Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Woman Eater (1958)

The Woman Eater is a delightfully silly 1958 British science fiction horror movie. The woman eater of the title is actually a plant, making this a representative of the carnivorous killer plant sub-genre, although this plant is actually a god of sorts. More about that later.

The movie opens in the Explorers’ Club in London where Dr James Moran is trying to persuade a young man to accompany him on his next expedition to some godforsaken jungle or other. One of the older members reminds the youngster that while the Moran family has produced some geniuses it’s also produced some prime nutters who have ended up in the loony bin. Whether Dr James Moran falls into the genius or loony category remains to be seen but the viewer will certainly have his suspicions.

The expedition ends disastrously but Dr Moran does achieve his main objective - he has brought back to England with him the juju of some native tribe. This juju is a plant that eats women but it allegedly also holds the secret to the conquest of death. That’s the bit that interests Dr Moran. If he can make a serum from the plant he will be able to bring the dead back to life, but first he will have to find food for the plant.

When a young woman goes missing not far from Dr Moran’s country house the police do not at first suspect that they are dealing with a mad scientist. Of course we know what happened to the girl. After being lured to Dr Moran’s house his henchman (a native from the tribe whose juju Dr Moran stole) provided the drum music that entices women into the deadly embrace of the killer plant.

Sally is a dancer at a girly show in a carnival. She meets motor mechanic Jack Venner who falls for her at first sight. After accidentally getting her fired from the carnival Venner suggests that Sally ask Dr Moran for a job. She gets the job, as an assistant to the scientist-explorer’s housekeeper. The housekeeper, Margaret Santor, used to be Dr Moran’s girlfriend but he lost interest in her when she started to lose her looks. Margaret is not at all happy about Sally’s arrival on the scene.

What Dr Moran hasn’t considered is that you don’t go around stealing plants that are gods with impunity. And trusting a native of the tribe that worships the plant might not be the best of ideas. Keeping a cast-off lover as a housekeeper is also the sort of idea that can land you in a good deal of trouble. Dr Moran really hasn’t put enough thought into this mad scientist business.

The rest of the plot follows pretty much the pattern that the viewer will be anticipating.

The juju plant looks pretty cool in a silly B-movie sort of way, if you know what I mean. Fans of 50s sci-fi horror will not be displeased with it.

Director Charles Saunders had a long if not exactly brilliant career in movies and television. Given the very low budget he had to work with he does a solid enough job. Screenwriter Brandon Fleming’s career on the other hand was both short and undistinguished but his story includes everything a fan of this sort of movie will be looking for.

George Coulouris is the mad scientist. His performance is fine but a bit low-key. You can’t help wishing for someone like Michael Gough to liven things up a little. Coulouris isn’t quite menacing enough or crazy enough. Vera Day obviously got the role of Sally on the basis of her chest measurements rather than her acting ability. The other players are adequate if not terribly exciting.

What matters is that the movie has the right sort of goofy premise and handles it with the right sort of seriousness. You can’t make a movie like this work if you try to do it in an intentionally campy way. The camp quality has to be unconscious to be truly satisfying.

Image’s DVD presentation is adequate. The transfer is in the correct widescreen aspect ratio but it’s not anamorphic. Picture quality is good though. There are no extras.

The Woman Eater is not a great movie by any means but it’s a lot of fun and doesn’t really deserve the obscurity into which it has fallen. Recommended.

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