Director: Larry Clark
Screenplay: Christos N. Gage
Cast: Andrew Keegan (as David); Tara Subkoff (as Sarah); Richard Hillman (as Neil); Tiffany Limos (as Judith); Stephen Jasso (as Vincent)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #15
In the early 2000, a series called Creature Features was created between US cable and satellite station Cinemax and American International Pictures (AIP), an independent film production company known for b-movies from the fifties and sixties which Roger Corman would grow into a legendary director and producer from. Creature Features remade five of AIP's older films for the new Millennium, the one which stood out the most for me for all these years the least expected one to ever exist and standing out of the set as the potential oddity. The idea that the producers took Teenage Caveman, based on a 1958 prehistoric teensploitation work directed by Corman, and let it be directed by the legendary and notorious photographer and film director sounds like a bizarre masterstroke I'd be compelled to see. Clark made Kids (!995), a controversial cult drama where youths have sex, take drugs and get into grim situations, and continued down this path with as much controversy. With all this in mind, I had for years since I was a young naive cineaste wondered what the hell a film about (preferably) teenage cavemen would be like from Larry Clark. Lots of sex? Likely. Nubile youths waxing lyrically on their lives naively? Possibly, thought stranger if its teenage cave people musing about their lives living in caves eating brontosaurus. Violence? Definitely and since Clark has tackled violence in films before, such as someone being battered nearly to death with a skateboard in Kids, he's able to tackle to visceral in affecting ways that would make it a pretty nasty genre flick.
A post apocalypse tale, mankind is reduced back into a new prehistoric age living in caves again. David (Keegan), the protagonist, has to live with a father who uses his position as the tribe's priest to restrict others and try to sleep with as many of his son's friends as possible. After David commits patricide, he and his friends wander in exile only to find a ruined metropolis and encounter two survivors. One a drug and drink fuelled guy named Neil (Hillman) who missed the chance to have become a rock star in the old world, the other his caring girlfriend Judith (the beautiful Limos), they welcome the youths into their home, openly admitting they are immortal due to being guinea pigs in an experiment to save humanity but not revealing how they intend to pass it onto the youths even if the side effects of the failed mutation is death by internal explosion in gore and guts if the transition isn't successful. It was interesting to see whether Clark would be censored slightly for a TV movie even if it's for cable and could get away with a lot more; while there's still a lot of nudity, drug taking and sex, as Neil and Judith encourage their guests to partake in drunken orgies, there's something innocent to the material in a schlocky T'n'A filled horror movie sort of way appropriate for an updated b-movie. Unfortunately while this sounds good in a silly way the result is an abominable disaster. The first issue is that it's not a film about teenage cavemen. Once it gets to the metropolis and Neil and Judith's home, the rest of the film is in corridors and is another cheap sci-fi horror movie. The film looks bland and like the TV movie it is to a severe detriment, claustrophobic corridors that are lacking in style and even the outdoor moments not offering a change of look.
The other, even bigger issue is that the screenplay by Christos N. Gage is garbage. Clark can have young characters who sound real in his films but it's clearly a case of who is working on the screenplay, such as having the than-teenage Harmony Korine write Kids with the realism of being around the age of the characters he wrote about. Gage's script is a botched attempt at broad, exaggerated youth dialogue, the kind that one wishes Greg Araki made this film instead to get this done properly, spliced with the bland exposition dialogue of terrible modern sci-fi horror movies. Where the hero is bland and uninteresting, his girlfriend Sarah (Subkoff) is whiny and emotionally stunted rather than likable, and the teenagers are merely fodder for a body count. Neil and Judith are more interesting characters, especially as villains who actually want to help humanity by way of sexually transmitted immortality, the least expected and memorable intention for any villain to have, but the finale has Neil becomes embarrassing in terms of how actor Richard Hillman has to chew the scenery from then to the conclusion. At first, like a man whose drug and drink intact would even make Keith Richards blush and balanced on a knife edge between charisma and being scummy, the character alongside the more likable Judith are the only real virtue of the film especially as they are technically the villains; when terrible CGI effects and prosthetics that look dire on Hillman's head, even by the late Stan Winston, are involved Neil becomes the worst example of a villain who won't shut up thus making the viewing experience even more painful.
As a result, Teenage Caveman is not even a fascinating failure, which fans of a director would still like because the director's personality is there, but a film so compromised and bad that one would prefer if it was buried never to be watched by said fan again. Like Tusk (1980) for Alejandro Jodorowsky or The Mother of Tears (2007) for Dario Argento for examples, it's an incredibly embarrassing work from a director I admire that I really and significantly doubt I would want to witness again, preferring amnesia and watching other Larry Clark films instead to revisiting Teenage Caveman again.