Dearest friends, it is I, the Duke, writing to you from my estate in the south of France. Normally in this space I would relate to you my recent exploits, enthralling you with tales of odious gypsies in the darkest reaches of the globe. However, I will not be doing that this time, as I have been battling a curious malady that has forced me to stay close to home. Without going into specifics, let me instead suggest that if the Vicar invites you to accompany him to a brothel high in the Andes, a brothel filled with deformities cursed by what must be the most hate-filled god, politely decline.
Having nothing to do but smoke via my hookah, I had a trusty servant bring me a random sampling from the media library. I was pleasantly surprised when she returned with The She-Beast, starring the fabulous Barbara Steele. Made in 1966 by first-time director Michael Reeves, the movie was shot on a shoestring budget and was entirely made within 3 days. While this haste shows, we still get a movie that is wholly enjoyable, if for different reasons than me might first have expected. Let’s examine it more closely, shall we?
Our movie opens with a drunken old man driving a yellow car up to his “house”. I use house loosely because it’s really a cave, despite it having a front door and a little green mailbox. The cave is decorated with skulls, so props to his interior decorator. In his stupor, he stumbles over to his bed and picks up a book for some light reading. The book is an account of the nearby town’s witch problems some 200 years previous. Flashback time!
A boy flees through a forest and through fields, blood trickling down his forehead. Onward he runs, finally arriving at the village church. He pounds on the door, interrupting a funeral in progress, where most (probably all) of the townsfolk are gathered. The boy informs the villagers that the witch has taken his brother! The priest quickly calls for a torch-wielding posse. There’ll be an ol’ fashion witch-hunt tonight, oh yeah!
As they are rushing out the door, one of the priests of the church tries in vain to remind everyone that the Count should be sent for first, so that he can exorcise the demon out of the witch before they kill her, because if they don’t she’ll “forever be in our midst!” Ignoring him in their bloodlust, they rush into the hills anyway, torches waving. The procession finally arrives at the witch’s cave and the head priest steps forward. “Come forth, Sister of Satan!!” he bellows.
Screeching like a Turkish sailor who just paid good money to have a prostitute in high heels to stomp on his sack, the witch flies out of the cave in a rage. Her face looks like she began using boric acid as a pimple cleanser and didn’t know when to stop. Her hair could only be described as “kind”… the kind that grows on a goat’s ass. Wearing only a black dress and a bloody bone around her neck to accessorize, she strikes a fitting image for a bride of Satan.
She bites and claws, but quickly the villagers have her subdued. These folks really know how to show a witch a good time! Off to the lake they go, whereupon we are greeted by the sight of what I thought at first was a witch catapult. This movie would have vaulted into a hallowed 3+ Thumbs territory if they had loaded the witch into a catapult and launched her, screeching, out into the lake. Sadly, it turns out this was simply a dunking stool, or “ducking stool”, a medieval device designed to dunk people into water, sometimes for minor offenses, but eventually it grew to be used for determining if someone was a witch or not.
Here the villagers refer to it as the Chair of Chastisement, a fitting name given that they already know this lady is a witch and simply wish to dispose of her in as horrible way as they can. The witch is strapped into the chair, and then a giant heated spike is driven in through the back of it, into and through the witch’s body. These villagers know how to go the extra mile! The device is wheeled down to the water’s edge and the witch is then dunked repeatedly, and one must assume she is drowned. However, before they can properly torture her to death, the witch utters the classic “I’ll haunt this place, I’m super serious!” witch-curse. Why no one thought to gag her first isn’t covered.
Suddenly we are back in modern times. A young married couple are driving a VW Beetle through the Transylvanian countryside (also known as somewhere in Italy, where the movie was shot). We have Philip, played by Ian Oglivy, and Veronica, played by Barbara Steele. We learn they are lost, until a policeman comes by on a bicycle and recommends them an inn to stay the night at. They head off in search of the inn.
The inn, it turns out, seems to have only one room, and is run by a grotesque fat man who apparently is a Communist. The couple meets up with the drunk old man we saw reading the book at the start of the film. Turns out he’s a Van Helsing, decedent from a long line of Van Helsings who watch over this area, waiting on the witches curse to kick in. Meanwhile he spends his time getting toasted. Soon the couple is ensconced in their room, whereupon they start getting a bit randy.
What’s a perverted fatass of an innkeeper to do but watch? Groper (a fitting name) sneaks around back and watches the festivities. I was hoping here for some glimpse at Steele’s ample mammaries, but unfortunately we only get some cleavage, which really is enough, because, well, zang. Veronica catches him looking and alerts Philip, who rushes outside and repeatedly fucking BASHES Groper’s head into the wall! I thought he was dead, given all the blood, but no he’s ok it seems, waking up a bit later.
Groper rips the distributor cap out of the VW, out of revenge I guess, but this doesn’t work out too well, since Philip just barges into his room and gets it back after realizing it’s missing from the car. With that, the couple is on their way. Or so they think! Something, some “force”, takes over the car, and suddenly Philip can’t steer! Narrowly avoiding a lorry, they plunge off into the very lake the witch was drowned in! The truck driver, thinking he has some responsibility for what happened, drags Philip and Veronica out of the lake, but alas poor Veronica has expired!
