Column: The Vault of Secrets: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) / Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

By Orrin Grey

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)/Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968). Directed by: Pavel Klushantsev, Curtis Harrington, Peter Bogdanovich. Starring: Basil Rathbone, Faith Domergue, various Russians.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Like most every horror fan on the planet, it would seem, I watched It Follows when it hit theaters a couple of months ago. Since this is a column about vintage horror cinema, I’ll spare you my impressions of the movie and instead mention that I noticed one of the movies that was showing on TV in the background. It looked amazing, with spacemen fighting what looked like human-sized guys in Godzilla suits and a big rubber pterodactyl. So, when I got home from the theater, I knew I’d have to track it down. With the help of Nick Gucker, I was able to identify it as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before – which is probably most of you – Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet has a particularly odd pedigree. When it was originally a 1962 Russian film called Planeta Bur (Planet of the Storms) Roger Corman acquired the rights to it in 1965, dubbed and re-edited it, and brought in Curtis Harrington (Night Tide, Queen of Blood, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?) to shoot some extra (and almost entirely pointless) footage with Basil Rathbone and Faith Domerque (It Came from Beneath the Sea, This Island Earth). The additional footage was shot at the same time that Harrington was filming Queen of Blood, which also borrowed some footage from Planet of the Storms.

Proving that Corman was always one to know how to get the most use (if not necessarily bang) out of his buck, three years later, he released another version of the film, this time editing back out the Curtis Harrington footage and adding in different new footage filmed (and narrated) by none other than Peter Bogdanovich (Targets, The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon). This new footage featured Mamie Van Doren and several other Venusian women in hip-hugging pants and seashell bras, and the movie was released again under the title, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Of course, since the new footage was filmed six years after the original movie and on a different continent, the spacemen never actually encounter the Venusian women. Instead, the footage of the women mostly involves them lounging around on beaches or encountering the inadvertent devastation caused by the explorations of the visiting cosmonauts.

Whichever version you watch, the movie is fairly incoherent, but it’s easy to see why the original Russian footage got re-used so many times. Similar to contemporaries The Angry Red Planet and Vault of Secrets alum Planet of the Vampires, the visuals of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet of Prehistoric Women (or whatever) are ahead of their time. In addition to great-looking space suits and a particularly nice futuristic hover car/plane/submarine, and the aforementioned guys in low-rent Godzilla suits, the movie is also home to a variety of other great monsters and visual touches, from dinosaurs to a Muppet-y octopus (complete with mustache) to a really spectacular carnivorous plant. There’s also a pretty nice robot, who unfortunately never (successfully) turns on his creators and instead is abandoned to die in lava after being forced to give two of the men a piggy-back ride. (Which leads into the cargo cult ending of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.)

While Prehistoric Women may be the more coherent – if also more boring, thanks to lots of languid shots of women staring at things – edit, Harrington’s Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet certainly has the better ending, with a surprisingly subtle reveal of the intelligent life of Venus (which can almost certainly actually be credited to the Russian original). It’s probably also worth noting that neither Harrington nor Bogdanovich attached their real names to either film, with the former being credited as John Sebastian while the latter was Derek Thomas.

That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time when we head back to Earth to visit 16th century Prague.