The Woman Eater (1958)
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The Woman Eater was one of two cheap and cheerful horror films made by the producer-director duo of Guido Coen and Charles Saunders who usually specialised in second feature crime thrillers. The teams initial venture into this territory, The Man Without a Body is sadly a bore despite a plot which features Nostradamus' severed head being brought back to life and concludes with a mini-rampage from a monster that resembles a tall man with a pillow case on his head. Opening with location defining shots of the Thames, their second attempt at the genre is an equally ludicrous but much more fun and spirited example of B-movie horror. At the explorer's club' Dr James Moran (George Coulouris, the lead in both the Saunders-Coen horrors) entertains young associate Colin with the tale of a tribe that can bring the dead back to life. Ignoring warnings that insanity runs in the Moran family, Colin joins the doctor on a trek to the Amazon cost cuttingly evoked by stock footage and a few jungle sets at Twickenham studios. Stumbling across the tribe performing a black magic ceremony involving a woman being fed to a monster tree, Colin makes an ill-fated attempt to halt the proceedings (`stop you devils') and ends up with a spear in the chest for his troubles. Moran is later found babbling and suffering from jungle fever.
Five years later Moran has decamped to a sleepy village in England where hidden in his basement lies the bizarre spectacle of Tanga (Jimmy Vaughan) one of the tribe, hypnotizing various women in order to feed them to the monster tree. (Best not to question how Moran got both a tribesman and a carnivorous tree from the Amazon to provincial England without anyone noticing, especially say customs). Moran eases his conscience by ranting she'll become part of the plant, she won't have died in vain' convinced the tree's juices can bring the dead back to life. With this our people make live the dead master' remarks Tanga in his broken native' English, a theory demonstrated by Moran injecting the juices into a pulsing heart which he keeps in a jar. In his search for tree food the preferred victims being buxom women- Moran takes a furtive walk around Piccadilly Circus and Soho, ignoring prostitutes in favour of following a woman to a crummy late night watering hole. After he buys her a drink she asks him if he's a talent spotter for the movies then jadedly adds all men are talent spotters in one way or another'. Soon after she's thrown to the monster tree who sports some barely mobile vines and oven glove like claws, the surreal effect suggests a man who has disguised himself as a Christmas tree in order to grope a passing starlet.
Despite a brief running time of 71 minutes and a plot that drafts in a zombie woman on top of a monster tree and a mad doctor The Woman Eater does contain a fair deal of padding and plot diversions that hasn't endeared the film to many critics over the years. In fairness these moments aren't completely without interest though. 50's pin-up Vera Day a kind of proto Barbara Windsor, plays the heroine, an ex-hula hula dancer whose appearance in the village turns the heads of both the local mechanic and the mad doctor. As a scientist I'm more interested in things with six legs rather than two' proclaims Moran at one point but soon changes his mind when he hires Vera to look after his house. Given their Butchers films backgrounds its no surprise that Coen and Saunders also have a tendency to dwell on the police investigation side of things with the forces of law and order quaintly represented by village detectives who wear trench coats and smoke pipes and a cheery copper who gets about on a pushbike. Saunders' chief claim to fame is that he would later direct Britain's first nudist camp film Nudist Paradise (1958) which was still playing in London as late as 1967 and also wound up as a visual gag in a Carry On film, while Coen would end his career producing sex comedies. You can see slight hints of what was to come in The Woman Eater, Coen and Saunders seem to enjoy flirting with salacious sights that never actually materialise, the heroine is introduced hula-hula dancing at a carnival as a barker promises we'll see south sea island belles all for a bob' and an advert for a West End play called Nude with Violin is used in a almost subliminal message way. Slightly more risqué is one of the film's few scenes played for a comedy in which Vera helps her mechanic boyfriend mend a car only for him to become distracted by staring at her chest. Less the censor suspect the hero (or the cameraman for that matter) is meant to be having amoral thoughts about Miss Day, moments later he's doing the honest thing and asking her to marry him, even though they've only ever met three times. It could all of course play on Sunday afternoon television today without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow but this was what a British exploitation film looked like in 1957. The Woman Eater also anticipates many a home-grown horror effort (usually the ones starring Michael Gough) in which dedicated mad doctors become distracted by something blond, half their age and in a tight sweater, leaving their repressed middle aged housekeeper fuming with envy and putting the spanner in the works that eventually causes everything to (literally) go up in smoke.
Having devoured it's prey, the plant produces a liquid that can purportedly restore life to the dead, something that greatly interests the doctor, who arranges for the ravenous shrub to be transported back to his home in England, along with one of the tribesmen, Tanga (Jimmy Vaughn), to help him with his work (quite how Moran came to this arrangement with the bloodthirsty natives is also never explained). Luring women back to his secure, basement laboratory, Moran sets about feeding the plant in an effort to create enough of the sap to revive the dead.
Womaneater is made of the stuff that monster B-movie fans live for: there's the mad scientist with his creepy ethnic assistant, a ropey old tree creature with flailing limbs and tentacles, a bevy of buxom beauties in skimpy sacrificial robes, a pneumatic blonde heroine (sexy ex-funfair worker Sally, played by Vera Day), and a brave but chauvinistic mechanic hero, Jack Venner (Peter Wayn). As one might expect from a low budget '50s B-movie, the film is no Oscar winner, but what it lacks in logic or technical merit it sure makes up for in cheeze 'n' sleaze, with big helpings of both being served up by director Charles Saunders.
The shonky monster is guaranteed to illicit more laughs than screams, as will the sight of Tanga in his adult-sized nappy banging the bongos; the seedier content includes Moran prowling the streets and bars of London for suitable victims and his misogynistic treatment of devoted ex-lover/housekeeper Margaret (Joyce Gregg).
