Podzemelye vedm [The Witches Cave] (1989)

For no particular reason, I seem to have spent my weekend on a Soviet SF binge, watching this film, Moon Rainbow and Inhabited Island (made long after the fall of the wall).

Although this one is supposedly a joint Soviet and Czech production, it is in Russian and some invented “primitive” language.  In many respects, it might almost be described as a Russian “Star Trek” clone, as it involves a young officer of some sort of poorly defined “Federation”, sent to investigate their research station on a curious primitive planet, which may be violating their “Prime Directive” not to interfere with the development of primitive races.

Yet, there is something strange going on as the natives have somehow got hold of a number of inexplicable things, most notably a few, beautifully crafted-steel swords in a world where they have yet to learn how to work with metals…

At first glance, this might seem like a replay of the classic Star Trek (TOS)  episode, “A Private Little War” but it goes in very different directions, turning instead into more of a fantasy film, as the hero and daughter of the Chief of one of the two big tribes have to team up to defeat the evil Warlord, Oktin Khash, discover the secret of the mysterious “witches” and save the other remaining member of the survey team.

Perhaps the most interesting detail is the curious biological history of the planet.  We’re told that its mixture of birds, pterosaurs and wooly mammoths shows that something has interfered with the normal flow of evolution, where these things are supposed to appear in a predictable sequence, each old species dying out right on schedule to allow the previously scheduled superior new species to take its place.

Now this clearly ignores Darwin, who saw evolution as a totally unguided process.  Instead it sounds far more like Marx’s  supposedly “scientific” theory of history, which argued that civilizations go through a series of inescapable necessary steps in their development.  Mind you, the past data didn’t fit his theorizing – and real history was rude enough not to do what it supposedly had to do.

Not that that has ever dissuaded Marxists from accepting his theory.

Admittedly, a lot of people do see evolution as an upward tendency in living things, from the simple to the more complex.  But that view has a lot more to do with Herbert Spencer than Darwin.

Our glimpses of these creatures are perhaps the lowest point in this film.  The animatronic creatures – like a pathetic tapir-like thing that barely moves and some sort of giant spider that can only stumble forward at a glacial pace – are almost entirely horrible, with the pterosaur more or less tolerable (at least it’s the right shape, even if it never moves).  But then there is the brief glimpse we get of a set of stop motion Woolly Mammoths, which are so well done that one has to wonder whether they originally came from some better film.

This isn’t one of the better Soviet SF films.  It has some interesting moments (and one of the funniest knee to the crotch gags I’ve ever seen) and it manages to be moderately enjoyable, without bringing any real biting commentary on the state of Soviet society into the picture.  However, its very Western moment at the end, where the hero decides to follow his heart and not his orders would never, ever, ever have been allowed in the fifties (when the hero gets flung out into space by a gravity inversion in The Silent Star).  Or the sixties (when a Cosmonaut sacrifices himself in Mechte Navstrechu so they can rescue some alien who isn’t even part of the collective!). Or the seventies (when the hero of Eolomea goes off on a one-way exploring trip leaving the girl behind).

Doesn’t he know that the State is supposed to mean more than some frizzy headed barbarian girl with a beauty-parlor perm?  Poor deluded fool.

He’ll probably just get stuck being happy.

(For more SF movies from behind the Iron Curtain, see here.)

2 thoughts on “Podzemelye vedm [The Witches Cave] (1989)

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