The driver takes the unconscious Philip and the dead Veronica back to the inn. Groper helps him put the bodies in the kitchen. The driver leaves, fearing police involvement, and Groper sits down to wait on Philip to wake up, bottle of booze in hand. Philip finally comes around, and Groper drunkenly informs him of what went on. Rushing to check on his wife, Philip pulls back the cover they have over her to reveal… someone who isn’t his wife! It’s the witch! Of course, Philip and Groper don’t know this, and are quite perplexed as to what is going on. Luckily Van Helsing shows up. He’s the man with the plan.
Van Helsing whisks Philip away, back to his man-cave. He grabs a wooden totem, which looks quite phallic frankly, and begins reading from another of his books, trying to discern the best way to get rid of the witch. Philip becomes impatient, and runs off, heading back to town. Van Helsing can’t locate Philip, and heads back to the inn himself, wooden dildo in tow. He chants over the witch, bringing her back to life (so that she might be exorcised and killed properly, natch). He quickly regrets this decision, as the witch promptly chokes him into unconsciousness before running off into the forest.
Meanwhile, Groper is reclining on his soiled bed reading through a naughty book, when sudden a local girl bursts in through the front door. Seems she had been passing by when she heard some suspicious screeching in the woods. Groper, drunk and horny, throws the girl on his bed, ripping her shirt open and attempting to mount her. I could only compare this to an attractive girl being dry humped by a walrus. The girl gets away, fleeing in terror. Groper runs after her, calling for her to come back, when Philip walks up asking Groper to call the police. Startled, Groper swings the bottle he’s carrying before really looking to see whom it is. Philip is down!
Thinking Philip dead, Groper drags him into the middle of the road, where, after narrowly avoiding getting hit by the same lorry driver from before, Van Helsing finds him and pulls him to safety. Meanwhile, back inside the inn, Groper gets what’s coming to him, as the witch returns, sickle in hand, and proceeds to very messily murder Groper. It was about here that I realized the director was taking a different direction with this film. After killing him, the witch tosses the sickle onto the floor, where it comes to rest on a hammer, making the classic Soviet symbol!
The witch runs off, Philip and Van Helsing begin tracking her down. Their search leads to an alley in a small town, where a young boy has snuck out of his house in order to watch a cock fight through a window. The witch attacks, but the guys save the boy from certain death. Injecting the witch with something to knock her unconscious, they take her back to the inn and leave her.
Meanwhile the lorry driver finally turns himself into the police, and upon hearing his story the police chief decides more investigation is in order. Off to the inn they go! They discover the witch’s body, and load her up into a van, and speed off, just as Philip and Van Helsing are returning to finish the job. This sets off another corny set-piece of the movie that had me scratching my head. We get a way over-long chase scene in which the bumbling police drive all over trying to get their van back. The director uses sped-up camera techniques meant to convey speed, and the whole thing plays out like a Benny Hill skit.
Soon, though, the chase is over. The witch hops out and attacks the cops, who finally corner the van. Distracted, she doesn’t see Van Helsing sneak up and inject her yet again! Quickly they drag her down to the lake, strap her into the dunking stool, and dunk away, submerging her repeatedly. Suddenly, she is no longer on the chair! The guys have a moment of panic until a newly healed Veronica floats up out of the water!
Philip wades out and drags her to shore. She’s groggy and wet, but appears unharmed. We cut to later as Van Helsing admits there’s no longer a reason to stay in this country. He decides to accompany Philip and Veronica as they head back to England. All three pile into the VW and head out. Philip says he can’t wait to put Transylvania behind him, and Veronica says “Oh… I’ll be back.” Dum-dum-DUUUUUM goes the music! Quick cut to a close-up of Veronica’s face. She gives a sly smile, and repeats the line:
“I’ll be back.”
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. Did it blow me away? Heavens no! It came across as exactly what it was: A cheap movie with a cast of about 10 people made for as little as possible. However, it was terribly enjoyable. I loved the humor sprinkled throughout, especially the sickle and hammer shot. How could I not chuckle at that? The Benny Hill car chase was a bit much since it went on for so long, but overall it was evident the director, and all involved even, really tried to put their best foot forward and make a good movie with what they had.
In researching this film, it seems Barbara did this movie simply as a side project that she got paid $5000 to do over a 3 day period. Reeves, very young at 22, started crafting his techniques that would become more famous with his epic film Witchfinder General (also one of my favorite bands!) The film stock presented on this new DVD is the original Technoscope 35mm print, and overall it looks fairly descent. There were a lot of noticeable scratches, dust, and at one point what appeared to be a bubble creeping across a few frames, so it is evident that not a lot of restoration went into the final cut. I wish it had had some more care but at least it is watchable and in the correct aspect ratio.
In the end, I would have to give this film 2 Thumbs, mainly because we get to gaze upon Barbara Steele quite a bit, and also for the corny humor that I had to laugh at despite myself. With only one good scene of violence, when Groper gets sickled, there isn’t much gore to speak of, except for a few close-ups of the witch’s visage, oozing blood and such. The music also deserves special mention, I felt Ralph Ferraro’s score was fitting.
My friends, if you find yourself wanting some good witch-dunking entertainment, you could do a lot worse than The She-Beast.