Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Vengeance of She

If Hammer's 1965 film She was a enjoyable distraction on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the studio's 1968 sequel The Vengeance of She is a bit of a bore, essentially a retread of the earlier film but employing a gender reversal - in She it was Ursula Andress who summoned her male lover across the desert, while in The Vengeance of She, Czech model Olinka Bérová does all the running. In the film, Bérová plays Carol a young woman who is lured to the secret city of Kuma in Africa under the spell of sorcerer Men-Hari who has tricked Kuma's ruler Kallikrates into thinking Carol is the reincarnation of his lover Ayesha. In return Men-Hari has been promised the gift of immortal life which he intends to devote to spreading evil throughout the world.


With its combination of exotic adventure and the shapely curves of Ursula Andress, She Hammer's first foray into pure Fantasy Cinema was one of the studio's most profitable pictures of the sixties. Originally the sequel was to be called Ayesha, Daughter of She, but rather than seek inspiration from the pages of H. Rider Haggard's own series of She novels, Hammer stuck closely to the formula of the first film. In a very early draft of the screenplay Peter Cushing's character from the first film was to make an appearance lending a sense of continuity, but the idea was scrapped and the finished film emerges as little more than a remake, just three years after the original She. Worse still, Andress declined to appear in the film and despite a change of title to the thunderous Vengeance of She, the film limped all the way to the box office and soon retreated behind the shadow of the original.


Principle photography began in June 1967 during a particularly busy period for Hammer, with a number of films in production. Much of the studio's most experienced crew members were working on three major productions - Bette Davis' second Hammer outingThe Anniversary; the special effects extravaganza, The Lost Continent and the Terence Fisher, Richard Matheson film The Devil Rides Out. As a consequence, The Vengeance of She features many one-time Hammer personnel with little affinity for Fantasy Cinema - director Cliff Owen had one previous film to his name (starring comedy duo Morcambe & Wise), while screenwriter Peter O'Donnell had penned Joseph Losey's 1966 comic caper Modesty Blaise. This perhaps explains much of the film's sense of anonymity, despite the the presence of André Morell and John Richardson, both returning from the first film, albeit as different characters. Sadly, the film would be Morell's final Hammer film and for an actor who had enriched so many Hammer productions, the film was hardly a befitting swansong.


The film's biggest stumbling block however is O'Donnell's screenplay which manages to be banal and convoluted at the same time, the film burdened with far too many longueurs and overwrought plotting, so much so that the the film may leave you perplexed on first viewing. Cliff Owen's direction remains pedestrian at best and renders the would-be explosive climax when the cast is brained by Les Bowie's crashing matt effects, dull and uninspired. Even the work of camerman Wolfgang Suschitzky, is utterly undistinguished, a shame considering he was responsible for the luminous b/w cinematography of Ulysses the previous year. Critics of the film tend to heap scorn on Olinka Bérová's wooden performance, unfairly so considering she's one of the best things in the film, at least to look at, and by the time she strips down to some skimpy white lingerie, you'll be ready to forgive the dreadfully corny theme song.


Optimum's DVD of The Vengeance of She is another decent looking addition to the Hammer boxset. The 1.66 anamorphic transfer generally looks fine, with good detail and strong colors. Audio is adequate and dialogue sounds fine. The sole extra is the theatrical trailer. The Anchor Bay disc from 2000 featured a similarly strong picture but added another episode of the World of Hammer, Lands Before Time which focused on Hammer's Fantasy films with clips from She, One Million Years B.C., Creatures The World Forgot, Viking Queen, Slave Girls, The Lost Continent and Slave Girls.

2 comments:

  1. Nice review, Wes. Vengeance seems typical of Hammer's hit and miss fortunes during the late 1960s, especially when you consider the popularity of One Million Years BC made the same year. It's great that the box set includes these misfires, otherwise they would surely be forgotten. It's a shame though that Hammer's contribution to fantasy films is sometimes overlooked, in favour of its horror output. Films like She seem to have had a big influence on modern fantasy films like John Carter, and the Mummy films definitely owe as much to Hammer's fantasy films as they do to the original universal or even the Hammer Mummy series.

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  2. Many thanks Jon. I'll tell ya, it was a bit of a slog to review this - I planned to write this one up a few weeks ago after my initial viewing of the film but I got sidetracked and had to watch the film a second time as I had completely forgotten the film... Yeah, I totally agree about Hammer's Fantasy series, it's much overlooked and it's inclusion in the Optimum box is one of the set's virtues. Y'know, you are absolutely right about the 1999 Mummy, it does owe more to She than the Universal classic - I never made the connection, well spotted...

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