The most astounding aspect of this stinker is that former editor-turned-director Ronald V. Ashcroft managed to craft not only a visually dead movie, but allowed for some continuity blunders as big and bright as the sun.
There’s no effort to hide the fact footage in the final act was partly shot at night and later during the bright daytime; no attempt to create a tense atmosphere by physically moving the camera inside the mountain lodge to avoid revealing the ludicrously high walls of a big, wide soundstage; no attempt to ensure ‘the astounding she-monster’s’ hair is kept dry during the damp exterior shots AND not show the zipper in her lyrcra jumpsuit in one revealing shot; and hide the tire tracks of the car on which the camera crew is riding to film said she-monster walking down a wooded path.
Ashcroft probably blew the bulk of the film’s budget on two shots – stock footage of the moon approach from Edward Bernds’ World Without End (1957), and an optical dissolve in the final reel – because there’s little doubt he shot more than a few takes of a few scenes which were edited to expand a 40-45 min. banality to legal feature length.
So why is this film even worth the time, let alone scribbling some thoughts?
Setting aside Ashcroft’s connection to Ed Wood, Jr. for a moment, there’s the basic story that predates and was arguably borrowed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in their 1996 genre bender, From Dusk Till Dawn. If one casts aside the film’s prologue (with the stock footage), She-Monster begins as a kidnapping crime thriller and flips to sci-fi when the crooks and victims are trapped in an isolated building (the cabin) while an alien force (lyrcra-girl) roams the grounds. At some juncture, the creature infiltrates their secure little bubble, and it becomes a fight to the death.
(Then again, one can also posit Jess Franco’s excruciatingly dull 1980 thriller, Devil Hunter / Sexo Canibal, as being somewhat inspirational, since that also deals with kidnappers trapped on an island with a groaning cannibal gymnast.)
She-Monster is also part of Ed Wood’s realm since director Ashcroft was assistant director on Wood’s 1959 stinker Night of the Ghouls, as well as being photographed by Woods’ longtime cinematographer William C. Thompson, the bright bulb responsible for the mismatched shots in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). (Incredibly, Thompson was a veteran cinematographer whose career began in the teens, and included some early exploitation classics like Duane Esper’s 1934 shocker, Maniac.)
Does She-Monster have that Woodsian touch? Hard to say, but the dialogue is magnificently inept, as are abrupt statements meant to move the tale along. We’re treated to repeatedly lame efforts of the dwindling group as they leave the cabin/return to the cabin/leave the cabin/return to the cabin, and repeatedly encounter the monster clearly smart enough to return, as well as the same footage used to create ‘sudden encounters’ and extended flights through the woods; Ashcroft literally picks up shots where he left them after taking the top half in prior scenes.
The creature is basically a zaftig woman who walks very slowly, arms poised like Vampira’s in Plan 9 (hardly threatening), and she’s shot with a loose lens and smeared Vaseline to convey (rather successfully at times) an ethereal presence; in long shots, it works, but up close, she’s just a burlesque dancer playing lycra girl (Shirley Kilpatrick).
Viewers are urged to be patient with the first third; it’s slow and mind-numbingly dull, even though it involves cross-cutting between the wander alien and the kidnappers making their way to the mountains, where they eventually commandeer a geologist’s cabin. Only when the creature appears in a window does the stench of Z-movie fromage finally hit the nose, and you’re in for a treat.
The music score (credited in the film to Guenther Kauer) is about four or five long tracks of stock music that rarely matches the film’s mood or action, and the sound mix is horrible; dialogue is unevenly miked, sound effects are minimal (hence tracking whole scenes with music), and Ashcroft opts for a narrator much in the way Woods applied one to ‘smoothen’ bad narrative jumps with melodramatic commentary. (It’s highly likely Woods wrote, if not suggested, the narration, because it contains the same sad, reflective poetry as his Plan 9 gibberish.)
Corinth’s DVD includes a hastily cobbled trailer, and the film transfer is okay, given the source print is all beat up, with a weak and crackly optical track. Only qualm is the “Wade Williams Distribution” text that’s been superimposed over the space prologue – something Williams notoriously applied to early video versions of the films he acquired. The DVD cover art adapts some of the original campaign material, but the original poster really should’ve been used in its entirety – it’s a brilliant work of tease and promised thrills that are nowhere to be found in the finished product.
One must allow the fromage to breathe on its own, unblemished by modern cosmetic ingredients. Yes?
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan