Film

Don’t Open That Door! #20: 'Teenage Cave Man' (1958)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we catch a glimpse of the distant past (or do we?) in Teenage Cave Man.


Teenage Cave Man

Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Sarah Marshall, Leslie Bradley
US release date: 1958-07

Alternative title: The 40-Year-Old Cave Man

POSITIVES:

Charming in a wonky way.

Copious monster footage inserted at semi-random intervals.

Good twist ending.

NEGATIVES:

Dumber than dirt.

Much of that monster footage is regurgitated from old movies.

Too short! (65 minutes).

SYNOPSIS: Hear me, O my people! The Law commands that none of our clan cross the river, for lo, death lurks there in the form of hideous monsters and pools of quicksand! And besides, our tribe has bodacious babes a-plenty in snugly-fitting outfits, so why bother? Unfortunely, the old geezers running the tribe are a little cracked, leaving our youngsters, such as Teenage Hero Boy, to wander past the river and into the Forbidden Lands, seeking sustenance and so forth.


First, though, the Symbol Makers must make the Holy Symbols that will bring a fruitful hunt for the tribe. So let's get cracking, O my people. And hark! Now that the symbols have been made, it's time to shake our mighty warrior maracas and slay the giant guy-in-a-bearsuit monster. Gadzooks, 'tis a shame that our mighty Symbol Maker has well and truly been knocked onto his symbolic backside for the foreseeable future, if you catch my drift, O my people. Fortunately he has his perpetually-worried-looking wife to take care of him. Maybe she's perpetually worried because she's Teenage Hero Boy's mom—that would be enough to give anybody wrinkles.

Perhaps The Sneaky Bearded One has it right after all, and—as he whispers sneakily in the ear of Teenage Hero Boy—it's time for the law to be broken. What we need are a bunch of hot-headed teens to go into the Forbidden Lands, slay a couple beasts, and maybe come face to face with The God Who Kills With Merely a Touch. Happily, O my people, our clan is not wanting for young lads with more hormones than sense. Many are the dangers our brave warriors face, including quicksand, feral squirrels and much stock footage. But lo, that is before Teenage Hero Boy runs into a tree—no kidding—and knocks himself into that murky darkness that lies beyond our knowing. For lo! He is dumber than dirt, he really is. The tribe is more than ready to acknowledge this, as they give him the silent treatment in punishment for his transgressions—all except the Hot Blonde Maiden, who's more than willing to forgive him his sins and add a couple more, if you get what I mean.

But we're not out of the woods yet, O my people, not with The God Who Kills With Merely a Touch lurking around out there, just aching for stuff to put his unholy mitts on. But wait! There is more to this legend than there appears. And the truth but waits for a brave warrior to discover it, O my people. Not to mention a brave audience to sit through it, as well. For I say truthfully unto you: perververe, and you will find that the Forbidden Land across the river does contain an ending most twisty.

Best line of dialogue in the movie: "Things are there."

Moral of the story: Listen to your elders. Except, sometimes you shouldn't.

What gets forever stuck in the Stone Age: A deer; a dumb blond; a squirrel; another deer; a sneaky bearded fellow; a god whose touch kills; much of humanity (by report)!

Did you know? Originally entitled Prehistoric World, the film's title was changed by the production company, American International. Director Roger Corman was later quoted as saying, "I never directed a film called Teenage Cave Man."

Back from the dead: After the Fair-Haired Boy goes to that big quicksand pit in the sky, he mysteriously reappears throughout the rest of the movie, especially the crowd scene in which Teenage Hero Boy fights The Sneaky Bearded One, and at the end, when the whole clan charges after The Symbol Maker and Son. Those cave men healed pretty fast!

Somehow their careers survived: Robert Vaughn (Teenage Cave Man) would star in TV's The Man From UNCLE (1964-68) on his way to over 200 film and TV appearances, including Starship Invasions (1977), CHUD II (1989), and Transylvania Twist (1990). Sarah aka Darah Marshall (Blonde Maiden) was nominated for a 1960 Tony Award (Best Supporting Actress) for her role in Goodbye, Charlie; a lengthy TV career followed. Leslie Bradley (Symbol Maker) appeared in 1955's Kiss of Fire with Jack Palance, while Frank De Kova (Black-Bearded One) would be seen in Machine Gun Kelly (1958), another Corman vehicle starring Charles Bronson and Corman regular Susan Cabot. 1958 was a busy year for June Jocelyn (Symbol-Maker's Wife); besides this movie, she appeared in Earth vs. the Spider, War of the Colossal Beast and Attack of the Puppet People, all directed by Bert I. Gordon. Whew!


BOTTOM LINE: Far more entertaining than it has any right to be, largely because of consistently committed performances of silly material.

NEXT WEEK: Man Beast (1956)

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