years BC,” this is one of those wondrously awful cheapo copycat movies that I enjoy watching sans MST3K – though this also generally means sans company, since not everyone truly appreciates raw bad filmmaking. The unexceptionable voiced message of racial equality in the film is so completely undermined by the casting and by unspoken elements of the script that one wonders if self-parody was intended. It’s good to hear this is a a solid episode for the series though; in company, I think I’d opt for MST3K.

    Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, which you mention, however, I'll likely avoid watching again in any format. How can adding beautiful women (including Mamie van Doren!) in clamshell bikinis to a recut of a movie make it worse? Somehow it does.

    1. Oh man, I didn't even make the connection to "One Million Years BC" but that makes perfect sense. Yeah this one had next to no budget, that's for sure. But there is a lot of material to riff on. I can imagine this one being a fun solo view for the experienced viewer. :) I'm with you on the self parody thing. I'm not sure if they really thought it out that far. And the fact that there is a comic relief character in the film makes me think they were trying to say something about racial equality... but they really botched the execution.

      Yeah, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is pure pain. Mamie can't even save it... and that is saying something.

  2. I don't know that I've seen Women of the Prehistoric Planet, I might have to be in the right mood for that. But I have seen and own a copy of One Million Years BC. There's another movie in that vein I enjoy from time to time made by Hammer studios called Prehistoric Women or When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth. I think with all these films you have to suspend belief and just watch it for fun & the dinosaurs and such.

    1. Yeah some of them can be a lot of fun. I don't even mind guys in suits dressed as dinos, or low quality stop motion. That makes it fun. But the superimposed lizard on the rock is just too goofy. :)

      And hey, I won't say no to a gal in a fur bikini either.