Howdy folkses! Today we have a fairly solid, late 1950's horror film made in the glorious United Kingdom. It's a movie I've been aware of for some time, but until today I just never seemed to be in the mood for it when scrolling through the pages upon pages of my ever-increasing watch list. Perhaps it was the warm lethargy of a hazy Spring Sunday, or the fact that I'm still completely knackered from my hectic week of working through a global pandemic and not quite feeling ready to go back to it all, but today I just wanted something a bit moody and insubstantial. Womaneater turned out to be just the right medicine to cure my end-of-the-weekend malaise.

That's not to say that it doesn't have its flaws. It starts out pretty wonky, and it ends pretty wonky, but it's quite good in between, kind of like a sandwich made with locally roasted, artisinal peanut butter and your grandmother's prize-winning apricot preserves, but all you've got in the house is stale wonder bread and the supermarket is closed. It's not as good as it could have been, but you know you're gonna eat it anyway, and you'll probably even like it.

Thankfully Womaneater has that one vital ingredient that can balance out any amount of b-movie bitterness: authentic characters you genuinely care about. It's an untidy film to be sure, but highly enjoyable, and it proves you don't necessarily need to have a story that makes much sense in order to make something worth watching.

We open with a view of the Thames in London, just down river from Big Ben. We follow a distinguished-looking elderly gentleman into a distinguished-looking building with a sign on it indicating that he's just entered "The Explorers Club."

Once inside we meet two old guys and a young guy discussing the unlikely tale of an obscure tribe in the Amazon, which the old guy in the middle, Doctor Moran, claims has discovered a substance that can bring the dead back to life.

They'd better get some for the guy on the right. He's not looking too perky.

So Dr. Moran claims that a recently deceased member of their venerable establishment left him a map showing where to find the tribe and he's going to embark on an expedition there the following week. He asks Young Guy if he'd care to join him, and he says he'll consider it.

Young Guy seems to be an American, by the way, which seems a bit odd owing to the elitist history of gentlemen's clubs in London, but perhaps The Explorer is somewhat more egalitarian than The Savile or The Aethaneum.

A porter comes in and tells Moran he has a phone call, and as he leaves the room to take it he hands Young Guy the map to peruse, asking him to think about his offer.

The Old Guy in the Chair rouses himself just enough to cross the room and sit in another chair closer to the Young Guy. He asks if he's thinking of going on the sudden trip and he says he believes he will.

"I've nothing else to do aside from drink port and oil my umbrella."

Old Guy warns him that although Moran has a brilliant mind he's also a strange fellow with a "family taint." He claims that several members of Moran's family have been "sent away." Presumably to have those taints looked at by a qualified proctologist.

Young guy says he's heard about the taint, but this expedition sounds like such a jolly fine adventure, and Moran seems such an amiable fellow he doesn't see why he shouldn't follow him into the jungle to chase some madman's pipe dream.

Young Guy has one last look at the map then we fade to a Douglas DC-4 airliner flying off to South America. See, Nate? I can look up airplanes on the internet, too.

Although there's a pretty good chance I've gotten it wrong.

We get an aerial view of the Amazon then cut to the expedition itself, with them all wearing their little explorer hats and hacking through the dense foliage with machetes. There's some stock footage of crocodiles entering the water I'm sure I've seen in about three hundred other films, then the gang halts for a moment to get their bearings.

It seems Moran is ill with jungle fever, and not the kind Spike Lee told us about. Young Guy thinks perhaps they should take a rest, but Moran says he wants to carry on, that a little jungle fever never stopped him before and damn it, man it's not going to slow him down now. As they're about to resume they hear the faint, rhythmic sound of distant drums.

"By jove, I think it's Cosmic Slop!"

Moran refers to the drums as "tom toms" which, if that were the case, would place the tribe somewhere in India or Sri Lanka, or possibly in the middle of a Talking Heads concert, but most definitely not in the Amazon Basin. So, yeah, they're not tom toms. Earlier he claimed the tribe he's looking for were descended from the Aztecs, who lived all the way up in Mexico, and claimed their reanimating powers were a special kind of "juju," which is a term referring to religious practices from West Africa, so clearly this guy is really confused about both tribal cultures and basic geography.

In the distance the travelers can see a huge mound which they recognize from the map. They suddenly realize they're almost at the site their dead friend indicated as the home of the mysterious tribe!

We jump cut to an ancient ruin deep in the jungle where a mysterious tribal ceremony is taking place.

This fellow is playing African drums beneath a Mayan symbol from the northernmost portion of Central America...

...and this gentleman is dressed as a Voodoo priest from Haiti.

At the center of the ritual is a gorgeous native woman, swaying drowsily to the rhythm of the drums, apparently drugged or in the midst of a deep trance.

Boy-howdy! I think I'm in love!

This is French-American actress Marpessa Dawn, slumming it in this thankless role the year before she would briefly rise to international fame for her perfomance in the musical drama Black Orpheus (1959). That film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes festival and introduced Bossa Nova music and Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobin to the rest of the world.

It's a beautiful film. You should stop reading this crap and watch it right now.

Young Guy and Moran reach the edge of the clearing, just the two of them because the plot demands it, and they watch as one of the natives gestures to some kind of carnivorous tree with writhing vine-tentacles and multiple eel-like mouths. They realize with horror the poor woman is going to be its meal.

I could totally make a joke about the tree having a woody, but as you all know I'm far too sophisticated to indulge in such low humor.

Young Guy just can't stand by and allow the sacrifice to go forward, not on his Judeo-Christian God-fearing watch, and so the would-be Great White Savior bursts out of the forest, waving his caucasian-privileged arms and shouting at the savages to stop...and he gets a spear in the chest for his trouble.

I don't believe he really thought this through.

So now there's some African chanting and the ceremony seems about ready to reach its cacophonous climax.

An acolyte who has been gesticulating before the victim throughout the ritual now takes her hand and leads her towards the killer tree. When they get within a few feet of it she starts to come to her senses and realize what's happening to her. She struggles and screams but the acolyte forcefully throws her into the deadly plant's waiting appendages.

