Don’t Open That Door! #18: 'Womaneater' aka 'The Woman Eater' (1959)
Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: Venus fly traps get a bad name in Womaneater aka The Woman Eater
The Woman EaterDirector: Charles Saunders
Cast: George Coulouris, Vera Day, Peter Wayn, Joyce Gregg
US release date: 1959-07
Alternative titles: Venus and the Fly Trap
Mayhem starts early and keeps up at regular intervals.
Dumb white guy dies before any of the luckless natives!
Carniverous plant is about the un-scariest thing imaginable.
Above-average performances from a solid cast.
Creepy going-to-London scene has air of genuine seediness.
Drags a bit in the middle.
Character-driven plot (as opposed to Godzilla-type spectacle) won't appeal to everyone.
SYNOPSIS: Good-natured philanthropist—or is he?—Dr. Moran travels to the Amazon in search of a mysterious tribe "descended from the Incas" who are supposed to possess a juju that can bring the dead back to life. Instead he finds a curvaceous native girl in a stylish dress, who’s about to be sacrificed to a multi-limbed tree trunk: drummers drum and dancers dance while the tribal priest is proccupied with playing with his python, if you know what I mean. When the tree moves in and the young woman's trance melts into shrieks of horror, the doctor can't fight back a smile. Say what? As the other fellow at The Explorer's Club has already warned, Moran is "one of the most brilliant minds alive, but he's tainted. Several members of his family have already been put away." File that one away, because it just might be important.
Five years later, Moran is safely back in England, occupying an enormous manor house with a nice big basement. There's plenty of room for Tanga, his oiled and grinning Amazonian drummer buddy, plus lots of lab equipment and an eight-foot-tall carnivorous tree. Not to mention the occasional young woman he tricks past the gates. Yes it's true—the good doctor has officially graduated from crackpot to public menace. (The skull on his desk is a bit of a tip-off.) Soon we learn of the doctor's twisted plan: to use the sap from the woman-eating plant to synthesize his own serum to resurrect the dead. Well, sure.
Things don't get any easier when shapely Sally turns up looking for work. At first it looks like she'll wind up as Miracle-Gro, but the doc unexpectedly falls for her—and why not, with abs like that—and sinister housekeeper Margaret is hard-pressed to keep her cool. Meanwhile the cops keep poking around looking for that other missing girl, and Sally's boyfriend Jack is a bit of a nuisance too… Why, it’s all enough to send a guy to London to pick up a girl, dope her with a funny cigarette, and drag her back to his manor house. And the movie's barely half over!
When pesky housekeeper/ex-lover Margaret stirs the pot even more, Dr. Moran’s hand is forced—and when his hand gets forced, you can be sure that ten or twelve leafy, grasping plant arms are going to be forced right along with it.
Best lines of dialogue: "With this, our people make live the dead. Master—this is good!"
What gets squashed into paste or otherwise removed from the scene: A white guy; an Amazon woman; a white woman (blonde); another white woman (brunette); the biggest Venus fly trap you ever saw.
Moral of the story: The plants are fine, just watch out for the gardener.
Did you know? Hundreds of species of carnivorous plants exist, the Venus fly trap being only one of many. The funnel-shaped leaves of the pitcher plant trap insects, while the common bladderwort floats on ponds, sucking up unsuspecting insects and tiny fish. Vines in the genus Nepenthes can grow dozens of meters long and are strong enough to trap frogs or, in rare cases, birds or rodents. No nubile young women have gone missing as yet, however. (None of this has any direct bearing on the movie, but it's fun anyway.)
This reminds me of… Some other movies that feature killer plants: The Land Unknown (1957), Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors (1960, with Jack Nicholson), and The Day of the Triffids (1963) and of course the various Body Snatcher incarnations.
Audience participation: Play "Bonzo lives!" Grab a drum—or shoebox, coffee can or table—and play drums along with Tanga during those great human-sacrifice scenes.
Somehow their careers survived: George Coulouris (Dr Mason)'s distinguished acting career included roles in Citizen Kane (1941) in which he played Mr Thatcher, Kane's guardian, as well as Papillon (1973) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974); Vera Day (Sally) appeared in Quatermass 2 (1957) plus a handful of '50s B-movies such as The Haunted Strangler (1958). Marpessa Dawn, the "native" woman sacrificed film's start, would upgrade her career in 1958’s Black Orpheus.
BOTTOM LINE: Somehow the Brits manage to keep straight faces. Campy fun, well worth a peek on a lazy afternoon.
NEXT WEEK: The Killer Shrews (1959)