27 June 2011

THE SHE-CREATURE/1956/EDWARD L. CAHN

THE SHE-CREATURE

1956/ Director: Edward L. Cahn/Writer: Lou Rusoff

Cast: Chester Morris, Marla English, Tom Conway, Cathy Downs, Lance Fuller, Ron Randell, Frieda Inescort

The She-Creature is a film that attempted to capitalize on the past life regression fad that swept America in the mid-50's following the release of the book, and subsequent film, The Search for Bridey Murphy. The book is based on the real-life events (I tend to find most of these "factual" paranormal events are actually more apocryphal than actual) pertaining to a party where hypnotist Morey Bernstein was the entertainment and hypnotized a lady named Virginia Tighe who regressed into her past lives to a time when she was an Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. She would speak in an Irish accent as she recalled her 19th century life. Luckily all these people who have past life regressions seem to select a past life that has the same spoken language I guess and who can't mimic an Irish brogue. Despite the reincarnation claims of Virginia Tighe being devastated by skeptics the book went on to be a huge best-seller and, along with the 1956 movie, people flocked to the story, and some still believe it to be true, and soon everyone and their cousin were seeking a "qualified" hypnotist to induce a past-life experience. Probably during none of these experiences did the person speak a dead or extinct language like Aramaic or Hopi. Yes, while your humble archivist of B-movie madness watches everything from giant bugs to possessed school girls he is at heart a skeptic and does not believe in UFOs or past life regressions. All that being said, I really enjoyed this film, made in 1956 like the Bridey Murphey movie, thanks to my uncanny abilities of "suspension of disbelief."

The movie is directed by Edward L. Cahn who also happens to be the director of some of the most memorable horror/exploitation B-movies from the 50's and early 60's. Some of these are certainly some of my favorites, such as Dragstrip Girl, Voodoo Woman (with Marla English), Zombies of Mura Tau, Invasion of the Saucer Men and It! The terror from Beyond Space, just to name a few films made by this prolific and imaginative director. There are a few minor complaints I have about some parts of The She-Creature such as the excessive day for nights of the beach scenes. They are simply too dark and you cannot really see the faces of the characters or even the monster. As well the monster hardly appears on screen, as is often the case with films from this period. More time is spent with the human conflicts (which are needed of course to a degree) and not enough is spent on the monster itself. And while the monster is a little cheezy I like it, even its monsterish "boobs." The creature, nicknamed "Cuddles" was designed by Paul Blaisdell do also did the monsters for creatures for Invasion of the Saucer Men and the legendary creatures from It Conquered the World. She-Creatures originally ran as an AIP double feature with It Conquered the World and what a matinee or midnight movie treat that must have been.

In the film we find one Dr. Lambardi (played by Chester Morris perennial tough guy from the 30's and 40's and even more than few silent films) engaged in similar experiments as Morey Bernstein. He has under his Svengali type spell the lovely Andrea Talbot (the very endowed Marla English who switches costumes between a sexy sheer gown and an assortment of skin tight sweaters) who, similar to Virginia Tighe, regresses back in time 300 years as an Irish housewife. Andrea hates Talbot but cannot escape from his hypnotic powers. His powers are of interests to others as well. First there is the shrewd entrepreneur Timothy Chappel played by Tom Conway. At first I thought this was actor George Sanders as it looks and sounds almost identical. Come to find out Conway and Sanders are brothers. Chappel sees big bucks in marketing not only Lombardi's past life regression angle but the fact he can predict murders in the future, murders perpetrated by a prehistoric ancestors of the human race that is revived when Andrea is in her hypnotic trance. The murders draw the interest of police detective Ed James (Ron Randall) is 100% certain Lombardi is somehow responsible for the rash of murders that have been occurring on the beach in close proximity to wherever Lombardi is located but he doe not have enough evidence to make it all stick in a court of law. Also interested in Lombardi's experiments is his critic Dr. Ted Erikson (Lance Fuller who would appear with Marla English again in Cahn directed, Blaisdell monstered Voodoo Woman in 1957) who thinks Lombardi is a charlatan who is giving "scientific" hypnotism a bad name. As well Ted really seems drawn to Andrea and her clingy sweaters and wants to free her from Lombardi's mesmerizing clutches. As is often the case with horror/sci-fi films of the period there are heated debates between men of science and men of faith. The scientists are portrayed as the stereotyped hard-headed dogmatists who refuse to even believe their own eyes at times. Dr. Erikson is skeptical of Lombardi and his motives but is open minded, However he is a true man of science and this is confirmed by a scene where he walks around smoking a pipe in his laboratory in a white lab coat with Clark Kent type eye glasses and a clip board where he records the activities of various lab animals.

There are usually problems with beach horror movies and I assume one reason the beach location is used is for budget purposes. The one big problem is how many people can be really be killed off on a stretch of beach maybe a couple yards long by some slow moving monster or another before it is at least seen by someone and a police sketch created? We also have the obligatory "making out" teenagers in the car killed off by the monster, and love-tortured teenagers are still being killed off on lover's lanes to this day by monsters and psychos. The best scenes of the movie are between Lomabrdi and Andrea and Lombardi and Erikson as the two men compete for Andre's mind and soul. There are a few cocktail party sequences featuring El Brendel and Flo Bert as a butler and maid team that is meant as intentional comic relief. There are no big surprises in the film or its ending but it is watchable classic B-horror fare. There is a list of beach horror movies I am trying to find, including The Horror of Party Beach and The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Despite the problems with beach horror movies they one of favorite sub-genres and there quite a few made during the sixties. For any fan of The Creature from the Black Lagoon styled films. A loose remake of The She-Creature was made by the Cinemax Creature Features series 2001 but it has little to do with the original version but I can recommend it as well.


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