What a senseless waste of a good actress.

Moran watches from the forest and seems strangely and disturbingly satisfied by the spectacle he's just witnessed.

He has some unusual fetishes.

We fade from the end of the ritual to Moran lying fever-stricken on a straw mat amongst the villagers' huts, watched over not only by the porters and other members of his expedition but also the Acolyte whom we just saw throw Marpessa Dawn into the tree. They all decide they'd better get him out of there so they bring in a stretcher and carry him off.

Suddenly we're in England and it's five years later.

Told ya.

A van drives up to one of those venerable old country estates that make you want desperately to become fabulously wealthy, move to the U.K. and wear a lot of tweed.

It's an Austin A35 Royal Mail van.

Wallace and Gromit drove a modified version in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

Although the homely vehicle contrasts nicely with the bucolic splendor of the manor house, the mail arriving is absolutely immaterial to the plot. This is also just the first half of the shot. The second half will be used as another establishing shot of the house in another part of the film. Don't worry. I'll point it out for you.

We cut to a dank basement, and we hear the same percussive rhythm we heard during the Amazon ritual. As we pan across a foetid drainage canal that's all grown over with thick roots and vines we come to the Acolyte, transplanted from his own roots and banging away at the drums thousands of miles from home. Across the room an attractive young blonde stares glassy-eyed and barely moving.

Call me an alarmist, but I think this woman is in trouble.

We cut to Dr. Moran scribbling notes at an ornate antique desk in a well-appointed, oak-paneled office. He finishes his work, grabs the bundle of papers he's been working on and parts a set of curtains to reveal a huge iron door. He Takes a key from his pocket, opens it and goes through, and we hear that the drumming is coming from where he's about to go.

This is his secret laboratory where he keeps all his secret mad scientist stuff. There are tables of blown-glass chemical accouterments, obscure and nameless electrical devices, India-rubber tubes, coiled wires and mysterious liquids in cork-stoppered vials or bubbling away over Bunsen burners with their flames turned up dangerously high. In short, it's everything an insane genius needs to terrorize an entire countryside's worth of unsuspecting, scantily-clad, b-movie beauties.

Eh, it's a living.

So the Acolyte, whose name we will later learn is Tanga, stops drumming and gets up to lead the young woman into the maw of the tree beast, which has inexplicably ended up here in Moran's estate. Once again the sacrificial victim becomes aware of the danger towards the end and begins to struggle, but Tanga is too strong for her and she ends up getting munched...

...or possibly hugged by a Muppet.

Moran helpfully explains that she will now become part of the plant and from the plant he will get the serum for bringing the dead back to life. I'm sure Tanga already knows this, and I know we do because we've already heard Moran tell us this once back in the Explorer's Club and seen the ritual in action both here and back in the Amazon.

Moran likes clunky, redundant exposition almost as much as he likes busty women and carnivorous plants.

Yeah, I warned you that the beginning of this film was pretty wonky. I promise it gets better, but let's just break down all this shit we've seen so far so we can process it and move on.

So this random English dude Moran encountered a culturally muddled melting pot of sacrificial rites, animistic religious beliefs and tribal totemic worship of a carnivorous tree deep in the Amazon jungle. One of Moran's own men tried to interfere with a sacrificial ceremony there and got turned into a kebab for it, then Moran himself succumbed to fever and had to be carried out of the area helplessly strapped to a litter, yet here he is back home in Britain, working alongside one of the most high-status members of the tribe, and the very large, very conspicuous object of the tribe's worship is now planted in his basement.

Since the tree is the foundation of the tribe's entire culture and religious structure you'd think they'd have wanted to, you know, keep the damn thing handy, yet somehow a fever-stricken Moran managed to convince them to let him take it? I can see Tanga agreeing to leave his home and follow this total stranger to a far-off land, completely outside of his own part of the world and personal experience since he's totally devoted his life to providing the tree with tasty, buxom morsels, but why should he have to in the first place? Also how the hell did they uproot the thing, keep it alive, transport it to England, discreetly deliver it to the house and secretly install it in Moran's basement?

It were Postman Pat wot done it.

Listen, I don't need the full Werner Herzog treatment, where half the movie would be Moran casting maniacal, side-eyed glances as the natives denuded the landscape, built a huge, human-powered pulley system, uprooted the tree by brute force and dragged it over the harshest, most difficult topography in the entire Amazon basin.

I'm talking about Fitzcarraldo (1982), by the way, one of my favorite films.

Just a throwaway line or two explaining some of these conundrums away would have at least been sufficient. Not ideal, mind you, but we don't even get that.

It's as if about 20 minutes of the first act was torn from the script before filming began, which considering the movie only runs 67 minutes is a real possibility. As it stands we're simply expected to accept a scenario that's completely unjustified by anything we've been shown.

The first sign that things are improving is a brief but creepy moment where Tanga stokes a furnace and stuffs the victim's dress into it. The music is appropriately dark and dissonant, and the stark light of the fire on Tanga's hint-of-a-smiling face is genuinely unnerving.

He's a cheerful bloke. I'll give him that.

Now we return to Moran's lab where he's making notes, checking equipment and carefully distilling the life-renewing serum he extracted from the tree. He fills one of those old, clunky glass and metal hypodermic needles with the stuff then injects it into a preserved heart with a bunch of rubber tubes sticking out of it he keeps in a big open jar on his work table.

Shot through the heart, and he's to blame.

The heart slowly begins to pulsate. Moran goes over to a machine with a dial and a gauge and watches as the heartbeat registers, slowly at first then more and more forcefully.

The machine they used for this prop features a cheap, pasted-on label reading "pulsometer."

The ink smudge is just precious.

Moran excitedly scribbles observations and minutely adjusts a few dials, but despite his best efforts the beating of the heart eventually weakens then stops. Tanga smiles mysteriously while Moran can't hide his disappointment. He tells the skeptical tribesman that he knew they needed more serum from the plant. "Next time it will work" he says. "Next time."

