She Demons (1958)
She Demons is a fun little 1950s monster movie with some interesting twists and more than a few pretty girls. This drive-in classic is the type of movie that I enjoy watching, and reviewing, as it knows how to be scary without being pointlessly gory. Did I mention the pretty girls?
On to the show!
We open with a raging hurricane in the...uh, what ocean exactly? The Caribbean, you'd think, but it's never explicitly said and it could just as easily be the South Pacific. Where ever it is, the storm catches a small boat and drives it under, tossing its four occupants up on an uncharted volcanic island (sure, like these exist, even in 1958). The four survivors will be our film's hero, heroine, a comic relief dude, and an expendable Red-Shirt-Ensign.
The hero has some bland, Eisenhower-era name, but I proclaim him to be Lance-Squarejaw, all-American whitebread toast vanilla male. He smokes his Winstons unfiltered, drinks his scotch straight, eats his steaks rare, greases his hair back daily, pulls his pants up a few inches too high, and combs his strategically placed chest hair soul-patch to accentuate his red-blooded, commie-hating, deck shoe-wearing awesomeness.
The heroine has a name also, I'm sure, but let's just call her Polly-Purebred. She's a typical 1950's rich, spoiled, privileged socialite, who, of course, secretly yearns to be dominated by a man and be chained to an oven, barefoot and pregnant. What's she look like? Let's run down the list...
--Hair moussed as strong as Kevlar? Check.
--Mascara and eyeliner applied with a deck mop? Check.
--Cute but impractical high-heeled pumps? Check.
--High-waisted belted shorts? Check.
--Open-necked starched blouse? Check.
--Buxom Vargas figure that exudes pent-up sexuality? Check effing plus!
Polly-Purebred (she should be on the nose of a B-29).
The comic relief dude is your standard pre-civil rights insultingly offensive ethnic portrayal done with a smile, so let's call him Racial-Stereotype. He's the standing embodiment of White 1950s America's love of the Good Asians, which were the Hawaiians and Polynesians, not the Chinese for obvious reasons (and certainly not the Japanese, except if you were on shore leave in Tokyo, then their women were acceptable). He's got his flowered shirt, his Don Ho haircut, his crisp white pants, his genial comic nature, and his non-threatening occasional Asian accent to put Middle America at ease.
The not-long-for-this-world Red-Shirt-Ensign is just some old foreign guy, who might as well be carrying around his last will and testament in his pocket. Let's move on.
Red-Shirt-Ensign on the right, note Lance's chest hair patch, that's cute.
We get some scenes on the beach after the shipwreck as they set up camp to await rescue. Polly is a bitch for the first ten minutes, but predictably softens under the patient eye of Lance and his shirtless ways. They are oh so going to be boinking one day. Polly even shows her Paris Hilton-like wild side by exposing her bare shoulders to the camera for a few seconds, which was sure to drive the young men in the audience to proximal seizures of pleasure (hey, it was 1958, the Sears-Roebuck catalogue with its bare-ankle models was considered hard-core porn back then).
Nekkidness! My God! My eyes!
Racial-Stereotype and Red-Shirt-Ensign have somehow managed to salvage the ship's radio (which you wouldn't think is possible as it's a heavy hunk of metal in a less-than-waterproof box). From this they learn that they are missing and already considered dead (after just a day of searching by the Coast Guard, nice to see they gave it up so soon!). They also hear that the island is scheduled to be bombed by the US military any day now!
Soon afterwards they hear some far-off drums beating in the jungle. Not having ever heard the quote about curiosity killing the cat, they head off to investigate, leaving Red-Shirt-Ensign behind (because he's fat). They find nothing and return to the beach camp, where (shockingly predictably) they find Red-Shirt-Ensign dead with bamboo spears buried in his chest. The radio is also conveniently smashed and footprints are everywhere.
They also find nearby a island girl lying on the beach, dead with a knife wound. When they flip her over they see she has the face of a monster! Wow, that's a bad mask, sort of like a community center craft hour papier mache art project with buggly eyes, straggly hair, and laughably distended fangs. Oddly, the girl is only a scary killer monster from the jawline up, the rest of her is pure cinnamon-skin Bo Derek-on-the-beach hotness.
Our heroes follow the drums again and this time see a gaggle of island girls doing a dance! Right there in the middle of nowhere, in the jungle, just doing a nicely choreographed dance number to the beat of a conga drum, seriously. All the girls are young dark-skinned cuties with perky boobs and stylish hair. They were actually a semi-famous dance troupe, hired by the director to both act and dance, as well as provide some eye candy.
Just then the palm fronds part and a squad of Nazi soldiers arrive and round them up! WTF? Nazis? In my beach movie with spooky monsters and raven-haired beauties? Nazis?! The soldiers are mean and rotten, and wear the black uniforms of the dreaded SS, along with coal bucket helmets, knee-high boots, and Garand carbines. Clearly this uncharted island is a hold-out Nazi base, still active a full 13 years after the end of the war.
Nazis! One wonders about the utility of steel helmets on a tropical island.
