Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer Fest 5 (Day One): The Astounding She Monster

 To kick off Summer Fest, I decided it would be fun to continue in the vein of Bad Movie Night favorite She Devil and present another sci-fi / horror hybrid from the 1950s about the inherent danger of femininity. Why? Because in the mid-twentieth century, B-movie filmmakers were obsessed with it, and none of them seemed to be able to make a decent picture out of it. Which is not to say they couldn't make an entertaining picture: it just wasn't the type of entertainment they planned on.

 To wit: The Astounding She Monster shovels expository narration to us for the first ten minutes, to the point that one could suggest that there was no usable dialogue to accompany the image, and then abruptly shifts tone, meanders for a bit, reaches Abbott and Costello-like proportions in the construction of its "chase" scenes, and slaps everything together with the kind of preachy ending that only really worked in The Day the Earth Stood Still. It doesn't help that the ending directly contradicts the opening narration, but before I get ahead of myself, a few observations on the "plot":

 The Astounding She Monster, after a long explanation of other planets that fear the "danger" that Earth poses and how they've determined to "destroy us before we destroy them" then shifts to a fairly mundane kidnapping story told in the least sensible way possible. After a "socialite" leaves her house (one that I'd swear is the same location used for She Devil), two gangsters immediately run her off of the road and force her into their car, leaving hers abandoned in the road for the police to find.

 So that's suspenseful, if seemingly unconnected, but it's worth noting that they then pull into the driveway that she just pulled out of, where her house is. They kidnap her and drive her home, presumably so that somewhere between when the police find her car and when we next see them, the socialite can change her coat and the gangsters can pick up a drunken tag-along. Why? It's never entirely clear, but it makes splitting them up later possible.

 Meanwhile, a geologist who lives in the woods with his dog sees a meteorite land not far from their secluded cabin. The narrator explains he's the "innocent bystander" in this story, which I suppose is true. We don't see him again until after the Astounding She Monster starts wandering around, scaring animals and causing the camera to go all "drunk cam."

 She / It eventually wanders into the road, causing the kidnappers to crash their car (at least, I think that's what happened). Fortunately, this is a contingency in their precision plan, so they head up a road into the woods and eventually end up at a secluded (albeit spacious) cabin. I wonder who might live there?

 Just in case you weren't already convinced that the cast and crew were making it up as they went along, our geologist responds to one of the hoodlums taking the keys to his Jeep by telling him it "isn't safe" to drive at night and that they should stay with him until morning. I'm not exaggerating this at all - he actually advises a man holding him at gunpoint NOT to leave, and this is before he knows about their hostage.

 As you can imagine, the tense situation in the cabin between heroes and villains is only compounded when the Astounding She Monster (sporting proto-Romulan eye makeup) shuffles on up to the cabin and kills one of the gangsters (and the poor dog, who for no apparent reason had to go outside to help fix the Jeep). After running in and out and in and out of the cabin to the point of absurdity, the geologist discovers she's protected by a thin layer of radioactive metal and they concoct a way to kill the Astounding She Monster, only to reveal the film's great twist about why she was actually on Earth.

 If nothing else, I will give the film credit for making good on its promise of the Black Bear the geologist constantly warns of being outside. Aside from that, pretty much everything that happens in The Astounding She Monster is because that's what has to happen to pad out the running time to 67 minutes. If you can imagine a Mad Magazine spoof of an episode of The Twilight Zone adapted by Ed Wood, you're in the ball park of The Astounding She Monster.

 That said, the film is (unintentionally) hilarious - whether struggling to apply logic to the early section of the movie, where nobody but the narrator is speaking (including when the gangsters turn on the radio and the narrator is explaining that the police are closing in on them) to determining exactly how a geologist who lives alone in the woods is going to explain having the missing socialite and a dead body in his bedroom to the police when they arrive, it's a constant source of laughter. While I sincerely doubt director Richard V. Ashcroft (who only made two other movies after this) intended that to be the case, there's something to be said for the accidental end result.

 A note on the poster: it's a great example of selling a product more titillating than the finished result. While one of the gangsters refers to the She Monster as "nude," it's fairly evident she's wearing a body suit and there's nothing "sexy" at all about her in the movie. She shambles about, often unsure what to do with her arms, leaving the end result more comical than sensual, if that was even the goal.

 Up next: Roger Corman presents a movie that is not at all a knock-off of Star Wars - the coincidentally titled Star Crash!

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