She Demons (1958)
Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Written by H.E. Barrie and Richard E. Cunha
Starring Rudolph Anders, Irish McCalla, Tod Griffin, Leni Tana, Victor Sen Yung, Gene Roth, and Charles Opunui
The English language is cluttered with phrases like “too much of a good thing” and “everything but the kitchen sink”. These perfectly describe why I love She Demons, because if it wasn’t so over-stuffed with cliches that pay it probably wouldn’t be interesting all. It’s as though the creators couldn’t decide what story to tell and went with everything.
The plot is a mishmash of bits we’ve seen dozens of times. A hurricane sinks a boat, and the crew washes up on a deserted island. There are young “native” women, but the only men on the island turn out to be Nazis that have been working in secret all of this time. Under the direction of the mad scientist Col. Karl Osler (Rudolph Anders), they’ve perfected a means of converting lava into energy — probably through steam, although this is never made explicit. Of course, there was an accident along the way that disfigured Osler’s wife Mona (Leni Tana), his lab assistant. So the Nazis stole young girls from a nearby island in order for Osler to restore his wife’s face for minutes at a time using their energy blended with that of animals — a process that turns them into ferocious she demons, until their vitality replenishes itself in a few days. It’s up to the adventurous Fred Maklin (Tod Griffin), his employer’s daughter Jerrie Turner (Irish McCalla), and radio operator Sammy Ching (Victor Sen Yung) to escape the island before the Nazis, she demons, experiments, volcano, or Air Force test bombing kills them!
Did I mention that the movie’s only 77 minutes long? You can see how packed it is. There are stupid moments aplenty, but there’s just no room for dull ones. There’s a native dance party, scenes of torture, an attempted seduction, death by lava mud, a savage offscreen spearing, she demon attacks… this goofball flick has it all! Including a completely unearned, obligatory romance between Fred and Jerrie, complete opposites who despise each other but fall in love because reasons!
So much happens that you don’t have time to realize how little any of it makes sense. Take the native women, for instance. We’re introduced to them by the body of Captain Kris Kamana (Charles Opunui), who survived the shipwreck only to be speared to death. It’s unclear whether the women were she demons when they attacked him, but the use of tools perhaps suggests not. When we finally meet them, they are revealed to be Los Angeles showgirls performing a “native” dance to drumbeat accompaniment. But — the women have escaped from the Nazis, who are searching the island for them. I know I take loud exotic dance breaks when I’m in hiding! Additionally, this isn’t their island. They were taken from elsewhere. Yesterday they immediately acquired drums and spears? Col. Osler reveals that while the women regain their appearance a few days after being used in his wife’s beauty regimen, their memories are destroyed. So how do they know (roughly) the same dance in the first place?
Then there’s Osler’s top man, the bloated and ungainly Igor (Gene Roth). Osler states that he relies on the brute, but we see Igor whip one of the native captives to death. Aren’t they sort of a finite resource? Also, after a decade to work out how to keep the women caged, the best solution Igor could come up with was a flimsy Gilligan’s Island bamboo cell, outside of the secure underground compound? Top man, that Igor.
And while I’m picking nits, what the heck were our heroes doing in the first place? There’s some mention of a research expedition, and Fred indicates that they’re looking for some manner of unknown creature. But why? This is a corporate venture, which is why the boss’s daughter is sent along to supervise. What kind of company sends people hunting wild geese on remote islands? It’s never clarified.
And it doesn’t matter. None of it. Because this is one of those fabled so-bad-it’s-good movies. It’s charmingly ridiculous, with enough production value that you can appreciate the cheesiness without being distracted by bad sound or murky imagery. The comedy sidekick is actually pretty engaging, and the main baddie is deliciously evil. Then there’s the reveal of what’s hiding beneath Mona’s bandages, which is some fantastic over-the-top grue. Less is more, unless more is more, and She Demons is a movie that makes makes up for absent quality with its sheer quantity of usual elements.