Friday, February 12, 2021

The She-Creature

The She-Creature
Edward L. Cahn

Something is crushing the life out of people in a small seaside community. Elsewhere, Dr. Carlo Lombardi (Chester Morris) is a small-time carnival worker with a hypnotism act. There is more than the act than meets the eyes as he seems to be able to make his assistant Andrea Talbott (Marla English) regress into her past lives and manifest those lives in reality. No one really believes him, most of all his romantic rival Dr. Ted Erickson (Lance Fuller) who seeks to disprove his act but might just end up on the wrong end of a prehistoric monster.

There is a perception that the horror films of the 1950s are largely the same parade of atomic-powered monsters facing down stiff-necked scientists with a screaming woman in their arms. Make no mistake, there were plenty of exactly those kinds of movies, but there are a number of outliers too. One of the strangest comes from the biggest purveyors of teenage drive-in horror, American International Pictures.

This is exactly what it looks like when I have to get
up to pee in the middle of the night but I don't want
to and I am also a monster.

The pacing of  The She-Creature is slow and meandering which a lot of reviews count as a negative, but I feel that coupled with the soft, dark photography and long stretches set near the ocean help contribute to a dream-like atmosphere. There is a slipperiness to the narrative that comes more from vague writing than anything intentional, but I find it effective none-the-less.

The entire structure of the film is unusual. The film’s villain, Lombardi, is a threat but never a direct one that the protagonists can act against. He is sleazy, opportunistic, and smart. The heroes spend much of the film aware he is behind the murders but without any idea of how it has done or even how to stop it. The viewers know Lombardi is behind the murders, we are shown that almost immediately, and then we ourselves spend much of the film trying to understand how he does it and the explanation we’re given asks more questions than it answers.

The She-Creature itself is a memorable design, reptilian and demonic by turns, it holds up after all these years as a great monster and one that deserved more than its two film appearances (the other being The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)). There is a mildly Lovecraftian sentiment that this horrible thing is the originator of humans. The film never capitalizes on this disconnect, but it remains there as an unspoken element of horror in the larger narrative.

"Which one of us is drunk?"

It is also hard to escape that The She-Creature settles around two men contesting for a single woman by taking turns dominating her will. Almost none of the humans come off particularly well as everyone is driven by greed, social climbing, or sexual conquest. There is a noir quality to the story set around scientists and socialites which is interesting enough on its own but throw in a past life regressed monster and you have something strange and unique.

The She-Creature is a curious b-film and one that rewards some patience and open-mindedness when going into it. It is one of the AIP moves that I find myself going back to rewatch more than others.

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