Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women/The Gill Women/The Gill Women of Venus (1967) -**
History— or such history, at any rate, as disposable genre film lays claim to— remembers them as the Corman Cut-and-Pastes. They were a series of quickie sci-fi and fantasy movies released (directly to television in some cases) by American International Pictures and its Filmgroup subsidiary during the 1960’s, each of which was assembled by an inexperienced young protégé of Roger Corman around a core of footage raided from a collection of Soviet films which Corman had acquired in 1963, but considered unreleasable given the political realities of the Cold War. The last of the bunch, Peter Bodganovich’s Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, was also almost certainly the strangest, in that it was a double cut-and-paste. The slightly earlier Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, itself cannibalized from the Russian Planet of Storms, was re-cannibalized into something altogether dumber and more nonsensical. Even the title was created mostly by reshuffling the words of its predecessor’s, with the one new element corresponding exactly to the thing Bogdanovich was adding in order to excuse his project’s claim to be a new movie. If the finished product is any indication, Bogdanovich, screenwriter Henry Ney, or possibly Corman himself must have caught a rerun of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet on TV and come to the realization, “This movie is okay and all, but you know what it really needs? A whole bunch of half-naked, telepathic bimbos!”
At least we get to see a bit of Russian footage that didn’t make it into the earlier film. In an effort to make it seem less like we’re watching exactly the same movie as we had back in 1965, Ney and Bogdanovich have tinkered with the first act so that it appears that the three Russian rocketships were launched toward Venus separately. Their fates remain the same, however: the first is destroyed in a collision with an asteroid; the second, carrying pilot Allen Sherman (still Yuri Sarantsev), scientist Dr. Kerns (still Georgi Teikh), and a robot named John, goes off-course while landing and loses touch with mission control; and the third, carrying William Lockhart (Vladimir Yemelyanov), Hans Walters (Georgi Zhyonov), and Andre Ferneau (Gennadi Vernov), lands in safety to conduct a rescue mission for the crew of its predecessor. But because there’s no Marsha Evans in orbit around Venus this time around, the filmmakers have some explaining to do— Bogdanovich obviously wanted to keep new dubbing to a minimum, but there was way too much talk about somebody named Marsha on the Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet soundtrack to be worked around. The solution adopted here— explaining via voiceover that the space agency command post on Earth is known by the codename MARSHA— is hardly what I’d call elegant. Anyway, Kerns, Sherman, and the robot are stranded in a swamp full of lizard-men, and Lockhart’s rescue ship sets down far enough away that simply picking up the castaways and blasting off again really isn’t an option. Once again, the two groups of astronauts must fight their way across the hostile Venusian landscape in an attempt to rendezvous and return to Lockhart’s landing site, and since we’re talking about the same footage that was used in Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, it all plays out essentially as before. What’s different is that the Lockhart crew’s trip across the sea brings them to the attention of a tribe of telepathic, blonde, pterodactyl-worshiping sirens, led by Mamie Van Doren (fresh from her turn in The Navy vs. the Night Monsters— how sad to be already a has-been at the age of 35...). The sirens take a sharp dislike to the astronauts when they shoot down the pterosaur the girls had been praying to, and they spend the rest of the movie invoking monster attacks and natural disasters in an effort to destroy the “demonic” outsiders. Mind you, they must somehow carry out this vendetta without ever appearing in the frame with their enemies, who are neither on the same continent nor in the same year as they are. In the end, Mamie and the Sirens of Venus see that their gods are powerless against the invaders, who blast off unharmed despite the earthquake going on right underneath their landing gear. Knowing when they’re beat, the space bimbos adopt a new deity, erecting the lava-scorched hulk of John the robot on the altar that formerly held their plaster and papier-mâché pterosaur idol.
Poor Planet of Storms. It started off as a fairly ambitious and well-made sci-fi adventure film, and it even emerged from its first run through the AIP Down-Dumbertm with most of its dignity intact. But there’s just no way to stay dignified after you’ve been turned into the origin story for the galaxy’s first interplanetary cargo cult, especially if Mamie Van Doren is involved at any level. The Russian footage still looks as cool as ever (I particularly like that we get to see more of that intricate space station model this time around, together with a brief glimpse of The Heavens Call’s similarly impressive terrestrial rocket base), but by this point we’ve already seen most of it, and I honestly can’t fathom how anyone managed to convince themselves that Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women was necessary or even minimally worthwhile as an investment of time, money, and energy. In and of itself, it’s honestly quite dull— doubly so if you’ve already seen Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet— and most of the little entertainment value it offers stems from the extraordinarily bad idea that underlies its very existence. It might, however, be possible to stretch the fun a little further by making sure you see this version first. Then you can trace its lineage back and enjoy the perverse spectacle of the story making progressively more sense with each retelling.