They then spy one of the guards whipping a topless island girl to death for some unknown offense. Read that again, a Nazi goon brutally kills a chained-up half-naked woman by flogging her with a leather whip until she's dead. Seriously. This is not some shock-and-awe Italian exploitation movie, mind you, but a seemingly harmless 1950s drive-in monster flick, and even in black-and-white this scene surprised me. And yet, being a child of my generation, it takes a lot to truly shock me anymore. But, it's odd that I'm questioning the effect of this scene on a 1958 audience, which would have been chock full of men who had seen horrors beyond comprehension in the wars of the 1940s and 50s. Would a man who had seen his sergeant's entrails explode all over him and had his fingers frozen off retreating across the Nakdong River really be that shocked to see a woman being whipped by a Nazi, especially as the scene is cut and staged to not really show anything graphic?
Discipline for the ladies, Salon Kitty-style.
Anyway, our three heroes sneak into the underground base (why?). There is zero perimeter security (though you'd not really expect any) and they manage to make it all the way down into the labs, where they realize that some evil science is going on. Eventually, the head guard finds them by accident and all hell breaks loose. Lance-SquareJaw and the portly shirt-busting head guard rumble, and much to my surprise, Lance-SquareJaw gets it handed to him, lucky to get away with just bruises and a bloody lip. He does manage to hold off the Nazi long enough to allow his companions to escape into the jungle.
Guard fight. The stuntmen who do the actual fighting will look nothing (and I mean nothing) like these two actors.
Being the bumbling sort, however, it's no surprise that the three of them are soon captured by armed guards. They are taken to meet the leader of this base, a brilliant, if warped, Nazi scientist with a bad comb-over, a long cigarette holder, and that haughty air of a man who knows he's on the devilish side of science and is loving every minute of it. Let's call him the Colonel, as he is, indeed, a Colonel in Hitler's SS.
The Colonel (you know he's evil by the way he smokes).
The Colonel is the prototype of the sinister Bond villain, taking this opportunity to tell our heroes about his dastardly plans in full and gory detail, leaving no secrets untold. He describes the layout and construction of the base and why it is still hidden from prying Allied eyes and he brags about his crack troops and their shiney guns. He also flatly tells them that, now that they've seen it all, they can never leave the island alive (Bhuwhahwhawha!). Oddly, our three leads seem to not really be in a hurry to escape and their protestations are more fake bluster than genuine outrage. They seem like they could overpower this old man and make some sort of effort to escape, but they just stand there and banter about history and science.
The Colonel's wife now comes in, excited to meet the visitors (she sees them more as guests than intruders). The woman is wearing a thick cloth mask which completely covers her head and face, though she's polite and pleasant (and speaks fluent New Jersey English, not for nothing). After she's gone, the Colonel explains that his wife's face was horribly disfigured in a lab accident while here on the island.
The wife arrives.
The Colonel goes further and says that he's found a way to suck the life energy out of test subjects (the kidnapped local island girls we saw earlier), insert this stolen chi into his wife's veins and make her sexy again. He claims this is an old Nazi-era secret that they were working on during the war. In some ill-explained side-effect of this process, the test girls are turned into "she demons", beastly wicked creatures who have regressed to a primeval state of violence and growling. But, fear not, the monster effects are only temporary, in a week or so they return to their normal state (smokin' hot) and can thus be used again. The other side effect is that the subject has total amnesia for life! So, the she-demon who killed the Red-Shirt-Ensign escaped somehow and was out running around in rage? Or do they release them to roam around and then have to catch them again? That seems dumb, as they are obviously extremely violent and dangerous.
She Demon again. And, yes, all this reeks of Island of Lost Souls.
Suddenly, right in the middle of a normal shooting-schedule day in the filming of our movie, the studio owner walks into a morning production meeting and says he feels that the movie needs MORE SCIENCE! As the director screeches in protest and the script writer has a massive stroke right there at the table, the studio head explains that last night he was watching television and realized that science is what all the cool hep cat kids are into, and that means technobabble and big ambitious explodey things, cutting edge stuff. More science in She Demons or else! With that vague imperious order, the studio head wanders off to annoy someone else. So now the Colonel isn't just doing genetic research, but now he's messing with Mother Nature's roaring internal furnace, the very magma in the heart of the island's volcano. Geo-thermal power, unlimited energy! A perpetual motion machine driven by volcanic heat! Science! Does it have a damn thing to do with the plot so far? No. Does it alter the plot in any way at all? No. Does it sound horribly tacked-on and out-of-place? Yes. Is it based on a junior high understanding of geophysical science? Most certainly. Is it in there anyway? Sadly so.
Stock Footage Lava! 'Tis hot! The Colonel says it's "65,000 degrees F" (which is wrong) and that "if it cools by as little as 1,000 degrees the surface of the earth would be covered by a layer of ice" (which makes me laugh).