We fade from this mismatched pair of miscreants to a country policeman riding his bicycle up the drive to Moran's house. He props the bike against the wall and walks up to the massive front door.

It's a man's life in the rural constabulary.

The constable rings the bell and a rather dour, grim-looking housekeeper answers. The constable asks to see Doctor Moran. The housekeeper claims the doctor is busy and doesn't like being disturbed, but the Constable, Sgt. Bolton, insists his instructions are to speak with Moran personally and he won't be put off. The housekeeper relents, but she's clearly not happy about it.

She asks Bolton to wait in the hall as she goes to speak with Moran about it, returning a moment later to icily present the Constable to him in his office.

She always looks as if she's just sniffed a turd and is troubled to find that she kind of likes it.

It seems a young woman had been staying with friends in the nearby village, went for a walk and disappeared. Moran's house is near to where she was last seen so the police are making inquiries to determine if she'd stopped anywhere asking for directions. Moran says he knows nothing about it, but calls in the frigid housekeeper Mrs. Santor to confirm that no such visit occurred. Sure enough the ice queen confidently states she hasn't seen anyone at all beyond the home's usual occupants.

Satisfied for the moment, Sgt. Bolton wishes them both a jolly good day and departs back to the station to practice his "Wot's all this, then?" and groom his magnificent eyebrows.

"I got them on loan from a Mr. Eugene Levy."

Mrs. Santor watches Bolton ride away and it's obvious from her posture and expression she has some sinister suspicions about her boss.

On his way down the lane Bolton passes a sign for a traveling fun fair, and we fade from this to some ill-matched stock footage of a night time carnival.

A shady-looking barker plies his trade at one of the side shows, crowing about the exotic dancing beauties "from the Blue Lagoon" featured within his sophisticated itinerant establishment.

Apparently he's got Brooke Shields in there.

Behind him on the platform a slim blonde in a grass skirt dances a very Caucasian approximation of a hula dance as an added enticement to the horny gents in the crowd.

F'n carnies, amiright?

The barker manages to pull a couple of customers and they follow him inside. The Hula Gal takes the opportunity to walk over and get an orange drink from a nearby stand, watched by a handsome bloke who's trying, and repeatedly failing, to score a few hits at a shooting gallery.

Those plates are prizes, not targets. Seems like an accident waiting to happen to me.

The Handsome Bloke is so distracted by the Hula Gal's beauty that he fires without even looking where he's pointing the gun, yet somehow he hits all the targets and wins a cute little panda bear.

He uses this serendipitous event as a way to introduce himself to her. He hands her the bear and tells her how she won it for him, and we can see immediately that these two are gonna share a beautiful thang together.

It's corny, of course, but it's also sweet and charming and you can't help but warm to them immediately. They're both plainly smitten from the moment they look into each other's eyes, and believably seem like they genuinely belong together. Hula Gal says the carnival is moving on, however and that by the next morning she'll be ninety miles away.

"Why, that's like a whole other country!"

Handsome Bloke is determined, however. He explains that he owns a garage outside of town, that he could drive her to the next carnival stop himself and they could chat along the way to get to know each other. She's utterly charmed by the offer and tells him she would like to take him up on it, but unfortunately she is required to travel with the fair.

Just then the nasty Barker guy comes back out of the peep show tent and berates Hula Gal for leaving her post without permission. The Handsome Bloke, ever the gentleman, intervenes on her behalf, gallantly taking the blame for her transgression, but the Barker tells him to buzz off. Barker shoves Hula back towards her little platform, and when Handsome protests the carnie raises his blackjack threateningly. Handsome instinctively punches the bastard out.

Force is the only language these people understand.

Hula and Handsome help the Barker up and Handsome apologizes, but a murmuring crowd begins to gather and Hula warns him the other carnies will doubtless come, too, hellbent on revenge. She describes how they will ritually bludgeon him with cheap plush toys, festoon his limbs with fake tattoos, force him to wear an "All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt" t-shirt and take all his money, nickle by excruciating nickle, through secretly crooked tests of skill.

Even in the face of such abject horrors he offers to stay and protect her, but she convinces him it would probably only make things worse. He reluctantly exits as they bid each other a rueful goodnight.

We cut to the following morning. Hula Gal carries a suitcase down a country lane, arrives at Handsome Bloke's petrol station and finds him working on a car in the garage. She tells him she got fired as a result of his shenanigans, but it's quite plain that she's not upset about it and neither is he.

I should probably tell you that their names are Jack and Sally and they're just adorable.

Jack is a true and humble gentleman, plain-speaking, honest, completely devoid of artifice. He takes her bag, offers her a seat, makes sure she's comfortable and gets her some coffee to take away the morning chill.

Sally is smart, plucky and independent, and usually wary of men and their ulterior motives. She's had to be wary to survive on her own, but she's also never met such an authentically decent man before.

"You're cute!" "No, you're cute!"

She trusts her burgeoning feelings in spite of the many harsh lessons of her challenging life. Jack's openness has disarmed her and for the first time in as long as she can remember she feels safe.

Jack, for his part, immediately sees the strength, tenderness and surprising purity of Sally's spirit, and by the time she's finished her coffee they've already fallen in love.

To be honest these two are so appealing I would gladly lose the carnivorous plant angle and watch an entire film about them building their life together. Alas, this is not that movie, but everything else in this movie is slightly elevated by their presence.

Jack feels responsible for the pickle Sally is in and says he simply must help her find work. He thinks the local squire Dr. Moran might be in want of some help up at the local manor house, as the old fellow's housekeeper is getting on a bit. It's a big, sprawling place so perhaps Sally could find a position there as a maid. He offers to drive her there.

That's a lovely Hillman Minx convertible.

Sally arrives at the house and knocks at the door. For some reason Tanga answers, which in terms of the plot is rather convenient as Mrs. Santor would have sent her packing immediately without so much as a by-your-leave.

