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Sunday, March 15, 2009

She Demons

Here is yet another example from the gray area between horror films and sci-fi. As a low-B picture, it's not an especially strong example of either. It double billed with Giant From The Unknown, the only other film produced by Screencraft Productions. It's claim to membership in the sci-fi sphere is thin. Dr. Osler is conducting some vague medical processes and does spew some techno-blather about hormones. He also rambles about extracting electrical energy from the lava beneath the island. That, however, is about as far as the "science" of the fiction goes. True, She Demons has many of the shortcomings which befall most low budget B productions. It is clearly aimed at the young male audience. It stars Irish McCalla (famed for her "Barbie" physique) and the poster's promise of many more babes in short skirts. Yet, She Demons' quirky mixture of tropes and themes has a charm to it. This may explain why it has developed a cult following as one of those "so bad they're good" movies.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A hurricane shipwrecks a spoiled heiress and three men who work for her father. Their uncharted island is used for US Navy bombing exercises, but turns out to be inhabited. One of the men is killed by spears. The others find the island inhabited by both deformed-faced women, and a group of beautiful scantily clad 20-somethings who like to preform interpretive dance. These are all rounded up by some Nazi soldiers and returned to their bamboo cages. Dr. Osler is extracting the beauty from the young women, to try to restore his wife Mona's badly burned face. The process makes the young woman have a 'demon' face for a few days. Fred, Sammy and Jerrie sneak into the lab later, but are caught by Osler's sergeant. Fred and Igor fight, with Igor eventually getting locked into the cage full of she-demons who kill him. The three escape, but are captured by more SS soldiers. In custody, Olser tells all the back story of concentration camp days, Mona and his experiments, etc. Fred and Sammy are locked up. Osler puts the moves on Jerrie as a replacement for poor Mona. Jerrie whacks Olser with a champaign bottle and escapes with the help of Mona. Eventually, all three are recaptured by Osler. Since Jerrie continues to spurn Osler, he has her on the transfer table. Just then, Mona objects and the Navy starts bombing. The explosions free Fred and Sammy. Cracks in the walls cause "lava" to engulf Osler. Mona opts to stay and die with her husband. SS soldiers chase the fleeing three, but they escape. The soldiers do not. At the beach, Jerrie and Fred proclaim their long suppressed love for each other. Confident that the Navy will come to examine the island for all the new lava flows, they row out into the sea for safety. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Some have moaned about how 'bad' this movie is, but it is chock full of classic trope remakes. More on those below. She Demons is pure B movie, and can be enjoyed as such.

Cold War Angle
This movie is much more of the "mad scientist" genre than anything related to the Cold War.

Remade Moreau -- There is a strong homage to the 1932 film, Island of Lost Souls. The protagonist(s) arrive on an uncharted island via shipwreck. On the island is a mad doctor and a population of people suffering disfigurement from his experiments. Where Charles Laughton's Dr. Moreau was somewhat ingratiating and smarmy, Rudolph Anders' Moreau-like Dr. Osler pushed ingratiation to extremes. We also get a recast of the '32 manimals mobbing Moreau scene, with the she-demons mobbing cruel sergeant Igor.

From Villain to Henchman -- A small side note is the actor Gene Roth who plays Dr. Osler's chief thug, an SS Oberscharführer (sergeant). In the early 50s, Roth was the chief interplanetary villain -- Vultura -- in the Video Ranger serials. Despite his added age, and fall in rank, Roth manages to still give a suitably villainous performance.

Farming Babes -- Another bit of trope recycling is Osler using the young women to make his wife beautiful again. He's farming the young ladies, as it were, to harvest their beauty. This was the trope within The Corpse Vanishes (1942) in which Bela Lugosi is using extracts from dead brides to keep his old wife looking young. The notion of the young being sacrificed to maintain the old, has deep roots.

Lost Women -- She Demons has several of the distinguishing characteristics of the "Lost Women" sub-genre. There have been several of these already in this tour of '50s sci-fi. Catwomen of the Moon ('53), Fire Maidens from Outer Space ('56) and Queen of Outer Space ('58), to name but a few. There were many others outside the sci-fi genre too. Prehistoric Women ('50), Bowanga Bowanga ('51) and Wild Women of Wongo ('58) as just a few of them. They share in common, an isolated or 'lost' group of beautiful 20-somethings who are discovered/found by some outsiders. The lost ladies have a penchant for group dance and are usually endangered by something. She Demons is clearly a member of the Lost Women sub-genre.

Logical Leap? -- To the inattentive, it may seem like a huge hole in the logic of the film (not that B films were famous for tight plot logic), that Fred, Sammy and Jerrie first see the pretty prisoner women doing their sensual group dance before getting rounded up by the SS troops. If the girls escaped their cages, why on earth were they just cavorting around a fire to drums? What kind of escape is that? Later in the film, Dr. Osler explains to Jerrie that the the "character X" transfer removes all memory from the victim. Even though their beauty returns in a few days, their memory never does. As such, all these escaped young beauties have nothing in their heads but the wild sensual inner woman. As Don Henley's song said it, "all she wants to do is dance, dance, dance." Surely, this is a young male fantasy. A bevy of perfect beauties with no past -- no fathers, no boyfriends, no plans. Only their nubile libido remains.

Liberated Über-Nazis -- One of the intriguing bits of She Demons is seeing Nazis liberated from the confines of WWII history and used as generic villains. Nazis had much screen time as villains in tons of war films. They also feature as shadowy villains in many non-war films too, but the stories were almost always set sometime between 1933-1945 (e.g. Casablanca ('42), Sound of Music ("1938"), The Hindenberg ('1937"), Raiders of the Lost Ark ("1936"), etc. etc. In She Demons we get to see generic (almost exaggeratedly stereotypic) Nazis who have broken free from the orbit of the war period -- free to ply their mythic menace anywhere, anytime. They wear pristine SS uniforms (despite being isolated on the island for over 12 years), and spout the usual generic movie-nazi lines like "Raus", "Schnell", "Schweinhund," and "Dumkopf" while doing only evil deeds (such as whipping a pretty young blonde) This freedom from history, by itself, is an intriguing feature.

Bottom line? She Demons will never impress anyone with its acting, sets or for having any deep social meaning. Horror fans and sci-fi fans will need to scale back their expectations, as it's tamely marginal in both genres. It is, however, a fun bit of entertainment if you let it be what it is, a B-movie.

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