There's also an unexpectedly tacky moment when Sally helps Jack to fix a car: while Jack is in the foot-well, he eyes up Sally's impressive breasts (her '50s torpedo chest blatantly occupying the foreground), after which he rudely berates her for her inability to follow simple instructions. Considering how he has just asked her to marry him, the scene leaves the viewer wondering just how badly he might abuse her once the ring is actually on her finger.
A fun finalé adds even more sleaziness, with sexy Sally narrowly avoiding becoming a meal for the monstrous weed, but not before her blouse has been torn to give viewers a tantalising glimpse of her bra (this being 1958, I imagine that's all audiences needed to get hot and flustered!).
7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for the very lovely Vera Day as Sally.
A mad scientist brings a flesh eating tree back from the Amazon that the natives used out there. This tree only eats women and he has to look round the local area for these. After it has eaten its "meal", the scientist then gets a serum and uses it to resurrect the dead. He employs a native to help him. The victims includes his housekeeper/lover and nearly her replacement too. The tree is burned at the end.
The cast includes Gorge Coulouris (Citizen Kane), Vera Day (Quatermass 2) and Robert MacKenzie (Feind Without a Face). With Jimmy Vaughn as the Native assistant.
If you wish to see another movie about a killer tree, take a look at From Hell It Came.
The Womaneater is a must see for all 1950's sci-fi fans. Great fun.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
With his weird and creepy native drummer boy Tanga, Jimmy Vaughn, as well as an exotic plant that he brought back to the UK with him Dr. Moran created the same conditions for the secret native ceremony that he learned in the Amazon jungle from the locals in his basement laboratory to bring the dead back to life. With this the egotistical Dr. Moran planned to become the greatest man in the history of scientific and biological research that the world has even known and all the fame and riches and power that goes along with it.
Now five years later with everything is ready for Dr. Moran's ground-breaking experiment to be tested all he needed was a human sacrifice for the flesh-eating tree and the only humans that the tree eats are well endowed young women needing them to get the tree to extract a secret serum that can give life to those that the serum is injected into.
Tanga goes and captured a young women outside Sara, Susan Curtis, to be given to the tree for lunch. After extracting the serum and injecting it into what looked like a skull in his laboratory the pulsometer. The results showed that the serum wasn't enough for the tree to give the Doctor the jolt that he needed to bring back to life the dead-head that he had in the jar. Soon another unexpected complication arose for Dr. Moran when the young and buxom Sally Norton , Vera Day, came looking for a job at his home as a housekeeper. That didn't go too well with Dr. Moran's long-time housekeeper and lover Margaret, Joyce Gregg, who now has to compete with the much younger and far more attractive Sally for the doctor's affections.
Although obsessed with his findings in life-after-death studies Dr. Moran let his amorous emotions get in the way of his scientific curiosity. Dr. Moran fell madly in love with Sally and didn't use her for his experiment as food-stuff for the hungry tree which made Tanga very mad. It was later that he got into a fight with Margaret over Sally where he strangled her.
Kidnapping another young and will-built woman Judy, Joy Webster, at the local pub in town for the trees unquenchable appetite the serum is ready for Dr. Moran to see if he can bring the dead Margaret back to life. To Dr. Moran' great shock an surprise he finds out when he brings Margaret back to the "living" that Tanga his supposedly loyal and faithful assistant played a dirty trick on him. Margaret's body was alive but her mind was brain-dead! As the gleeful Tanga tells Dr. Moran " The body for you. The brain for us".
Dr. Moran going berserk, with the knowledge that his experiments all these years were a bust, attacks Tanga and ends up with Tanga taking a knife out of his diaper and putting it in Dr. Moran's back. This happened after the doctor set the tree on fire. With that a crazed and despondent Tanga seeing his "God" destroyed he walks into the burning bush and together both go up in flames.
Inspired acting by both George Coulouris and Jimmy Vaughn lifted the movie up to the point where your interested in watching it especially that of Coulouris' Dr. Moran. Coulouris who did such a good job of acting insane during the movie that even the few times that he was supposed to be normal he came across as deranged.
And we do have stereotypes here, as with all of this era and kind.
But watching this reminded me of a more subtle and interesting phenomenon. The political dialog in the US (and likely elsewhere) is dominated by the successful party's mastery of the cinematic narrative. We just cannot help ourselves; we like to be shown that the world is so.
But once you start that locomotive going, you inherit ALL the baggage of the cinematic narrative, Vincent Price comes uninvited with your John Wayne. This has nothing at all to do with conservative values; it is just a result of adopting the movie world as the basis for your beliefs.
This is the purest example I know of a huge class of similar movies. In this movie, the scientist is a madman whose "science" has no resemble to real science. Instead, he has stolen a ritual and plant from Africa, with the unavoidable association with the dark race and inexplicable VooDoo.
This scientist doesn't mind a bit "saving life by taking life," a catchphrase that is in my newspapers every day. And it is all driven by sex: he is replacing his aged mistress by a younger model. A torpedo bra of course and chirpy British accent denote that she really is dumb. But get this, she was an "exotic dancer" at a carnival. She, in fact, would be representative of the over half of the US population that believes in astrology and nearly half that believes in creationism.
I can understand this thread of influence and consequence when it applies to nuclear energy: the US makes and uses a bomb, many, many movies are made showing the evil side. And we end up with a public that has an unnatural fear of all things radioactive.
But this thread is more interesting and profound and has stifled stem cell research in the US.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.