The She-Beast (Michael Reeves / United Kingdom-Italy, 1966):
(La Sorella di Satana; Revenge of the Blood Beast)

A most misunderstood satire of Brits abroad, far closer to Two for the Road than to Kill, Baby... Kill! It begins with grotesqueries in the name of our "avenging God," a 17th-century prologue with a church group armed with torches and pitchforks heading to a witch's cave; the scraggly hag is perforated with a spike and dunked into a pond in Michael Reeves' rehearsal for his own The Witchfinder General (and Monty Python and the Holy Grail). "Transylvania, today": Barbara Steele and Ian Ogilvy are newlyweds trekking through newly Socialist Romania, finding questionable refuge at a hotel mysteriously marked "Ristorante." The owner is peeping degenerate Mel Welles ("Privacy breeds conspiracy! Have a good night"), the only other guest is John Karlsen, a deposed aristocrat and great-grandson of Van Helsing, whiskered like Trotsky and immaculately deadpan at the playground swing. The horrors reemerge when an accident sends the couple's car into the lake and Steele is replaced by the revived witch, who's got vengeance in her mind and tears through the village like the Tasmanian Devil. Reeves' sense of monstrous despair is here spiked with a bizarre absurdism that places maggoty eyeballs next to Keystone Commies, fusing the capitalist's fears into a splendid sight gag (the sickle wielded by the witch to slice Welles lands next to a hammer). How much of it is intentional and how much is the felicitous result of a paltry budget remains unclear, but the fact is that Reeves reveals all the grime and queasiness usually kept underneath the elegance of the Hammer horror films, and in the process anticipates the harshness of his other movies as well as the Borscht-Belt Godardisms of The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz. With Jay Riley, Richard Watson, and Edward Randolph.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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