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SYFY WIRE Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Raquel Welch's bonkers genre career

By Sara Century

In the late ‘60s, actor Raquel Welch rocketed to stardom — not due to any specific role she played, but because she appeared in a torn deerskin bikini on the poster for the sci-fi film One Million Years BC. This poster began appearing everywhere and, today it's considered to be one of the most iconic images of 1960s genre cinema, if not the most iconic. This development turned out to be fairly ironic, considering the fact that Welch had strongly protested becoming involved in the film, to begin with, and only did so under pressure from the studio.

Welch made some pretty interesting career moves over the years, but she’s known to have been consistently critical of the box the media tried to put her in, often treating her as nothing more than a generic sex symbol. From the beginning, there’s been a lot more to Raquel Welch than Hollywood wanted to give her credit for, and her stints as a genre queen deserve a little recognition.

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One Million Years BC

Welch's genre career began with her role in 1966's Fantastic Voyage. Even if you haven’t seen the film itself, you’ve no doubt seen the countless homages, references, and parodies. The plot revolves around a crew who are shrunk down to miniature form and travel inside a man's body to fix a blood clot in his brain. Intelligence agent Charles Grant, a pilot, two scientists, and his assistant Cora Peterson enter a submarine and shrink to save agent Charles Grant who had barely survived an attempted assassination. This turns into a murder mystery that occurs within the victim’s bloodstream as the crew struggles to save his life and Grant realizes that one of them is the person who tried to kill him in the first place. Welch’s role as Cora Peterson is unfortunately sparse, but this was still the movie that put her on the map in Hollywood.

After Fantastic Voyage, Welch was cast in the aforementioned One Million Years BC, a decision which she protested due to her complete disinterest in the script or the popular subgenre of humans-meet-dinosaur films. She was vetoed and remains surprised and skeptical of the fame that came from her appearance on the poster of the film, considering she only spoke about three lines in the movie. Though it was only revealed later, Welch claims to have nearly died on the set due to illness springing from exposure to the elements. At any rate, even to this day, Welch is one of One Million Years BC’s biggest critics.

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Welch also appeared in the original Bedazzled, a Dudley Moore vehicle that most would know better now by the Brendan Fraser/Elizabeth Hurley remake. Bedazzled was a comedy, and so Welch’s sex appeal was again played up, this time for humor, as she was cast in the role of the physical embodiment of lust. Though Welch became increasingly vocal at her annoyance at being cast in roles of “Ms. Sexpot,” Bedazzled at least gave her some room to play around with that often limiting trope.

Genre TV Appearances

An early genre TV appearance for Welch was the Mork and Mindy episode "Mork Vs. The Necrotons." The show itself was about an alien that became stranded in late ‘70s Boulder, Colorado and a lot of its themes were about him attempting to fit in with regular society. Welch played one of three Necrotons who kidnap Mork and grill him for information on his home planet.

Mork and Mindy was a lot of fun, but the series lost a lot of viewers in the second season. By the time Welch appeared, it was already winding down. Still, the Necrotons are definitely the highlight of the episode, and their outfits are amazing.

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In Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Welch appeared in the episode "Top Copy" as the villainous newswoman-turned-assassin Diana Stride. Again, Welch is a lot of fun to watch as she plays the seductive, charming, completely amoral Stride. She and her assistant attempt to expose Clark Kent as Superman, only to have it blow up in their faces. Though she gets her comeuppance by the end of the episode, this is a great one both for Raquel Welch stans and for Lois and Clark shippers, so it comes highly recommended.

In the first season of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch series, Welch made an appearance as the glamorous Aunt Vespa in the episode "Third Aunt From the Sun." Welch always seems like she’s having at least a little fun in pretty much all her roles, but this is a particularly good example. When Sabrina is upset that her aunts are too hard on her, Vespa comes strolling in to invite her to live with her. Sabrina takes her up on it, only to realize that Vespa’s life isn’t as great as it seems. Aunt Vespa is the fun aunt that we all wished we had, who tells us how secretly cool we are and takes us to fun and exciting new places without enforcing the same rules we experience at home.

Welch’s genre resume is strange and a little spotty, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun to revisit for its camp value and retro chic. Though her roles in these films might have been a little sparse, her TV roles went a long way in making up for that, and they're the best example of her strengths over the course of a legendary career.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.