She tells Tanga she'd like to see Dr. Moran and he brings her directly into the hall, no questions asked. The way he eyes her up you'd think that if he weren't gonna try to feed her to the tree he'd probably be happy to eat her himself.

Tanga likes his women like he likes his steak: flame-grilled and slathered with hot sauce.

Moran agrees to see her, though at first it seems he's only doing so out of politeness. Somewhere about the middle of the conversation, however he suddenly notices that she's really hot. He asks her if she'd be prepared to "live in," if you know what I mean, and when she responds in the affirmative the lecherous old geezer gives her the job.

He's just noticed her prodigious qualifications.

So she runs back down the lane to give Jack the good news, but she also expresses that both servant Tanga and master Moran kind of give her the creeps. Still, if she doesn't like it there she can always leave and find something else, right?

Back at the house Mrs. Santor is not having Moran's hiring of some strange young girl who just turned up on the doorstep unannounced. She's not having it at all.

Moran says she's been over-doing it and that they've both known for a long time she could use some help. It's pretty obvious that Santor and Moran were once lovers, though and she knows damn well where the wind is blowing with this much younger recruit.

Meanwhile Sally rings the doorbell, and as Mrs. Santor exits the office to answer Moran cautions "Be nice to her."

"Oh, I'll be nice to her, but you I might have to castrate in your sleep with a dirty spork."

We fade to a scrumptiously British automobile driving up a wooded lane to where a few officers are examining a broken fence and signs of a struggle at the edge of a field.

It's a classic black, mid-50's Humber Hawk and I want one right now.

The Chief Inspector gets out and has a brief look 'round, agreeing that this may indeed be connected with the missing young woman we saw becoming fertilizer earlier in the film. The Chief leaves one of his detectives to take over the on-site investigation while he and Sgt. Bolton head back to the station.

Back at the Chief's office Bolton pulls out a map and indicates place they just arrived from. He notes that there are three stately houses in the vicinity, but that Dr. Moran's is the closest. Bolton points out that he already spoke with Dr. Moran, who could shed no light on the matter, but the Chief tells him they should search the grounds of Moran's estate anyway.

He likes his binky, the little rascal.

The Chief and Bolton head back up to Moran's house to get his permission to search his property, explaining that if the girl were murdered her body might be hidden anywhere nearby where they believe she was taken. Moran tells them to go ahead and search wherever they like because all of the evidence has been eaten or burned and they're not gonna find anything anyway. As the policemen are about to leave the phone rings.

It's for the Chief Inspector. He sends Bolton off to begin the search and takes a brief, inconclusive report from the detective he left onsite.

As he hangs up the phone he notices an unusual dagger sitting on Moran's desk and picks it up to have a closer look. As soon as Moran notices this he gets pretty upset and grabs it out of the Inspector's hand like a selfish child who doesn't want to share a favored toy.

"I don't like other dudes touching my junk."

Moran explains that the dagger is a very rare item from the upper reaches of the Amazon and as far he can tell it's the only one like it in existence, so, yeah he's kinda touchy about it. The Chief apologizes for causing any offence and wishes Moran a good day.

As he crosses from the office to the front door the Chief passes Mrs. Santor, who says nothing but watches him thoughtfully as he leaves.

Later, back in the basement lab, Moran is still playing with the alleged pulsometer, trying to get a little extra action out of that heart. He impatiently shuffles over to Tanga who is extracting a beaker full of liquid from the tree. Tanga helpfully explains "With this our people make live the dead," just in case we weren't paying attention when Moran explicitly told us this earlier, twice.

"Tell me again about the serum, Tanga. I love the way you say it."

Moran is presumably attempting to isolate the active ingredient in the tree's sap and synthesize it, hence all his groovy tubes and reagents and bubbling vials. Whenever we're in the lab we can see quivering shadows of vines and branches through the archway where Moran keeps the tree, which is a very nice, atmospheric detail.

At the end of the refinement process Moran has a full flask of the serum, and he fills another hypodermic with it. Tanga comes over and points to the ceiling eagerly, but Moran tells him "I decide when!" With the implication being that either Sally or Mrs. Santor are already marked for death and potential reanimation.

We fade to a typically damp, foggy London evening.

I love London.

There is a tight and suspenseful sequence now where Moran walks the streets looking for a victim to entice back to his house. It's shot verite on the crowded sidewalks of a busy urban evening and despite its being outdoors there's a palpable sense of stifling closeness and claustrophobia.

Several women, ostensibly chiselers or stealthy prostitutes, approach him, but he waves them off. A moment later a pretty brunette dressed in white passes him and he turns immediately to get a better look at her.

She's his Manic Pixie Girl.

Part of what makes the sequence so effective is that we're not entirely sure why he spared the other women but chose to focus his attentions on this one. He later states that his victims are basically cold sacrifices to science, that their deaths will contribute to the greater good by helping him to conquer death on a massive scale, but it seems that his sole criterion in choosing them is that he personally finds them sexually attractive. It adds a creepy bit of nuance to his pathology, an almost Hitchcockian psychosexual angle that makes you feel both moral revulsion for Moran and genuine compassion for his victims.

So Moran stalks the Pixie Girl down a few seedy side streets and follows her into a private bar with only one other patron in it. This is a gruff, greasy-looking Spiv who angrily berates Pixie for being late. Moran watches as the Spiv orders a couple of whiskeys, downs one himself then abandons her there, telling her she can pay for both of them.

He may be a dick but at least he wasn't gonna feed her to a tree.

The bartender comes over and demands that she pay and when she says she won't he threatens to call the police. Moran steps in and pays her tab, playing the heroic gentleman to gain her trust.

She's suspicious of his intentions, asking what his racket is and is he a talent-spotter for the movies or something. He asks if she thinks he looks like one and she shrugs her shoulders, stating "All men are talent-spotters one way or another." It sounds silly to read it, but she says it with such weary resignation you can feel in it the repressed sadness of her deeply unsatisfying life.

Moran orders them a couple more drinks but he's used to far better stuff than this rotgut whiskey and he can barely get a sip of it down. He tells her his car is nearby and suggests they should go somewhere better and make a night of it. Pixie throws caution to the wind and agrees.

