Sunday, February 17, 2008

The She Beast - not very beastly

We have been attending Schlock Cinema 101 taught by Professor Fred Hopkins. If you live in Seattle and get Commiecast channel 28, hopefully you have seen Professor Fred host Movie Marvels on Friday nights at 9 (Saturday afternoon at 3). The class is six weeks long and every week we watch a different example of Schlock Cinema, in addition Professor Fred gave each of us a movie to take home and view with the object being to give a movie review in class. Luckily the speaking in class portion is optional because I do not perform well in front of others. Anyway the movie I was given to watch is The She Beast made in 1966 and starring Barbara Steele who may already be known to you as the star of Mario Bava's Black Sunday a film I have not seen yet but have heard great things about.

The She Beast takes place in Transylvania and starts with a car weaving down a country road, a drunken old man gets out, goes into a furnished cave, plops onto a bed and begins reading from the diary of Count Van Helsing circa 1765. We then flashback to 1765 where a funeral is occurring. Suddenly a small child bursts into the church and yells that She has taken another one! The angry villagers mob and go after her completely disregarding the warnings of a little person who tells them its not the right time and they should wait for the Count to do the exorcism. The villagers capture the witch and take her to a lake where they promptly strap her to a dowsing chair and proceed to drown her but not before she manages to curse them all and say "I'll be back".

Flash back to present day where we meet our hero and heroine, Patrick and Veronica, traveling through Transylvania on their honeymoon. They are of course lost and decide to spend the night in a hotel in the village where unbeknownst to them a witch was drowned 200 years ago. At the hotel they meet Count Van Helsing a descendant of the Count from 1765 and a proud member of the family who rid Transylvania of the Draculas. His job, as he tells Patrick and Veronica, is to hang out and wait for the chance to protect the village from any Satanic problems. Later that evening Patrick gets into a fight with the hotel manager prompting the manager to monkey with their car engine. This may or may not be what causes their car to lose control the next day and drive into the very lake where the witch was drowned. A helpful truck driver who saw the accident rescues Patrick and what he thinks is the body of Veronica but turns out to be the witch's body; she has possessed the soul of Veronica and used it to come back to life to take vengeance on the villagers who drowned her 200 years ago, coincidentally it is the anniversary of her drowning. Will Count Van Helsing be able to convince Patrick the witch is real, will they be able to exorcise the witch in time to recover Victoria from the lake, will there be a happily ever after?

This movie was strange, if you ignore the not very creative plot, there are a whole host of other things which really bugged me most importantly was the witch. Right from the start we are never shown her behaving as a witch or actually killing the small child she supposedly took. I must confess it appeared to me as if the villagers were simply using an old, very ugly woman as the excuse for their troubles. My sympathy was with the witch from the start and as the movie went on my sympathies only got stronger. The present day villagers are no better than the lynch mob villagers of the past. The hotel manager likes to peek into guests windows and watch them having sex and he tried to rape his niece. The truck driver who I thought was friendly and helpful at first coerces the manager to help him hide the accident from the police because he will go to jail if the accident is discovered, and the other villagers don't have a clue what is going on because they are busy attending a cock-fight!!! And yes they show the dead cock after the fight!! Some other irritating items were the constant anti-Communist references as if the director had decided the movie was to be a political statement and the police chase scene which felt like a Keystone cops routine. And lastly was the fact that even though Barbara Steele is the first billing star of the movie she is only actually in it for about 10 minutes. This movie was a mess that could have been so much better. So sad.

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