Anyway, once all that is done, we learn that the Colonel wants Polly-Purebred for her blood to make his wife sexy again. It seems that the island girls' blood is growing weak and he needs a new source. But the Colonel is also enthralled by Polly-Purebred's impressive beauty and is determined to have her as her love-slave (her Aryan Nordic looks give her a leg up over the impure foreign girls on the island). He wines and dines her late at night, he dressed in his full Nazi uniform and she forced to wear a revealing black cocktail dress that used to belong to his disfigured wife (creepy beyond words). If we learned anything from Prince Henry, it's that chicks dig Nazi uniforms, but in this case Polly-Purebred only has eyes for Lance-SquareJaw and his dreamy forelock and rebuffs his advances. The Colonel's attempted meatstaff ka-schwing is witnessed by his peeking wife. While she doesn't confront him then, she knows it's over and any chance of a normal married life is gone.
The Colonel, who is a foot shorter than her, tries his best with Polly, who has a bit of Katherine Heigel working here.
It's also quite clear by the Colonel's dialogue that he's fully aware that the war ended long ago and that Germany came out on the short end of the stick. So I have to wonder why he's still holding so firm to the Nazi cause. He never really has a legitimate reason for keeping the Nazi dream alive. He never once says that he's doing all this research on serums and volcanoes so that one day the new Reich will rise again, or that he suspects that the Fuehrer is still alive and well and hiding in Argentina (which he was, Hitler lived until 1970, that's just historical fact). How do you maintain morale and unit cohesion in such an isolated setting? How do you keep your soldiers committed and on-cause for nearly two decades, when it would be apparent soon that something bad has happened to the Fatherland (no resupply runs would be the first clue)? Sure, you'd have your die-hard Nazis, willing to fight to the bitter end, but the rank-and-file soldier would be hard to keep in line for so long. Stomping around in full uniform and holding to the strict Army code of conduct, fighting for a nation, a cause, and a Fuehrer that have long ago changed, does not sound like much fun. Especially when your troops are encamped on an idyllic tropical island and have ready access to a bevy of beautiful young girls. The Colonel might be able to maintain discipline at first, but you'd think at some point he'd end up with a bullet in his head and the soldiers would set about enjoying the beach life. [Editor Pam: It's possible that he carefully selected only war criminals to take with him. Being stuck on a tropical island forever probably would be more appealing than being hanged. Either that, or he and Captain Jinguji from Atragon attended the same OCS, where they were taught some intense motivational techniques. But the SS actually did have tropical uniforms, so the real question is, How does he make his troops wear black wool uniforms in the middle of a jungle? And ties?]
Meanwhile, Lance-SquareJaw and Racial-Stereotype are taken off to be "entertained" by the guards, who must be bored with abusing young native girls and should be tickled pink to take their aggressions out on this smarmy American and his ethnically neutral sidekick. After the gruesome death of the topless lady before, I was fully expecting something nasty, but having to walk around in a circle aimlessly holding a heavy hunk of wood while people laugh at you sounds more like a typical day at my workplace and not Nazi torture.
Monday morning staff meeting.
They escape with the help of Polly-Purebred, who has also managed to slip the oily clutches of the Colonel. But they are captured again and in no time the Colonel has Polly-Purebred strapped down on a table to extract her sexy-serum. Note that she's wearing the same white outfit she had on before, not the black dress she was captured in, so either the Colonel let her change clothes before experimenting on her, or this scene was filmed out of sequence.
Polly is menaced by the Colonel. See, I told you, men in white lab coats are evil.
The US Navy starts bombing now (at the most plot-friendly convenient time possible), as stock footage jets drop stock footage bombs on the stock footage island. The Colonel is killed when his supposedly bomb-proof underground lab is shattered by the bombing (though that window looking out onto the jungle seems to suggest that maybe his bunker wasn't quite deep enough). Our three heroes escape the carnage, with the help of the Colonel's wife, who has had a change of heart. Once outside the base's walls, she stops them and tells them that she's going back in to die with her husband, his sins are hers as well. She then exposes her face in the film's big special effects money shot, which is a de-fleshed boney skull with glowing eyes! Eeewww!
The volcano is exploding now in a collage of stock footage clips! They escape in the nick of time, fighting off the last few surviving guards along the way. Watch as Lance-SquareJaw shoots a Nazi dead from two hundred yards away with a pistol fired from the hip (a true sign of American manliness, aiming is for pansies, and the English). Lance-SquareJaw and Polly-Purebred are sure to get married now, and she'll realize her lifelong dream of mixing martinis for breakfast, cold stares across the table, and unreported spousal abuse. Racial-Stereotype is off to get a job at the Benihanas down in Dulles. Hey, what about the island girls? Apparently they were collateral damage.
The blue circle is a Nazi soldier that Lance-SquareJaw shoots off the ridgeline, though notice that he's not even pointing his gun in the man's general direction (red line). He died of shame, apparently, blinded by Lance's sheer awesomeness.
[Editor Pam: Usually when I see a movie or read a book about die-hard escaped Nazis planning some dastardly activity based on brilliant, highly-advanced scientific research, my response is, "If they're so smart, how come they lost the war?" But in this case, it's perfectly understandable how people like the ones in this movie lost the war. The movie might have seemed scarier when it was first made, when there were still escaped Nazis who weren't senile.]
Written in July 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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