We fade to them sitting in Moran's car, speeding down a dark country road, and as Pixie takes a drag off a cigarette he's given her she experiences some ill-effects from it, rubbing her face with her hand and commenting on how strange it's made her feel.

He looks as pleased as a fishmonger's cat.

He pulls the car up the lane and we can see that it's another Humber, either a Pullman or a Super Snipe. The former was slightly elongated to allow for an additional rear-facing sedan seat, making it technically a limousine, while the latter was a 4/5-seat luxury car. Both were popular with wealthy Britons of the time.

It's hard to say with 100% certainty because we see it so briefly and only in the dark, but based on the fact that Moran is driving it himself rather than having a chauffeur, and seeing the relative size of the front and rear windows and the rounded slope of the boot, I'm going to say it's a Super Snipe Mk. III.

It's a bit ostentatious for me. I'll stick with the humble Hawk.

Moran leads the Pixie to a basement entrance somewhere in the rear of the estate and when she sees the place she suddenly has second thoughts about going in. Moran tells her she's being silly and she reluctantly allows him to guide her down the steps and through the door. As soon as they're both inside Tanga sidles up from behind and grabs her. Moran tells him to "Get her ready," then heads upstairs.

He's surprised to find the grim-faced Mrs. Santor waiting for him in his office. She sneeringly accuses him of having some kind of dalliance, though she acknowledges now that she's only his housekeeper she has no right to ask questions. She also asserts, however that she knows there's been something unsavory happening in the house, that she believes he's doing something wicked, and that she thinks it has something to do with that trip to the Amazon he made five years ago. He's been different since he returned from that journey, she insists, more tight-lipped and furtive. She even goes so far as to suggest that there's an aura of evil about the place that very night.

A woman scorned...is probably next on the menu.

She's all steely defiance until Moran suggests that since she's being so troublesome to him he should send her away. She buckles under from this and her true feelings emerge. She doesn't dare speak it aloud but she still loves him, heaven knows why. She knows full well he has no feelings left for her, but she's shackled to the halcyon days of their shared past and can't bear the idea of being away from him.

The conversation ends with a threat: Moran tells her that if she ever pries into his personal concerns "it will be the last thing you ever do."

Once the nosy, lovelorn housekeeper has dragged herself back up to her room, cowed and defeated, Moran heads back to the basement where the Pixie now stands entranced, wearing the ceremonial, off-the shoulder frock, frozen in place and swaying to the rhythm of Tanga's ethnically inappropriate drums. He finishes playing and walks over to her, ready to lead her to the tree.

The pay is average but he really enjoys the work.

Moran is watching all of this with a shocking lack of scientific detachment. If I didn't know better (and I don't) I'd say he was actually getting off on this shit.

I suspect he's got a little sapling of his own growing down there.

As occured with each of the other women Pixie comes out of her trance just before Tanga throws her into the multiple maws of the beast, so either he's not very good at hypnosis or the victim's awakening terror towards the end is considered a necessary part of the ritual. Either way the tree seems to take great pleasure in feeling her up a bit before it consumes her.

He may be a plant but he's still got needs.

We fade out on a scary-music crescendo, and when we fade back in we see Sally walking up the drive to Jack's garage and saying hello to his mum, who's out sweeping the walk. It's Sally's afternoon off and she's planning to spend it with her man.

The vehicle on the left is a 1952 Standard Vanguard.

Sally finds Jack in the garage as usual, and he comments that he didn't expect her so soon and does she mind if he just finishes up with the car he's working on? She asks if she can help, and he has her push a wire through the engine firewall to the cab, then find a pair of pliers for him, then hold a light steady as he works. He seems a little impatient with her during each step of this and she gets a little impatient at his being a little impatient. It's plain this is the first little tiff they've had since they met and Sally is more than a little put off by it.

Working on the Minx, and yes, I'm talking about the car.

So they flirt a bit and get on each other's nerves a bit, and then Jack takes a deep breath and suggests kind of off-handedly, if she doesn't mind and all, that they should maybe get married.

Sally thinks he's crazy, or at least pretends to. They've only known each other two weeks, she insists, but Jack says it only took him two minutes to fall for her, so why shouldn't they?

She likes it when he says that.

So what we get from all this that Jack's impatience was from being nervous about popping the question, and now that he has she's every bit as nervous as he was. She's not sure whether to follow her heart or her head and so she hesitates and goes rather quiet. Now he's suddenly a lot more nervous because she didn't give him a yes or no answer and the question is just hanging out there in the ether unresolved.

They're both ready to burst open like Fibber McGee's closet, and when Jack complains that she's not holding the light steadily enough she tells him off, grabs her coat, slams the car door and storms away.

He hangs his head in defeat, but a few seconds later she returns. Having cleared the air of its tension she can now comfortably answer "There's only one thing for it...when we're married you'll just have to teach me all about cars!"

This is the best scene in the film. Everything about their budding relationship feels completely authentic, from their instant attraction, to the rapid pace of their courtship to how surprised they are by the fact they've somehow found one another under such random and fortuitous circumstances. It all rings true, because even though their screen time is limited actors Vera Day and Peter Forbes-Robinson have both the chemistry and the talent to make you believe in their relationship.

Hubba Hubba Hubba Hubba Hubba.

Sally returns to work that evening and Mrs. Santor berates her for being late. Just then Moran pops out of his office and tells Santor she's tired and should go away to her room. Mrs. Santor rightly bristles at this, but then displaces her frustrations onto Sally, telling Moran she's insubordinate and seems to think she can do as she likes. Sally protests, but only rather mildly. She knows she's being treated unfairly but also knows she can only say so much.

This is what's known as a hostile work environment.

Moran insists that Mrs. Santor do as he tells her, and when she stalks off up the stairs he apologizes to Sally and asks her to come into his office for a chat.

