Friday, September 14, 2018

Revisiting SHE DEMONS (1958)

The spine-jolting unmasking of Mona in Richard Cunha's SHE DEMONS.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Richard E. Cunha's SHE DEMONS (1958) on the Big Screen, or even on TV, as a kid; if I I’d had childhood matinee memories of this one, they might have scarred me for life. Fortunately, I only caught up with it on VHS circa 2002 (see my original review in VIDEO WATCHDOG #81, page 62), when Wade Williams released it - and a couple of nights ago, I discovered it hiding on Amazon Prime and watched it a second time.

For a quickie 1950s programmer, it’s a neat little (77 minutes) picture that packs a lot of entertainment: part ARGOSY-style Island fantasy about stranded adventurers coming up against Nazi scientists; ISLAND OF DR MOREAU-type experiments performed on dancing girls; a pre-EYES WITHOUT A FACE beauty restoration subplot; Victor Sen Yung shenanigans; She Demon choreography; volcanic eruptions;  Bronson Caverns; stock footage galore from ONE MILLION B.C.; a sock-o unmasking finale (pictured); and, if all that’s not enough, statuesque Irish McCalla as the spoiled and haughty high society girl who, through adversity, becomes someone more appreciable as a genuine human being.

Remarkably, in hindsight, this was Cunha's directorial debut, and he proceeded to direct just a handful of other horror cheapies that are similarly entertaining - GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN, MISSILE TO THE MOON, and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER - and, incredibly, they were all released in 1958. He subsequently made one more feature, THE GIRL IN ROOM 13, and directed the English version of WHEN STRANGERS MEET in 1964. Some TV work followed. GIANT doesn't deliver its giant until very late in the game, but it compares favorably to a number of AIP titles from the same period. MISSILE TO THE MOON is good fun, and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (which carries a bad rep for the failure of makeup artist Harry Thomas to realize that the "daughter" was supposed to be female!) may otherwise represent the screen's most radical departure from the tried-and-true Frankenstein concept up till that time. And pretty much, all four films manage to deliver one great "Did you see THAT?" moment.  

How dare Amazon Prime label this as a “schlock” classic? Richard Cunha, I salute you. I would have been proud to direct ANY of your films!

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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