Stop-Motion ‘Primevals’ Worth the Insanely Long Wait

David Allen's epic roars to life with dizzying blend of new, older FX

David Allen’s “The Primevals” has finally arrived.

After maintaining a mythic status for nearly 50 years as a legendary unfinished and “lost” film, Full Moon Pictures has completed a movie I never thought I’d see.

A bit of backstory:

Like most cinephiles my age, I first encountered “The Primevals” in a 1978 issue of Cinefantastique with a well-remembered cover illustration by Barclay Shaw. The image showed a Lizard Man commanding his spaceship to seize Earth.

The cover art promoted the arrival of Allen’s “The Primevals,” an extension of his “Raiders of the Stone Ring” short film.

Allen had already established himself as another Ray Harryhausen, a true stop-motion animation wizard. He provided FX work for a crush of projects, including the “Puppet Master” series and “The Howling.”

How Ray Harryhausen Combined Stop-Motion and Live Action

“The Primevals,” which told a wildly imaginative adventure story that involved Yeti, a squadron of explorers, cavemen, lost worlds and, yes, Lizard Men from outer space, appeared to be Allen’s magnum opus.

The film’s test footage became so legendary among film circles, I actually showed them to my Lost Films class decades ago. The startling combination of live-action footage and a Lizard Man, in one scene, demonstrated how accomplished and ahead of its time, as well as insanely ambitious, Allen’s vision was.

Filming stopped and started, finally gaining traction in the 1990s, then halted by Allen’s 1999 death, then finally completed when Charles Band and his Full Moon Pictures crew held fundraisers to complete the footage.

The end result is astonishing.

The film not only presents Allen’s designs and creatures, at last in plain view, but stands as a major achievement in editing.

The fusion of old and new footage is comparable to what Frank Marshall and the Netflix team accomplished when they put together Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” (2018).

The Primevals (2023) Official Trailer | Juliet Mills I Richard Joseph Paul I Leon Russom

“The Primevals” begins with a Yeti attack taking place outside “a sherpa hut, deep in the Himalayas.” The killer prologue concludes with an extended Yeti hand (a cool visual that survived “Raiders of the Stone Ring”). The story then cuts to a press conference, declaring proof of the existence of the abominable snowman, a very- “King Kong” scene.

After some discussion, a cluster of adventurers are off to find the Yeti and the strange sights and creatures in their midst.

Allen’s film is glorious. “The Primevals” is not a spoof, a send-up, satire or a parody. There’s not a trace of cynicism or self-reflective meta commentary. This is the real deal, a true B-movie with A+ special effects and an unforced charm.

The performances are mostly bad, barely on the level of a soap opera, which is perfect. There’s no Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Will Smith or Jeff Goldblum to center this with movie star gravity. I don’t mean to be unkind, but the quality of the acting is the film’s richest source of humor.

Of the ensemble, Juliet Mills comes off best. There’s a character named Rondo Montana, played by an actor (Leon Russom) who seems ill suited for the role but gives it his best shot. Richard Joseph Paul, playing the film’s lead, stares hard at a giant stuffed abominable snowman and, later, at a giant brain in a jar.

It’s almost as funny as learning he tried to get a Ph.D. on the existence of Yeti (I want to see that movie!).

There are lines like “So, you’re our protection. Good. I’m not the heroic type,” recited as though the line were being read for the first time.

Because none of this is played for laughs, the exposition-heavy parts of the movie are often hilarious. My favorite line (which is delivered with a straight face) is, “The eyes of a dying giraffe can change a man.”

The soap opera levels of acting extend to how the characters are presented: despite the long journey into the wilderness, the hair, make-up and dental care are immaculate.

I’m not complaining. The unsteady acting and goofy dialogue only solidifies the movie’s true identity as a lost drive-in artifact. Nothing about this is self-conscious. The movie is pure.

The Primevals: New Stop Motion Shot

For a low-budget film, the scale is massive.

Add Richard Brand’s great score and appealing widescreen cinematography by Adolfo Bartoli and you have a movie that could have been a classic in its day, but now plays like a once lost, now found crucial missing piece of film history.

Early on, a character declares, “This is science, not sensation.” Actually, it’s reversed, because this is “The Primevals,” not “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Mummy,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “Jurassic Park,” “Independence Day” or any of the other dozens of films that came afterward and were clearly inspired, in ways big and small, by Allen’s oft-reported work in progress.

There are some lulls, as this feels a little padded, even at 90 minutes. The ending is a tad anticlimactic, as it seems the already elaborate finale could have somehow been even bigger.

However, the special effects are amazing, with the integration of live action and stop motion always solid. In the end credits, stop-motion legend Phill Tippet (whose best work can be seen in “RoboCop 2”) is thanked, as well as the 1978 crew.

This was filmed in Romania, with lots of artists, sharing a shared vision, who worked hard on this, with the finished result around 2019.

Despite live-action and stop-motion animation bits being filmed at different times in production, sometimes decades apart, the result is not a mess but an editor’s tour de force, as the blending of the old with the new, and vintage and restored shots, is uncanny.

This is a gem in the Full Moon Features catalog. It’s a kick for me to see Allen’s creature and set designs, which I’ve been familiar with my entire life, finally alive and in motion. For some, “The Primevals” will be a cult item, but for me, seeing this is a dream come true.

I loved “The Primevals.”

Three and a Half Stars

One Comment

  1. Wow, finally. Amazing it got finished and thanks to Full Moon for sticking with it. Looking forward to seeing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button