When Mrs. Santor gets upstairs she paces fretfully for a moment before collapsing into an armchair and bursting into tears. It's a fine dramatic moment that fully humanizes her and reveals a deeply unhappy woman who has lost control of her life in ways she is unable to come to terms with. We may not particularly like her but we understand her and can sympathize with her plight.

Back in Moran's office an uncomfortable conversation is taking place. He tells Sally that he plans to send Mrs. Santor away for "a long rest." He furthermore states that he wants Sally to take over as his permanent housekeeper. Sally is understandably taken aback by this suggestion, and doesn't quite know how to respond. He sees she is unsure and tells her to think about it overnight. He plays his hand rather too strongly, though, when he states "I want you to accept" with just the slightest hint of longing.

I think she knows exactly what he wants.

Sally assures Moran she's grateful for his having taken her in and assures him she will think it over carefully and give him an answer in the morning.

She leaves the office and heads up to her room. Tellingly she locks the door carefully when she enters. She paces around and looks out the window thoughtfully, then picks up her purse and coat and leaves, sneaking downstairs and out of the house.

Back in the lab Moran and Tanga extract another vial of serum from the tree. Moran tells him this will be enough and that tonight he "shall reach the end."

Sally, meanwhile has jogged back down to tell Jack that she can't work at Moran's house anymore. Jack sees that she's trembling and sits her down while he goes to get her a drink.

He keeps his booze in the First Aid Kit. That's Britain in a nutshell.

Sally tells jack about how Santor will be leaving, and how she can't possibly stay in the house alone with Moran, not just because of the potential impropriety of it, but because the man actually frightens her. She says she simply must leave there in the morning and Jack says "Tomorrow, nothing. You're leaving tonight." He says he'll immediately fix up getting her a room somewhere.

The fact that Jack accepts everything Sally tells him and doesn't doubt or question her judgment shows again what a decent and respectful man he is. If this were an American film he would have patted her on the head, told her she was just being silly and imaginative, and sent her off to make him some coffee like a good girl while he continued with his man work.

Sally says that she still has to go back to get her things and feels that as long as she can get out in the morning before Mrs. Santor leaves she'll be fine. Jack offers to pick her up, but she tells him not to bother, that she'll just come straight to the garage on her own as soon as she can get away. She says she'd better head back now before anyone at the house realizes she's gone.

Time enough for a little face-mashing, though.

Back at the manor Mrs. Santor has just found out about her enforced holiday and she's not taking the news well. She tells Moran it's obvious he's in love with Sally, "if you can call it that," and that he's just moving her along to make way for the younger, prettier woman. Moran, meanwhile dismisses her protests as petty, middle-aged jealousies, and I must say they've both made some compelling points.

Mrs. Santor finally confesses what he already knows, that she still loves him despite how badly he's treated her, that she still holds out hope that he might grow to love her once more. He responds that to him she's "a thing of the past," and that they both know very well that he's only kept her on as housekeeper "out of charity."

Awww, snap!

As he turns his back on her dismissively she grabs the fancy dagger from his desk and attempts to stab him with it. He sees her in the mirror just in time and manages to grab her arm and wrest the weapon from her hand. In the struggle he does what he's probably meant to all along: he chokes her to death.

No worries. She won't be dead long.

As Mrs. Santor falls the the doorbell rings, and with Tanga in the lab and Santor "indisposed" Moran goes to answer it himself, taking care to lock his office door behind him.

He's surprised to find Sally there, not having realized she'd even left the house. He tells her in a dry monotone that Mrs. Santor is in her room, not feeling well and not to be disturbed, that he'll be working in his lab all evening and that he won't be needing her.

We fade from his sweaty, lying, furrow-browed face to the second half of that Royal Mail Van establishing shot from the beginning of the film that I promised to point out when it showed up again.

My word is my bond, people.

So it's the following morning and Sally brings Moran his tea. She pours it for him and chirpily asks after Mrs. Santor's health. Moran tells her she's still not well, which is something of an epic understatement under the circumstances.

Moran asks if she's come to a decision about staying on and she tells him sorry, Charlie, but she can't accept his offer. He says somewhat haughtily "in that case you may leave as soon as you wish."

On her way out of the office she expresses regret for inconveniencing him, but the speed with which she reaches the door tells another story. She wastes no time either in hoofing it up to her room and packing her suitcase, and within minutes she's headed back down to the entry hall, ready to make her bid for freedom.

Just as she reaches the center of the hall Moran pops out of his office and walks directly into her personal bubble in a casually menacing way. He expresses surprise that she should be so anxious to leave so quickly, and tells her there's still the matter of her salary to be discussed. Sally is spooked at this point and tries to beg off, saying that since she didn't give him proper notice she doesn't expect any salary anyway. He insists, however, grabbing her suitcase and guiding her back into his office. As soon as he closes the door he says "Did you really think you were going to get away that easily as that?"

Grab your bumbershoots. Shit's about to hit the fan.

Moran browbeats her into a chair and demands to know why she's in such a hurry to leave. When she tells him she's getting married to Jack he gets a bit twitchy about it, and when she gets up and tries to leave he grabs her and confesses his love, that he's loved her from the moment he saw her and that's why she's not going to leave the house.

Now Sally is properly frightened, and when Moran continues on about how he's going to be acclaimed as the greatest man on Earth and that she will willingly share that acclaim with him, she realizes she's not just dealing with a dangerously lovesick older suitor but with a dangerously unhinged lunatic.

"Blimey! So that's what the family taint looks like!"

Moran says he will show Sally what he's devoted his life to, and as he leads her to the laboratory door she looks positively shell-shocked. You can see her deepening awareness of the danger she's in and how utterly helpless she feels against the much larger and stronger scientist.

Unfortunately this is where things start to get pretty wonky again in terms of the timeline, pacing and plot, and they continue to get wonkier and wonkier straight through to the end.

