It’s heartbreaking to think of all the movies that never made it to the screen. We keep hearing stories of projects collecting dust, incomplete due to unexpected tragedy, or a lack of funds, or a greedy studio executive cutting corners for tax purposes. But every now and then, a long-dead film is exhumed from the grave and is given new life to be enjoyed by a new generation of fans. Case in point: The Primevals, a fantasy adventure more than 50 years in the making that finally got to celebrate its world premiere at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
The Primevals was first conceived in 1967 by stop motion animator David Allen, whose credits include the adult parody Flesh Gordon, Larry Cohen’s Q – the Winged Serpent, and Alex Winter’s Freaked. For more than a decade, an early draft of the script was shopped around to various studios, until 1978 when it landed on the desk of producer Charles Band, who later founded Full Moon Entertainment, the home of direct-to-video franchises like Puppet Master and Subspecies (which Allen also worked on).
“The Primevals blends live action with creatures brought to life with a Ray Harryhausen-style of stop motion animation.”
After yet another decade spent securing funding and reworking the script with co-writer Randall William Cook (who worked as an animation supervisor for The Lord of the Rings trilogy), principal photography was shot in 1994. Then came the long process of the stop motion animation, slowed down even further by Full Moon’s financial struggles. Sadly, everything came to a screeching halt in 1999 when Allen passed away from cancer. For years, The Primevals was lost forever, until 2018 when Band and Allen’s former colleague Chris Endicott launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to put the finishing touches on the movie, keeping in line with Allen’s original vision.
The story follows Matthew Connor (Richard Joseph Paul, Oblivion), who is contacted by Professor Claire Collier (Juliet Mills) after her university acquires the body of a Yeti that was killed and shipped from Nepal. Having written a whole dissertation on the existence of the Yeti, Matthew is asked to join Claire on an expedition to find more Yetis living in the snowy mountains. The journey promises to be perilous, so the two researchers recruit Rondo Montana (Leon Russom, A Quiet Place), a retired explorer who used to chaperone big game hunters into the safari.
Later in Nepal, they meet up with Claire’s student Kathleen (Walker Brandt) and Siker (Tai Thai), a Sherpa who was present when the Yeti was killed. The five of them set out into the wilderness in the hopes of finding a live Yeti, but instead they discover a hidden world inhabited by a race of intelligent lizard humanoids.
“a loving tribute to the late David Allen, whose talents will no longer go unrecognized.”
The Primevals blends live action with creatures brought to life with a Ray Harryhausen-style of stop motion animation. Although more commonplace in the 1970s, a modern audience won’t be so easily convinced by these effects, having been spoiled by recent technological advances in creature design. However, there’s something nostalgic about the look of these monsters, and one can appreciate the amount of care that went into every single movement. There’s one specific coliseum scene with dozens of reptilian spectators that must have taken years to accomplish.
At first, the acting comes off as soapy, but by the end, the viewer is invested in these characters. I was particularly taken by Mills as Claire, who has a certain warmth and enthusiasm about her. And after the screening, all anyone could ever talk about was Rondo’s monologue about quitting the trophy hunting business after staring into the eyes of a dying giraffe.
“Had it been released in the ‘90s as intended, I can imagine myself as a child repeatedly watching this on videotape…”
I’m also glad there was no romantic subplot between Matthew and Kathleen, the two most attractive people on the expedition. Like many films from the 1990s, it could have predictably fallen into the tired cliché of having them lock lips while score swells before cutting to the end credits. Fortunately, we are given a straight-forward epic adventure with no time for love.
It cannot be overstated how incredibly lucky I feel to be among the first people on the planet to have watched a movie that took half a century to make. Had it been released in the ‘90s as intended, I can imagine myself as a child repeatedly watching this on videotape, unbothered over whether the animation is seamless or not. Watching it now, I still feel that childlike amazement. Thanks to the efforts of Charles Band and Chris Endicott, The Primevals plays as a loving tribute to their late friend David Allen, whose talents will no longer go unrecognized.
“a straight-forward epic adventure with no time for [a cliche] romantic subplot.”
David Allen’s The Primevals celebrated its world premiere at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our continued coverage of the festival and let us know if you’re excited to see this fantasy adventure over Twitter, Threads, or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord! Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
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[#Fantasia2023 Review] Stop Motion Adventure THE PRIMEVALS Comes To Life After 50 Years In The Making
Had it been released in the ‘90s as intended, I can imagine myself as a child repeatedly watching this on videotape, unbothered over whether the animation is seamless or not. Watching it now, I still feel that childlike amazement. Thanks to the efforts of Charles Band and Chris Endicott, the Primevals plays as a loving tribute to their late friend David Allen, whose talents will no longer go unrecognized.