Saturday, March 21, 2015

The She-Beast

The She-Beast (1966) is one of those horror movies that is bad, but not so bad it's good. An Italian production, it involves a witch who centuries ago was dunked to death in a lake in Transylvania. It is hard to see what makes her so evil other than her hideous makeup job--her face all pebbled and grotesque, her teeth snaggled. As usual for this kind of movie, she vows vengeance against the local populace for killing her.

Flash forward to the present day. A just-married English couple decide to honeymoon in Transylvania, of all places, just around the day when the witch is supposed to reappear. The husband loses control of the steering wheel and the car splashes into the accursed lake. The husband gets out safely, but his bride (Barbara Steele) is missing--presumably lost in the lake. The witch reappears, perhaps revived by a jolt of Steele's spirit or something. The rest of the movie is mostly Transylvanian village high-jinks, with a ludicrous car chase wherein bumbling cops try to catch the husband and a local count--von Helsing, no less--and a gratuitous cock fight, a lecherous innkeeper, and a witch who is asleep most of the time. Finally it all works out, with Steele restored to her groom. However, in the last line, Steele hints she'll be back--the obligatory frisson, but with a bit of a chill that works better than most of the dialogue in the movie.

The worst thing about this movie is that it can't decide what genre it belongs to: horror or comedy. If horror, it fails miserably. The witch has a genuinely ghastly face, invoking the deformed part of the deformed-destructive formula necessary for a horror movie. But she isn't really destructive. Supposedly she is killing people, but it never becomes clear who or how many she kills. The movie never stops for a body count. Most of the time the witch seems to be played for laughs.

However, if this is a comedy, it also fails miserably. The attempts at humor, especially those by the innkeeper and the Keystone Kops-like police, are overly broad and repetitious. There are a few mildly humorous lines that allude to the Communists who are running the country, and how they expropriated von Helsing's castle, forcing him to live in a cave. But there aren't enough to save the movie.

About the only appealing thing in the movie is Barbara Steele, who is beautiful as usual, and always on the balance beam between good and evil. But there isn't very much of her. Most of the time she is in the lake, where we can't see her, and instead have to look at grimmer things, such as her groom and the witch.

George Ochoa

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