What we expect at this point is the perfunctory "Mad Scientist Reveal," where the antagonist shows the lovely young object of his affections the fruits of his life's labor, ranting all the time about his power over life and death and laboring under the mistaken belief that she shall fall at his feet in grateful obeisance once the magnificent scope of his benevolent genius is revealed to her. She, of course will recoil in horror at the morbid, morally bankrupt mess his life's labor has become, being as she's not quite as emotionally invested as he is in killing women for "science."

That's what we feel we should get, anyway, especially since we actually watched them head through the iron door to the laboratory, but the screenwriters hadn't quite worked out the logistics of how all of the characters would converge at the climax, so all of that gets put on hold.

We instead cut back to the police station, where the Chief receives a call from one of his London operatives. This contact has been checking up on Moran's history as an Amazon explorer. He's learned of the ill-fated expedition five years before, how the Young Guy went with him but didn't come back, and somebody even told him explicitly that Moran had brought back some sort of idol that eats women.

"There's nothing unusual about that. I eat my wife at least once every fortnight."

As the Chief hangs up the phone his lead detective comes in with some news. Bolton has found a bit of fabric from the dress the young woman was wearing when she disappeared, and some other evidence showing she'd been dragged in a direct line from the broken fence towards Moran's house. The Chief puts two and two together and orders his man to bring the car around. He plans to have another visit to Dr. Moran.

Meanwhile Jack is pacing the garage waiting for Sally. He tries to call her at the manor house but no one answers. He decides he'd better go up there himself to check on her.

There's that sexy Minx again. I'll stop now.

Jack rings the bell and Moran himself answers and when Jack tells him he wants a word or two, Moran invites him into the hall.

Jack asks about Sally, but Moran says she isn't there, that she'd left the house sometime around eleven that morning. Jack says she wouldn't have left without seeing him and that he's been "waiting all afternoon." So if, indeed Moran is correct about the timing of Sally's interrupted departure it must be at least four or five hours later.

The editing of these last few sequences has jumbled up the timelime and made it seem as though we're seeing some of what's happening out of order, even though we're probably not. The Chief, for example seemed to be having his conversation with London right around the time that Moran led Sally through the lab door, but if that were the case they would have been at the manor several hours before Jack, but here he is confronting Moran on his own and the police are nowhere to be seen.

Jack accuses Moran of keeping Sally in the house against her will and threatens to go to the police. He tells Moran that Sally was afraid, that she believed strange things were happening there, and that "It might be a good thing if those things were looked into."

Moran does not agree.

Moran tries to put up a brave front, but as Jack leaves you can see in his face the emerging realization that he's running out of time to make his immortal mad scientist dreams a reality.

Moran now enters the lab and goes into a small room just at the top of the stairs that we've not been shown before. He's left Sally locked here presumably since he promised to show her his shit at eleven am, so I hope she didn't need to use the loo.

He finally starts in on his big reveal, announcing that he has learned the secrets of the Amazon tribes who "put their hands into the mouth of death and snatch its victims back."

"Blimey! That sounds unhygienic. I hope they've had their shots!"

Sally tells him he's mad, but he says he will prove it to her, that he is ready now for the final test. She has no choice but to follow him into the maelstrom of the forbidden laboratory, and Tanga watches as Moran leads Sally over to examine the tree.

Tanga just chills naked all day, maxin' and relaxin' and waitin' for some sweet street meat to drop by.

When Moran and Sally get within a few feet of the beast Tanga begins his hypno-drumming, which makes it start getting all wiggly and aroused. Moran says "I'm afraid Tanga has misunderstood my object in bringing you here," and when he pulls Sally back Tanga stops playing and puts on a petulant frown.

"Don't harsh my mellow, man!"

Jack meanwhile makes good on his promise to notify the police. He asks the desk clerk for Sgt. Bolton, saying it's urgent. The officer tells him Bolton and the Chief Inspector have just headed up towards "The Crenchurch Road near the Knott's Lane," and that he might catch up with them if he leaves right away. Jack, unaware at this point of their exact destination, rushes out to follow after them.

Back at the lab Sally watches Moran as he putzes around with the pulsometer again, only this time it's hooked up to a sheet-covered body on a gurney. Satisfied that there is no sign of life, he removes some tubes from the corpse and readies it for the final experiment.

"Everybody needs a body sometimes..."

Moran fills yet another hypodermic full of the serum and walks to the side of the gurney facing sally. He pulls the sheet away from the arm and injects the serum, and Sally is astonished and horrified as the pulse begins to register and the corpse begins to breathe.

She has a strong Marion Crane vibe happening here, and you'd better know what movie I'm talking about.

The pulse gets faster and stronger and the body begins to writhe beneath the sheet. Finally the reanimated corpse manages to sit upright and the sheet falls off to reveal the pale, glassy-eyed face of Mrs. Santor.

She looks good for her age, and considering she was dead just a minute ago.

Moran shouts at Santor to speak to him, but she just stares mutely and shuffles slowly off the table. Tanga watches with smug satisfaction as Moran realizes that although the body has indeed been brought back to life the mind has not.

"Your people cheated me!" Moran cries, "They gave me only half their secret!"

Tanga triumphantly replies "Our secret not for you!"

"Oh, the look on your face! Just wait 'til I tell the guys back at the temple!"

As Moran laments his failure, a distant echo of Santor's final, traumatic memory seems to act on her zombie-like brain. It somehow meshes with the last remaining vestiges of her hatred for Sally, and she begins to make broad, menacing motions with her hands, slowly advancing as if to choke her.

"Die you home-wrecking trollop!"

Moran is still in a daze at the sudden collapse of all he has struggled to achieve. He can only watch paralyzed as Zombie Santor creeps closer and closer to Sally. Just as the cold claws of death are about to wrap themselves around Sally's pretty throat, however, Zombie Santor's eyes suddenly roll back and she drops in an inert heap on the floor, having become just another of Moran's failed experiments.

Moran rushes to Santor's side and cries out her name, and it seems for a moment he's found some latent affection for her now that she's permanently rather than just mostly dead, but then he just crouches down next to her limp, crumpled form and complains some more about his being cheated out of the knowledge and fame he still believes he's entitled to.

