Home Video Hovel: The Vengeance of She, by Alexander Miller
Oh, Hammer. One of the best, most relentlessly entertaining studios to have emerged in the conversation of world cinema. They dabbled in all genres; comedies, adventures, noir, thrillers, chillers, gothic sci-fi and, while their handsome, emblematic Victorian horror features in the vein of Dracula and Frankenstein were how they defined their stately brand of beautifully garish horror, there are a couple other subgenres that are worth noting. The early 70s would usher in Hammer’s buxom, pseudo-lesbian vampire films that would indicate the decline in the once great studio. This was predicted by their short-lived but fun exploration into prehistoric titles. She and One Million Years BC kicked things off. The latter rocketed Raquel Welch to superstardom and both proved to be a big hit for the studio. Hammer followed with Prehistoric Women, Viking Queen, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and, of course, The Vengeance of She. Even though these films feature buxom ladies in skimpy furs wrestling with each other and fighting dinosaurs, hammy acting and dopey dialogue, these Hammer films never felt disingenuous or half-hearted. That’s because Hammer elevated the genres that were otherwise relegated to exploitation fare. The horror films for which they were best known were transgressively gory (for their time) and bawdy but never felt cheap or schlocky and this M.O. trickled into every other genre they delved into.
1965’s She was a strong outing in their ancient adventure thread, featuring hitters as heavy as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and, of course, the iconic Ursula Andress in the titular role. Unfortunately, The Vengeance of She maintains the stately production values but it lacks the energy and presence of its predecessor. Plus, it doesn’t help that the follow up lacks the punch of Lee, Cushing, and Andress.
The story falters because it opts for a modern tale. The Vengeance of She is really more of a tangential, in-name-only sequel. A mysterious young woman, Carol, confusingly wanders around. She has no recollection of who she is, despite some “strange flashbacks” from the enchanted land of Kuma, the fantastical world from the first film. After some altercations (she thwarts a rapey truck driver who picks her up), she takes a dip in the ocean and is picked up by some wealthy yachters. One of them, Dr. Phillip Smith (Edward Judd), strikes a relatively creepy free alliance with the mysterious Carol and decide to follow her instincts and guide the ship to the mysterious destination. Turns out that Carol (surprise) is the reincarnated Queen Ayesha, who, with King Kallikrates, reigned over the lost city of Kuma! Well, that sounds neat but anything remotely interesting already took place in the first She and all that’s left for these spin-off cases to do in The Vengeance of She is putter around a boat for a large portion of the film and then pole vault into the mystical mumbo jumbo of Kuma. Even with the requisite knowledge of the first movie, this follow-up doesn’t add up to much in the logic department. Usually, logic and rationality don’t play a significant role in the realm of 70s fantasy but that’s usually compensated for with action and excitement. But there’s not much of that going on in this film either.
The first half is a slog, with a slightly charming but dopey song (“Oh, who is she??”) by Bob Fields that might get stuck in your head. The Vengeance of She musters up some energy in the latter half once we’re embroiled in the shadowy world of Kuma. This is where that Hammer magic comes into full swing. Despite the silly dressing and clunky plot, the movie is constructed with some tact. Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky utilizes wide masters, lending both a vastness to the exteriors and an aura of mystique to the interiors. The sets bolster the ritualistic atmosphere that stands as evidence that this studio excelled in realizing fantastic worlds, whether horror or fantasy. As a whole, The Vengeance of She isn’t Hammer’s finest moment but even a substandard excursion is a decent outing.
As a Hammer devotee/completist, it’s a delight to see more movies from the beloved studio donned with the Shout!/Scream Factory moniker, going through the DVD days where some Dracula films were Paramount, others were Columbia, a few MGM, and the rest scattered about the various distribution rotation. Hammer films are perfectly paired with Scream Factory’s distribution regimen. This Blu-fay looks incredible and will bring smiles to the faces of any old school Hammer fan and might hook some new ones. Let’s hope Scream Factory keeps up the good work!