Remembering She

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I had a strange and unsettling viewing experience this week. Having found a special offer on the 21-disc Ultimate Hammer Collection DVD boxset, once it finally arrived I wondered when I was going to get chance to watch it all? I’m a sucker for a big boxset, but time is tight. There is some good stuff here, like Plague of the Zombies, The Devil Rides Out and The Nanny, but will get round to Viking Queen or The Reptile? I hope so, because even in its weaker moments, Hammer is a historically interesting place to visit, even when it is cosier, more familiar than it is scary. The first film in the chronological collection (which starts in 1965 – it’s not complete, but a good sampler of the post-Bray studios period) is She, an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard‘s 1887 sthammer-dvd-boxsetory of Ayesha, queen of a lost African city who cannot die. She is waiting for the return of the lover she killed 2000 years previously, and believes she has found him in the form of an English explorer. The plot isn’t important right now, because watching it again, I came across a scene which had haunted me as a child, though I hadn’t remembered which film it had come from. Even after nearly 30 years, it came back to me, shot-for-shot. In the scene, Ayesha, believing she has been betrayed by a group of rebellious slaves, orders their execution by having them thrown, chained together, into a deep, fiery pit. For years after seeing this sequence it would come back to me and make me shudder at the plight of these poor guys – I remembered clearly the low whimpering noises they made as they were dragged towards the pit, and the screams they issued as they fell. I had only misremembered the pit as a bottomless chasm, an eternal tumble into pitch blackness. To find that it was actually filled with lava was strangely reassuring: I had previously thought to myself, years after seeing the film in my childish naivety, that “the slaves are still feeling”. It scared me, and it made me sad whenever I remembered it.

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I mention this now to share a little revelation, though it may be peculiarly personal, and to pay tribute to the selective power of memory, excerpting these few shots and storing them up as a marker of how cruel the world could be, how inhumane powerful rulers could become. Posting these images now is amusing; I’d even begun to doubt whether I had ever really witnessed this grotesque scene, or just fabricated it out of my worst imaginings, but there it is, clear and complete in readily-available digital form, a memory mastered and overcome. Oh, and I notice that it now has a “U” certificate: “suitable for all”, indeed …

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4 thoughts on “Remembering She

  1. A great post, Dan. I must see that film. I have a similar childhood memory, from a film which sounds like a parody of She: Kenneth Williams (Carry on Screaming) being dragged into the boiling vat and shouting in his campest voice, ‘Frying Tonight!’

    • Thanks, Tim. It’s not one of Hammer’s best, but it does feature Bernard Cribbins bellydancing.

      The film you remember is Carry on Screaming, which is certainly a spoof of Hammer horror films even if it isn’t directly based on She. It’s one of the ones I haven’t seen for a long time so I’m not sure if the parody is that specific.

  2. Pingback: Tarzan the Ape Man and his Mate « Spectacular Attractions

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