2/4/10

She Beast (1966): Oooh, oooh, Witchy Woman

As this has been pronounced Women in Horror month, I thought I should kick off the first B.L.O.G entry for this month with one of my favorite horror film queens, Barbara Steele. Ms. Steele made a handful of films prior to Black Sunday, but Bava’s film really kick-started her career and led to a string of gothic Italian films. If you look through her résumé, you’ll find precious little material that isn’t a horror or cult film, but she didn’t always take too kindly to being typecast and once remarked she never wanted “to climb out of a f**king coffin again.” Back in 1966, Ms. Steele had barely begun to scramble out of coffins, but she wouldn’t have to use those skills when she appeared in Michael Reeves film She Beast [Italian: La sorella di Satana].

When English honeymooners Veronica (Barbara Steele) and Phillip (Ian Ogilvy) stop for the night in a Transylvanian hotel, they hear a local legend about a vengeful witch who was executed hundreds of years ago by drowning in the lake. They leave the hotel early the next morning, and on their drive out of town, they are run off the road and crash into the lake. The truck driver that caused the crash pulls Phillip to safety, but Veronica’s body can’t be found. In its place, a rotten corpse is found, and Count von Helsing (John Karlsen), who claims to be a descendent of Van Helsing, believes it to be the body of the witch. The Count resurrects the witch (presumably because his ancestors took out vampires so what trouble could one witch cause), and, of course, she goes on a killing spree. It’s up to Phillip and von Helsing to stop the witch if Phillip ever wants to see his wife again.

I picked this film for a couple of different reasons. First, it was only a couple of weeks back that Fran Goria reviewed Michael Reeves most well regarded film, Witchfinder General, and secondly, this film had Barbara Steele who still ranks as one of the most fetching scream queens. Unfortunately, on a couple of different counts I was let down. The film, while fairly interesting, definitely does not stack up to Witchfinder, and it also strikes a clumsy tone right between horror and comedy that doesn’t quite work, The other problem is that the top billed Steele only appears in about fifteen minutes of this eighty minute film. In fact, I understand she shot all of her scenes in the span of one twelve hour day of shooting,

Regardless of the fact that she’s not in the majority of the film, one of the real bright spots is Steele. Not only does she deliver a solid performance in her short time on screen but it’s also nice to see her in modern ‘60’s clothing rather than the usual gothic garb she had to wear. It seemed that Steele and her co-star Ian Ogilvy had good chemistry too, and it’s a shame that they didn’t get more time together. Ogilvy is left to carry the film when Steele disappears and he does a decent job with what he had. Unfortunately, the script is too packed with anti-communist jokes and sight gags to ever get too far off the ground. Ogilvy did a find job as the hero, but there was no saving the movie in general.

The comic tone of the film did suit John Karlsen as Count von Helsing. Karlsen sells his eccentric character completely, and I always like seeing him pop up in things. What always strikes me about Karlsen is the length of his career. From 1958’s The Naked Maja to 2003’s The Order with Heath Ledger, Karlsen was a solid character actor and appeared in everything from The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t and Frankenstein Unbound to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and 8 ½. She Beast also features another great character actor, Mel Welles as the peeping tom/would be rapist/hotel manager named Groper. Welles is probably best known as Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, but he also made appearances in The Last American Virgin and High School Confidential! Welles nearly steals the show in She Beast. His over the top commie hotel manager is doubtlessly the highlight of the film’s comic portions, and ultimately he is dispatched with a hammer and sickle making for my favorite scene in the film.

She Beast was no a horrible film. I found myself rather enjoying it, and the short running time was definitely a plus. It was, however, not really what I expected. Much of the film feels like a pained attempt at a communist sitcom by way of the Keystone Cops paired with a script that Hammer film had thrown in the bin. Michael Reeves only directed four films in his short career, and thankfully this film is far overshadowed by Witchfinder General and The Sorcerers. If you’re a big fan of Ms. Steele then this is a film you’ll have to see even though she has limited screen time, but horror fans looking for classic chills won’t find them here. What you will find is a ton of Red Scare humor, a resurrected witch with a face like a bloody turd, and an entertaining enough way to spend eighty minutes.

Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. She Beast has suffered in the past from truly awful public domain prints. I'm told the new Dark Sky release is a big improvement but I haven't seen it. I agree it's not a great film, but I'll watch Barbara Steele in absolutely anything.

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  2. I'd heard that about She Beast, but as luck would have it, the used DVD I picked up was indeed the Dark Sky release. It looked pretty crisp and was presented in widescreen. There was only one small part that had a weird phantom watermark on it, but it passes quickly.

    It's unfortunate that Ms. Steele is not in the film more, but it was still worth a watch. Like you, I will also watch anything she is in.

    Thanks for the comment.

    ReplyDelete
  3. jervaise brooke hamsterFebruary 6, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    Have you seen or reveiwed "THE SORCERERS" (1967)? its on youtube (i think).

    ReplyDelete

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