If it didn't fit before it's not gonna fit now.

The police finally turn up at the Manor with Jack in tow and begin furiously banging and shouting at the door.

Back in the basement Tanga approaches Sally and begins dragging her along to the tree, determined to make of her the offering he'd been hoping for since the moment he found her waiting on the doorstep. She struggles and nearly escapes him once, but he catches her again and carries her back towards the beast.

At least he's consistent.

Jack and the cops find an open window and climb in to search the house. The Chief and Bolton head upstairs, leaving Jack to search the ground level himself.

Downstairs Tanga is about to throw Sally to the beast, and Moran finally decides to quit being such a whiny, sulking, self-absorbed douchebag and do something to help her. He grabs Tanga, and as Sally scrambles away the two engage in a violent struggle to the death.

"Tastes great!" "Less filling!"

Sally has run off to watch them fight from an archway, and we see that her blouse has been torn revealing part of her bra.

This is what qualified for a Certificate "X" rating in 1958.

Jack, meanwhile mills around aimlessly until it occurs to him to look in Moran's office. He strolls in and down to the lab to find that Tanga has pulled the ceremonial dagger from his belt and is struggling to stab Moran with it. Moran yells to Jack "Get Sally out of here," which she could have done for herself at just about any point in the last fifteen minutes, since the door to the lab was unlocked.

So Jack and Sally skedaddle as Moran gets in a solid right hook across Tanga's jaw. Tanga goes down like...well I'll refrain for once from any distasteful analogies about how he "goes down." The point is Moran knocks him right the fuck out.

Insert your own prostitution and/or crack addict desperate-for-a-fix joke here.

Moran, still fixated on having been cheated of the secret of Tanga's tribe, now decides he will destroy their idol in revenge. He runs to his lab table and picks up a jar full of incendiary chemicals he'd been keeping handy in case he ever needed to put down an insurrection of local tenant farmers. He throws it at the tree and the entire mass of the trunk, vines and limbs bursts into flame.

He would have used Round-Up but he heard it causes cancer.

As Moran runs up the stairs to escape the conflagration Tanga leaps up to give chase. He hurls the dagger, hitting Moran square in the center of the back.

As Moran lurches over the railing dead, Tanga takes a knee before his burning idol and worships at it one final time.

The End.

I'm gonna have to stick with my bad-bread-good-filling sandwich analogy for this film. After the initial mess of a prologue and the silly opening scene in the lab we got a surprisingly strong middle act with compelling support characters and some effectively eerie set pieces. Things started to go south again as we entered the third act, and were completely mucked up into compost by the end.

Where it really fell apart for me is when Zombie Mrs. Santor fell over just as she was gaining some momentum as a threat. It was an intolerably lazy cop-out on the part of the screenwriters and a squandered opportunity to give the climax some satisfying narrative heft.

If I may gently ret-con this 62 year-old British b-movie obscurity, here's how it should have played out:

When Moran sees Zombie Santor threatening Sally he comes to his senses at last about the severity of his crimes and the danger to which he has exposed the woman he claims to love. He boldly steps between them, engaging in a life-and-death struggle with this shambling shade of his former lover. He ultimately prevails, injecting Santor with some kind of anti-serum or lethal chemical, but he has been mortally wounded. He dies in Sally's arms, begging her forgiveness for his sins.

Tanga grabs Sally in a last-ditch attempt to make her a ritual victim to the idol. She struggles desperately but the native is too strong and he slowly draws her closer and closer to the deadly tree.

Jack and the police, meanwhile are still outside, having split up to search the perimeter for a point of egress. Jack reaches the basement entrance and hears Sally's screams. He breaks down the door and rushes in just in time to pull Sally from Tanga's arms.

There's mighty struggle now between Jack and Tanga, but the tribesman eventually gets the upper hand, knocking Jack down and pulling out the ceremonial dagger. As Tanga lifts his arm for the kill, Jack pushes him away with his feet and Tanga falls backwards into the waiting tentacles of the very tree he had spent his entire life serving. The hungry monster accepts him as its final human sacrifice.

Jack and Sally embrace, and the Chief and Sgt. Bolton arrive just in time for a final-image reveal of Tanga being consumed whole by a huge, hitherto-unseen vertical mouth in the center of the tree.

The End. Again.

This would have brought Moran and Santor's love-hate relationship full circle, provided Moran a sympathetic third act redemption, given Tanga a fitting, ironic death and allowed Jack to be Sally's heroic rescuer instead of simply having him walk her up a flight of steps to an unlocked door. Sounds like a win-win-win-win to me!

See how easy it is to fix a movie from the comfort of your couch?

Final Observations:

--Womaneater was partially inspired by an 1874 hoax by New York World columnist Eugene Spencer involving a "Madagascar Man-Eating Tree" allegedly discovered by a fictional German botanist and explorer named Karl Leche. The same hoax was repeated in a book of facts, myths and legends by former Michigan governor Chase Osborne in 1924. The description of the tree in the original article is very close to what appears in the film.

--Dr. Moran was played by George Coulouris, a reliable character actor who started in radio as part of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater Players. He is best remembered for his role in Citizen Kane (1941), where he played prickly Kane family lawyer Walter Parks Thatcher.

--Vera Day enjoyed a successful career in theater, film and television, appearing on-screen as recently as 2017. Peter Forbes-Robertson (Jack) appeared on television both in the U.K. and the U.S., in series as diverse as Doctor Who and The Love Boat, and had many minor supporting roles in films. He retired in the late 1980's.

--Director Charles Saunders had worked with George Coulouris the previous year on another low-budget horror film called The Man Without a Body (1957), about a modern scientist experimenting with monkeys, transplants and the remarkably well-preserved head of Nostradamus. It was co-directed by W. Lee Wilder, whose work may be found elsewhere on our site here and here. He was the estranged older brother of legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder.

--This was the debut film of Marpessa Dawn. Despite speaking English fluently she did not appear in any other English language films in her brief career. In Womaneater she does not speak at all.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in May, 2020.

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