Being a shitty movie fan is most rewarding when some obscure piece of cinematic ineptitude turns out to be entertaining. It’s impossible to know beforehand how one will react to a shitty movie. Every entertaining shitty movie is an unexpected surprise — the reward that makes slogging through the muck worth it. Today’s ’50s flick is part of the muck.
Released in 1956, The She-Creature comes from American International Pictures. AIP may have released a good flick here and there, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. It really was a clearing house for schlock.
Written by Lou Rusoff (no stranger to the Horrorshow) and directed by Edward L. Cahn, The She-Creature tells the story of a beachside community that is being terrorized by a creature from the sea. That short plot outline is pretty typical of monster fare of the era. So, what sets this flick apart?
The monster in this film isn’t some mutant birthed from radiation or an unknown species discovered when humankind, in its ignorance, barges into its home. The monster in this film is the physical manifestation of one of the character’s past lives, from way back in prehistory. That’s pretty neat for a flick like this.
The monster didn’t just pop into existence out of thin air. Rather, it is the result of deep hypnosis performed on Andrea Talbott (Marla English) by carnival sideshow mystic Carlo Lombardi (Chester Morris).
Morris as Lombardi is a real treat. This is the type of shitty movie that is packed top to bottom with dull reads. The worst offender is the film’s hero, Dr. Ted Erickson (Lance Fuller). Erickson is Lombardi’s foil, representing science and logic against Lombardi’s claims of supernatural powers. Fuller’s range consisted of puzzled looks and blank stares. Often, his lines were incomprehensible because he was mumbling while he said them. It’s one of the worst performances one will likely come across in shitty movies.
Thank goodness, then, for Morris. It’s not that his performance is good. That’s not what I was looking for from this shitty movie, anyway. Rather, his shittiness is captivating in a way that Fuller’s was not. It begins with Morris’s wig. Sure, the wig isn’t his fault, but there it is, right on the screen, sitting on top of his head and creating a hairline that is magic marker perfect.
Then there is Morris’s creepiness. Morris hovers about this film like the weird guy in the coffee shop, or the person talking to themselves in the library. His character is unapproachable, but also so unpleasant that instinct would make one shy away. When Lombardi would give hypnotic commands to Talbott, Cahn had him hover over her face, inches away. Talbott had to feign unconsciousness, but there are a couple moments here and there where one can see her nose crinkle. Morris’s character is something out of gothic horror, and it’s easy to picture a Hammer stalwart, such as Christopher Lee, in the role. That would have helped the quality of the film, for sure, but would have removed an essential part of this film’s shittiness.
Another wonderfully shitty aspect of this film is the monster. It’s not seen all that much. It’s also not all that great. But, this is a low-budget ’50s monster flick, so a viewer shouldn’t be expecting much. The creature is a foam rubber suit. It looks like a lobster, with claws to match. What makes the monster shitty gold is that, since it’s supposed to be Talbott’s distant ancestor, or something, the filmmakers decided to give it a feminine touch to let the audience know this isn’t a completely alien creature. So, and I shit you not, the monster has a blonde wig. We’re talking flowing and glowing locks. Conditioned, styled, shimmering, gloriously blonde hair.
The overall quality of The She-Creature is bleak. Cahn had so little to work with, about $100,000, that some interior sets have unpainted plywood walls. I can’t let Cahn off of the hook completely for this shitty movie, as other filmmakers have done more with less. The She-Creature is one of those plodding shitty flicks that seems created for the sole purpose of filling up frames of film. It was shot, it was released, and AIP moved on to the next shitty movie.
There’s much to appreciate in Morris’s sublimely shitty performance, but it does little to help an otherwise dull film. The She-Creature is better than a Ray Kellogg film, worse than some Bert I. Gordon flicks, and lands far down in the Index at #201, between Bad Ben and Phantom from Space. Stay away.