AUGUST 5, 2009
It’s been a while, but I’ve finally found another movie on the Tales Of Terror set that made it worth the purchase. All I ask for is four good movies on these things - which would translate to about 5 bucks per film - but such films have been difficult to find on this set, which is half poverty row 1930s/40s junk and half 60s fare like The She-Beast (Italian: La Sorella Di Satana), which is a delightfully humorous take on the standard “couple enters strange town and gets menaced” plot.
Right off the bat I was enjoying myself, because the couple is a wonderfully sarcastic couple of pricks. They snidely mock each other, the people they talk to, their surroundings... it’s like if Fletch found a soul mate and decided to take her to Transylvania (which is called Transylvania-Town here). And some of their humor actually works into the plot; after encountering a creepy old guy, she asks him if he knows Dracula. He of course has no idea what she means, but later on they meet Van Helsing ('s descendent, but come on), so her smartass comment sort of comes full circle.
Also the wife is played by Barbara Steele, in a rare non-ghost/witch role. I love this woman dearly, so to see her playing someone on my wavelength (i.e. a charming jerk) added immensely to my enjoyment of the film. It’s a shame she didn’t get more roles like this (or, if she did, it’s an even bigger shame I haven’t found them yet). Apparently, she could only film for a day, likely due to having to play dual roles in sixteen other movies that day, so she’s not in it a lot, but she makes an impression.
I also liked the relationship between Helsing and the film’s hero, Ian Ogilvy. It reminded me a bit of the Polanski/Jack MacGowran dynamic in Fearless Vampire Killers (which came out a year later), and while the hero gets most of the funny lines, Helsing works in a few as well. Hell, even the antagonists are kind of funny; at one point a cop is admonishing their Igor type guy, who is panicking about his situation (being in jail) and the cop tries to calm him down by assuring him that “For running over a chicken you won’t get more than 2 years!”
Only bummer was the ending, which is pretty abrupt and not very satisfying. We spend like 5 minutes with a trio of cops trying to fix their car, before our hero and Helsing just quickly drown the monster and everything turns out OK. I would have liked a bigger battle, or at least not so much time spent with people who didn’t really matter. Plus, the score here is straight out of a Benny Hill episode; the movie has humor, but it worked because it was in an otherwise straight up horror plot. If you’re going to resort to farce/slapstick, it severely diminishes the impact of the horror angle.
The cropping was awful; while a few other scope films on the set got some semblance of a letterbox transfer, She-Beast did not. Adding insult to injury, there’s a gray and black stripe running over the right side of the frame, resulting in even MORE picture loss (plus it's a B&W transfer when it's a color film). There’s a bit where Helsing is yelling at Ogilvy, and except for Helsing’s hand occasionally swinging in and out of the shot, you can’t see anything but a hallway. Apparently, Dark Sky has recently released a widescreen transfer (with a commentary by Steele!), I might have to pick that up.
Also on that commentary is producer Paul Maslansky. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he produced all of the Police Academy movies, as well as similar films like Ski Patrol. It’s worth noting that I was far more amused by this than the bulk of his legit comedies. I won’t deny that it could have used some Michael Winslow though; the bad dubbing here resembles his Bruce Lee shtick anyway.
What say you?