Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SHE DEVIL (1957)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Kurt Neumann is the well-known director of one of the greatest mad scientist/monster movies of all time, THE FLY (1958). We’ve all seen it, and we’ve all quoted the infamous “Help meeee!” line in a falsetto voice. Neumann, however, was quite a prolific filmmaker, with many terrific little movies under his belt, including KRONOS (1957), CARNIVAL STORY (1954), ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950), and numerous Tarzan titles. Yet, everyone remembers him for his creation of a bulbous, fly-headed human. Far less known, is Kurt Neumann’s other insect/mad scientist horror movie, SHE DEVIL (1957), which he also wrote. No, this isn’t the Rosanne atrocity, but a full-blooded, low-budget shocker that surely freaked out the drive-in crowds.
The film opens in glorious black and white – A Regal Film (a company that went bust just after the release of SHE DEVIL, which explains the obscurity of the title…also, the movie was shot in Cinemascope, and most theaters weren’t able to handle the technology). We see a view through a microscope of an obviously hand-drawn fruitfly, which is what Dr. Scott (Jack Kelly of CULT OF THE COBRA, 1955 and FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956,) is looking at when he gets a visit from his colleague, Dr. Bach, played by stalwart character actor Albert Dekker (who was in THE KILLERS,1946, THE FURIES, 1950, EAST OF EDEN, 1955 and THE WILD BUNCH, 1969, but who is probably best known to genre fans for his portrayal of DR. CYCLOPS, 1940,). They discuss Scott’s new research, in which he is using the invulnerability of the fruitfly, which can heal itself through adaptation to its environment. Since fruitflies are the most adaptive of all insects and produce the most neutons (?), he creates a serum that has worked wonders on lab animals. “These guinea pigs were tubercular, and the serum cured them in three days!” His leopard turns from spotted to black after taking the drug, and it grows very aggressive (uh-oh!). He needs a human test subject, but, darn it, nobody wants to volunteer to ingest the serum during their final days.
Enter gorgeous Kyra Zelas, a dying woman in the final stages of tuberculosis, played by the lovely Mari Blanchard (ABBOT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS, 1953 and DESTRY, 1954). She has no relatives or friends or money, and no hope of surviving. The perfect subject for Scott’s serum! They inject her, and in just six hours, she is doing much better. In another day, she is fully recovered and admiring herself in a mirror. Her hair was never so lustrous! Dr. Scott starts to fall for Kyra, even after he can barely get a needle through her newly-strengthened skin. Luckily, it seems it has also given her a Max Factor makeover that is permanently beautifying her face.
Dr. Scott decides she should be kept under observation in case there are any side effects, so when she is released, she will be living with the good doctor so he can, ahem, keep an eye on her. When she heads to his house, she informs the men that “From now on, I’m going to do only what I want…everything I want. I’m going to get everything I can out of life. Everything I always wanted.” She starts by going to an expensive boutique where she observes a sugar daddy buying stuff for his woman and flashing a lot of cash around. She grabs the money, bashes the man over the head with an ashtray, and heads for a dressing room. By shaking her hair out, shampoo-commercial style, she changes from brunette to blond, a really cool special effect for the time. After changing into another dress, she fools everyone, even the police, and uses the stolen money to buy a new wardrobe.
Dr. Scott is easily fooled by the beauty, but Dr. Bach sees her for the conniving little tramp she is. He discovers she hasn’t dyed her hair blonde; she is mutating! His warnings fall on deaf ears as Scott throws a sort of coming out party for her. This is where she meets insanely wealthy no-goodnik Barton Kendell (John Archer of DESTINATION MOON, 1950 and BLUE HAWAII, 1961) and his shrewish wife Evelyn (Fay Baker of NOTORIOUS, 1946 and THE STAR, 1952). “Now, Evelyn, you know we never quarrel till our third drink.”
Barton flirts shamelessly with Kyra, who encourages his attentions, but when Evelyn says she wants to leave the party, Kyra does her head-shake again, turning her blond hair brown (there’s a Crystal Gayle song in there somewhere.) Then, she kills Evelyn in the garden by using her super-strength to strangle the older woman. She’s spotted, but everyone is looking for a brunette, and she’s reverted back to blond again!
Scott and Bach decide to create an anti-serum in case Kyra gets out of hand. They are too late, however, and she’s had a taste of freedom. She allows the black leopard in the lab to claw her, and the bloody wound heals in seconds. She can’t be injured, no matter how badly she is attacked. They try to drug her, but she wakes up and threatens them before departing for richer shores.
She marries the smitten millionaire Barton Kendell, but she grows bored with him quickly and their marriage turns sour. “Stop pawing me!” she cries out. On a drive, she spins the car’s wheel, sending the car over the cliff with Barton and herself inside. “Stop it, Kyra, you’ll kill us!” “Not US, Bart. Not US!” (The car crash footage is from a Robert Mitchum movie, ANGEL FACE, 1952). At the bottom of the cliff, she emerges unscathed from the wreckage and walks back to Dr. Scott, who welcomes her with open arms, even though he knows how evil she is!
Will Dr. Bach convince Scott of what a monster Kyra has become? Will she succeed in taking out Bach and living with the man who loves her? Can they operate on her to restore Kyra to normalcy (in other words, not a murderous, thieving witch with fabulous hair)?
SHE DEVIL is loaded with bitchy, fun dialogue (“I’m not creating a scene. You are.” “Oh yeah? I’m not the one necking with this trollop!” SLAP! “You don’t want a divorce; you might actually have to marry one of your girls.”). Sometimes, the script gets a bit too talky for its own good, but when the words coming out of the characters’ mouths are so tasty, who cares? The crisp cinematography is by the great Karl Struss, who worked on SUNRISE (1927), Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940), and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932), before moving on to trashy greats like THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) and Neumann’s own THE FLY. The acting is fine, if a bit over the top, with Mari Blanchard standing out as the murderous, monstrous, indestructible femme fatale. She gyrates and whispers and is sex personified. Plus, that hair trick is awfully cool.
On a side-note, co-star Albert Dekker, the star of so many terrific, Oscar-nominated films, is also the victim in one of Hollywood’s most notorious death scenes. In May of 1968, he was discovered on his knees, dead in a bathtub with a noose around his neck, hand-cuffed, a ball gag in his mouth, blindfolded, with sexual words written on his body in lipstick! The coroner declared the death was “accidental”, and he was cremated. Today, he is remembered more for his sexually kinky death than his body of work, and that’s a sad thing. We at Bill’s Bizarre Bijou loved the guy’s over the top performance in SHE DEVIL, as well as his nuanced portrayals in other, more mainstream films.
SHE DEVIL is a fun sci-fi/horror hybrid with an unforgettable female lead and more than a few memorable moments. Plus, Olive Films has released a stunning Blu-Ray of the film which looks absolutely beautiful.
I give SHE DEVIL three fruitflies out of four.
© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl