*. After stepping in to complete Castle of the Living Dead, director Michael Reeves (or Mike Reeves, as he’s styled here on the title card) makes his debut. Which, as I think most people would agree, is She Beast‘s sole claim to fame. On the DVD commentary star Ian Ogilvy states matter-of-factly that Reeves is “the only reason this movie is of interest to people these days,” to which producer Paul Maslansky immediately concurs: “No question about it.”
*. Ogilvy also offers up the opinion that dying young was what made Reeves into a legend. Would anything about She Beast have made you think Reeves was destined for greater things? He wrote the script (under a pseudonym) but seems to have thought the material a joke. Did he take much pride in his work? “If we’re going to make crap,” he said to Ogilvy, “let’s make the best crap anybody’s ever seen.” You can interpret that in different ways.
*. He actually wasn’t a fan of the horror genre, again according to Ogilvy, but wanted to get a reputation as a commercial director and thought a horror picture would make money. Ogilvy: “he was quite an opportunist.” On the other hand, he did have a bleak moral vision that was a good fit with where horror was going.
*. We can see he also had a sense of style, especially when shooting outdoors. A lot of shots here are nicely composed. There’s some good camera movement. But there were obvious limitations, shooting in 21 days for only £17 000.
*. Of those 21 days they only had Barbara Steele for one. Apparently she had to work for 18 hours (she claims 22). I can believe it. It’s remarkable to me how they managed to get all her scenes done in a day. I don’t see how that would have been possible. It takes time to set things up, and she’s in a lot of scenes at the start of the movie, in many different sets and locations. How could they have done all that in a day?
*. Just to stick with the question of faulty memories and the vagaries of film history for a minute, the commentary track (with Ogilvy, Maslansky, and Steele) is quite entertaining and throws up a number of interesting points. Steele says she hardly remembers making the movie at all, which is understandable given the pace she was setting working on such stuff. But when the subject turns to dubbing (like all these productions the sound was done in post) she says she’s certain that her lines were recorded by somebody else. Ogilvy and Maslansky both say they’re sure it’s her voice. Then she says she’s not sure and they say they’re not sure. The upshot of which is that only 40 years later (the commentary was recorded in 2007) this is a point that is now lost to film history.
*. I wonder how sympathetic we’re supposed to be to the witch Vardella. That is, if she is a witch (alternative titles had her as a Blood Beast and Sister of Satan). Maybe she just suffers from some unfortunate skin condition and the villagers are the usual bunch of narrow-minded sadists (we’d see a lot more of them in Witchfinder General). Also, as played by a large man (Steele: “like Anthony Quinn times two!”) she comes across a bit like one of the Monty Python gang in drag. She’s kind of hard to take seriously.
*. Was that part of the joke? Ogilvy thought the movie couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to be horror or horror-comedy or comedy. I share his uncertainty. There are a lot of jokes about life in a communist dictatorship, John Karlsen plays Count Von Helsing mainly for laughs, and things are capped off with a ridiculous Keystone Cops chase. Apparently Reeves didn’t film this part, and didn’t care for it, but had to leave it in because the movie was already running short.
*. Maslansky, by the way, would go on to produce the Police Academy movies. So maybe he was subconsciously pushing things in that direction. The character he plays, for example, has his fly undone at the end in a very noticeable way.
*. The script doesn’t add up. What does Barbara Steele’s character Veronica have to do with anything? She isn’t really possessed, she just disappears for a while and the witch Vardella does her thing. When Philip asks Von Helsing for clarity on this, and tries to find out where Veronica is, he is quickly brushed off. This may seem like a little thing but it’s really not. I don’t see how even a very young man like Reeves was could write a script with such an essential plot element completely disregarded. The story simply doesn’t have a core explanation of what is happening. Shouldn’t Vardella come back as Veronica? Though I guess then they would have had to hire Steele for another couple of days.
*. I’ve seen She Beast several times now, and I’m not sure why. It’s really not very good. To answer the question I began with as to whether you’d be justified in seeing any promise in it I think the honest answer is no. I don’t think it’s a mark above the usual AIP fare. Stephen Jones refers to it as being basically a kind of home movie. But it’s odd and has a sense of fun about it. Given how young Reeves was and what he had to work with he did well. And better was to come.
I’m not sure why anyone would watch this film several times! Ogilvy is a great raconteur, and has quite a no-nonsense approach to his own work; he was deeply uninterested when I told him in a pub conversation that I had a model of his Volvo from The Saint as a kid…
You get to hang out with such interesting people!
Yeah, I was wondering myself why I’d seen this movie so often. I guess it has a sort of quirky charm. At least parts of it. But it’s a really scrappy job.
Met him in the Red Rock in Subset Strip. Wasn’t able to covet being a genuine fan. But he was a staple of British horror. Enjoying the mix of giant monsters, horror and theatrical drama!
I try to be eclectic. And hope that nobody minds the absence of romcoms.
Why is that? No good ones in your opinion?
I’m sure there are a lot of good ones. Hell, Roman Holiday is one of my all-time favourites. But it may be more a temperament thing. I usually don’t like the characters in modern romcoms that much. I know I’ve liked a few contemporary ones but I can’t think of any now off the top of my head.
I like the She Beast and enjoyed the DVD commentary. I went on a Reeves kick a while back and it’s not hard to see everything because it’s such a small body of work. Castle of the Living Dead grabbed me as a kid and there seems to be a range of opinion as to what he did for it exactly — I think it may have just been the chase scene in the Garden of Giant Ugly Stone Faces.
In the She Beast commentary I like how Steele picks up on Reeves’ “figure running along the distant ridgetop” trope and how it resembles Ingmar Bergman. You also gotta love that “throwing the hammer and sickle on the floor” sight gag. Well, at least I did.
I’m torn on the hammer-and-sickle gag. I know the first time I saw it I thought it was clever, but most recently I thought it was maybe too obvious and a reach.
If you like Reeves there’s more coming up! I’m doing Sorcerers and Witchfinder General next.