Film

Don’t Open That Door! #13: 'She Demons' (1958)

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we confront new depths of Nazi depravity in She Demons


Director: Richard E. Cunha
Cast: Leni Tana, Gene Roth, Rudolph Anders Victor Sen Yung Tod Griffin, Irish McCalla
US release date: 1958-01-01

Alternative titles: The Last Days of the Third Reich; The Island of Herr Doktor Moreau

POSITIVES:

Pleasantly over-the-top performances from diverse cast.

Fun tropical island setting.

Lengthy interpretive dance sequence.

Some of the medical scenes are surprisingly squirm-inducing.

NEGATIVES:

"Poor little rich girl" routine gets overdone.

Weak attempts at humor.

SYNOPSIS: Washed up on a deserted island after a hurricane, bottle-blond Jerrie sulks about her spoiled wardrobe, even as the guys she's with—alpha male Fred, wisecracking Sammy and somber ship's captain Kris—try to make the best of things. This multiracial crew grows concerned when they pick up radio transmissions that indicate the Air Force uses the island for bombing practice, although frankly the idea of Jerrie getting blasted into her component atoms doesn't seem like such a tragedy. More surprising is Kris's discovery of footprints up the beach. Our very own little United Nations in the surf doesn't quite know what to make of them, but Kris at least is ready to start beseeching the local deities for—we presume—assistance. The answering drums may be evidence of divine intervention, but we suspect not.

Next morning, Jerrie proves her bravery by staring at a snake and screaming, and then by looking at something else and screaming. With the bodies piling up, our heroes move inland, in search of they know not what. And lo!—what should they find but they know not what, in the form of a bunch of scantily-clad jungle lovelies practicing their best interpretive dance moves. And then—curiouser and curiouser—a pack of Nazi Gestapo agents show up, snarling "Schnell!" and "Raus!" before herding them away. Showing remarkable lack of judgment, Fred follows them and finds their camp, where the dancing lovelies are herded into wooden cages.

Eventually, they learn the horrible truth: the Nazis are experimenting on these women, trying to restore a defaced accident victim to her former beauty, with the unfortunate side effect that the women are transformed into animal-like semi-humans. Showing further remarkable lack of judgment, Fred unchains one of the lovelies, then leaves her lying around where heavyset Nazi Igor can find her. Bring on the hunt! Soon after, Fred reveals even more remarkable lack of judgment by challenging Igor to one-on-one combat, while Sammy and Jerrie show considerably more sense by sitting it out. They all still manage to get caught, however.

Chatty Colonel Osler then spends fifteen minutes explaining the presence of himself, his Nazis and their experiments on the island; by the time he's done, it's time to start wrecking stuff. First, the Nazis wreck the heroes; then Colonel Osler wrecks his chances with Jerrie by acting like a nutcase; then Jerrie wrcks Osler's plans; then Osler wrecks everybody's plans. Not to mention the Air Force and its bombs.

Best lines of dialogue: "These footprints go in a circle—maybe the natives down here are getting onto this rock 'n' roll kick!"

Moral of the story: Nazis suck.

What gets zapped by demons (or others): A ship's captain; an ex-woman; an ex-Hitler Youth League member; another one; two more; yet another; a loyal fraulein; numerous demonic females (by implication); the last vestiges of the Third Reich.

What gets saved: Truth, justice, the American way, etc.

What remains ambiguous: The fate of the interpretive-dance troupe is left unresolved, though it seems likely they have sashayed their last, so to speak.

Party game: Play "Hogan's Heroes." Players drink a shot of peach schnapps every time one of the Nazis says or does something violent, sinister or stupid. Last player to remain conscious wins. Vomiting results in instant disqualification. Note: You will need several bottles. Can also be played with German beer such as Spaden.

Somehow their careers survived: Irish McCalla (Jerrie) had played the title role in TV's Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1955-56), while ex-bomber pilot Tod Griffin (Fred) had scored a small role in 1957's She Devil. Victor Sen Yung (Sammy)'s long career stretched from 1937's The Good Earth to 1980's The Man With Bogart’s Face, with plenty of film and TV work in between. Rudolph Anders (Colonel Osler) had appeared in The Snow Creature (1954) and alongside Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958), while Gene Roth (Igor) would be seen in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). This was the last film for Charles Opunui (Kris), but 1958 was a busy year for director Richard E. Cunha, who would go on to make Giant From the Unknown, Frankenstein's Daughter and the glorious Missile to the Moon as well as this movie. Some year!

BOTTOM LINE: Engaging weird-fest is bolstered by committed performances and plenty of surreal mayhem.

NEXT WEEK: Attack From Space (1959)

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