Saturday 5 March 2011

The She Beast (1966)

THE SHE BEAST is an Italian-British co-production and was originally released as LA SORELLA DI SATANA (or "Satan's Sister"). It was the debut feature of director Michael Reeves who is the great lost talent of British horror films.  He completed only three films before dying of an accidental overdose aged just 25.  Two of those three - THE SORCERERS and WITCHFINDER GENERAL - are among the very best British horror films, marked by their intelligence, risk-taking and flair.

There are some interesting and unusual things going on in this film.  There are several sequences showing people actively engaged in observing.  There is the crowd at the execution, the hotel manager spying on his guests, the punters at the cockfight, and the boy secretly watching them from outside.  If you do any Film Studies courses, sooner or later you'll come across this idea of voyeurism.  Academics and, in particular, film theorists get very anxious about the idea of cinema as a voyeuristic activity.  There is something to be said about the public desire to gather in the dark to watch things that, in real life, they wouldn't be caught dead staring at, but it's not an idea which is often taken up by film-makers, Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM (1960) being one notorious exception.

Figures at an execution

Gazing through the curtains

A voyeur watching ...

... some voyeurs.

I'm not entirely sure what Reeves' intention was in including these voyeurs but it does tend to remind you of the fact that you're watching a fiction.  I suppose he might also be having a subtle dig at his audience's hypocrisy in condeming the 'pervert' hotel manager who is only watching what the audience is also watching.

Also, despite being one of dozens if not hundreds of horror films set in Eastern Europe, this one was actually filmed on location in Yugoslavia which in 1966 must have been some undertaking.  Unlike a lot of its contemporaries, the film also engages with the political situation in that country at the time.  Okay, so it never gets much beyond poking fun at Communists but it's a start.  There is one not-so-subtle visual gag in there too, when the witch throws to the floor the sickle she has just used to butcher one victim in the tool shed:

I have to say that while THE SHE BEAST shows flashes of Reeves' talent, it doesn't really work.  It's not at all frightening, probably because the director has his tongue firmly in his cheek throughout.  Realising he has a very uncovincing monster, Reeves chucks in some lame physical comedy and even resorts to a parodic car chase sequence in which the same motorcyclist goes past numerous times.

Ian Ogilvy and Barbara Steele make an engaging couple and it's great to see her in modern dress for a change but unfortunately she was only available for a limited period (between one and four days, depending on whose account you believe) and so she disappears halfway through the film, and only pops up again at the end.  Ogilvy was something of a Reeves favourite and played the hero in all three of his films.

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