Robert Vaughn stars as a 26-year-old teenage caveman with styled hair who seeks to discover what is in the uncharted jungles beyond his tribe's campsite. It is against the Word (and the Word is the Law), but he breaks it anyway. Soon he discovers a strange creature that kills with its touch. We later learn that this is not a prehistoric tale, but a post-apocalyptic tale, and the strange creature is a 500-plus year old irradiated scientist in a radiation suit.
Not to be confused with Larry Clark's MUCH darker 2002 film of the same title, or with Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels.
- After the End: Though we don't learn this until scientist starts his post-mortem narration. Whether it's our past or our future is left ambiguous; the survivor suspects there have been several cycles of humanity destroying itself and rebuilding, and the "radiation suit" looks nothing like our culture's technology.
- Ain't No Rule:
- When The Black-Bearded One protests The Symbol Maker's Son making a sleeping barrow outside of the caves for him and The Fair-Haired Maiden, the Elder basically shrugs and says "There's no law that says he can't."
- As The Fair-Haired Maiden stares off into the distance where The Symbol Maker's Son has roamed off to, The Black-Bearded One again steps in and questions it. The girl's mother-in-law sarcastically asks if there's a law against it, basically telling him to mind his own damn business.
- Artistic License – Physics: Radiation isn't a way to live forever.
- B-Movie: and brought to you by Roger Corman.
- Bronson Canyon and Caves: Why yes, this is a cheaply-made Roger Corman movie!
- Control Freak: The Black-Bearded One. As pointed out by The Symbol Maker's Son, he holds the ambition of being a tribal leader (whether starting his own clan or taking over this one), and he spends much time going around policing everyone else.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Probably not meant to be quite so subtle as most invocations of the trope; but the character arc for The Symbol Maker's Son mirrors that of a teenager exploring and testing the boundaries of his world and growing beyond the need for parental authority. Meanwhile The Clan represents said teenager's overprotective, formalistic, repressive family (think of the Short Film A Date With Your Family) who tries to keep him in a box — for his own protection, of course, but in the process they're also stunting his growth as a person.note
- Foreshadowing:Robert Vaughan, to the Black-Bearded One: You are a man who would be happy to be the leader of a small clan. I want to lead no one. I want to go on, to broader places. Two such men will come to fight one day, and one of us will be dead by the other's hand.
- Future Primitive: The twist ending reveals the whole setting as this, swapping out what appeared to be Hollywood Prehistory for a tale set After the End.
- Nameless Narrative: Everyone is referred to by job (The Symbol Maker), relationship (The Symbol Maker's Son) or physical appearance (The Black-Bearded One, the Fair-Haired Maiden).
- Narrator All Along: The scientist gives a closing Info Dump:I and a party of 23 others were on a scientific expedition when the bombs began to fall...nuclear weapon was unleashed all over the world. Retaliation added to retaliation, until all traces of man's works had been wiped from the face of the Earth... things that escaped the blast, some grew huge beyond all reason and formed into the dinosaurs of pre-history, or took on new shapes altogether, mad and shapen purpose. My comrades and I, half-protected by our radiation suits, found ourselves given an age far beyond the span allowed. Out of all the sprawling millions of the Earth, a handful escaped all harm through fortune or design.After the holocaust, the wisest of them set down a long list of taboos. Our laws are in the form of a religion now. It's strange to see them living the life of Cro-Magnon man and not knowing why. On occasion, we tried to contact them, but they feared us. And the radiation killed those that came too close. Now, only I'm left, and the radiation has worn away these long, long years. Now a new one thinks and wonders about the truth of the law. Perhaps man will dare to try again. I am very lonely, very, very tired. This happened a long time ago, and as you know, men did meet other men, and fire smelted metal, made explosives. The wheel turned machines and made gun barrels. The towers were built and flattened. How many times will it happen again? And if it does, will any at all survive the next time, or will it be the end?
- No Name Given: Outside of the Symbol Maker, his son and a couple of minor characters, no one is called by their designated names, on screen.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The Black-Bearded One leads half the tribe across the river to hunt down and execute The Symbol Maker's Son for breaking The Law by crossing the river, claiming that because they are doing it to enforce The Law, they are not breaking The Law.
- Slurpasaur: All the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are brought to life by this technique. Or rather, they're brought to life by Stock Footage from other movies that used this technique.
- Stock Footage: Wouldn't be a Corman movie without it!
- Toxic Friend Influence: The Black-Bearded One starts the movie encouraging The Symbol Maker's Son to challenge The Law, then rats him out the moment he actually takes his advice. He spends the movie after that as a Smug Snake antagonist.