The She-Beast (aka La sorella di Satana) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee Pattee
DVD released by Dark Sky Films
Vardela will return! – The Witch
Written and directed by Michael Reeves
1966, Region 1 (NTSC), 79 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on April 28th, 2009
Barbara Steele as Veronica
Ian Ogilvy as Philip
John Karlsen as Count von Helsing
Mel Welles as Ladislav Groper
When I found out Dark Sky Films was releasing The She-Beast, my interest was piqued. I had never seen the film, but since it was directed by Michael Reeves (the man who brought us Witchfinder General) and starring Ian Ogilvy (who was pretty damn good in Witchfinder General) and the ever beautiful Barbara Steele (probably best known for her role in Black Sunday), how could it not be great? Well, not quite knowing what genre it wants to be in, for starters.
At the beginning of the film, a witch meets her demise via a dunking stool at the hands of a vigilante mob, but in her final proclamation before her drowning, she curses the town and their offspring (and rightfully so, I say. Small town folk are always pulling this sort of nonsense.) and promises to return one day, to take her revenge. If the townies had waited for Professor Van Helsing like he told them, the witch could have been properly excised, and her threats made idle.
Two hundred years later, British newlyweds Philip and Veronica (Ogilvy and Steele) roll into town, intent on spending the night before continuing their tour of the Transylvanian countryside (yeah, it had to be Transylvania). Unimpressed with the small village, and even less so with the only-hotel-in-town's proprietor, Ladislav (B-movie horror staple Mel Welles), the two proceed to patronize everyone they run across.
After Philip catches Ladislav doing a little peeping Tom action as the young couple consummate their marriage, he gives the inn owner a proper beat down and, instead of leaving like they should, the couple stays the night anyway, and leaves the next day (but not before another confrontation with Ladislav over a missing distributor cap). Maybe if they left the night before, they would have gotten away clean, but instead their car's steering goes out and plunges into the river. The very river the witch was drowned in two centuries earlier. Philip manages to swim to shore, but is too weak to go back for his bride. Fortunately, the trucker they damn near ran off the road stuck around and managed to pull a body out of the water. Only it wasn't Veronica's body, but the witch's (in fantastic shape, too!), and Veronica is nowhere to be found.
Long story short: The witch comes back to life with a vengeance, Philip teams up with the great grandson of Professor Van Helsing and the two set off on a mission to get rid of the witch and save the girl. Pretty standard stuff.
Now, if The She-Beast had stuck with the theme it had in the very beginning of the film, the first five or so minutes before the newlyweds showed up, it would have rocked. Dark and dreary, it was reminiscent of the opening of Witchfinder General, and look how that turned out.
Alternatively, if it had stuck with the theme it had immediately when Philip and Veronica cruised in, that would have rocked, as well. Ogilvy and Steele are delightfully smarmy here, and a pleasure to watch. You both love and hate them, because their ongoing jabs to the locals are both funny and uncomfortable.
Sadly, though, the film doesn't stick with either and goes back and forth between the two — with an occasional wtf! moment thrown in, like the Keystone Kops-esque scene towards the very end of the film. At points it's hard to watch, as if script changes were coming in daily and just as you are enjoying something going on, things get changed up on you. It certainly doesn't help that Barbara Steele, the woman on about every poster, box cover and lobby card promoting this movie, is only in the film for about 20 minutes. This is explained in the commentary — they only had her for a day (an 18 hour day, no less) — but once she goes missing, Ogilvy just isn't as funny and the film loses some of the fantastic dark humor it started with.
The She-Beast isn't a total bust, because when it's on, it's really on. There are some legitimate, intentional, laugh-out-loud moments, just as there are some parts that are cringe inducing (in a good way). Unfortunately, the good parts never mesh together to make a whole, and instead you are left with a what-could-have-been film.
Video and Audio:
The She-Beast has a very solid 2.35:1 anamorphic picture. Colors are vibrant, and the presentation is crisp. The most noticeable discrepancies are not the fault of Dark Sky (day for night shots make some scenes a little dark, and there seems to be some smearing on the camera in a couple of shots).
The 2.0 mono track is completely sufficient.
- Commentary with Producer Paul Maslansky and Actors Ian Ogilvy and Barbara Steele
- Still Gallery
The commentary is an absolute delight to listen to, as producer Paul Maslansky and actors Ogilvy and Steele spend the time reminiscing about the filming and poking fun at the movie. I actually enjoyed watching the movie more with the commentary than without. It's not technical at all, but rather a walk down memory lane with the group, and completely engrossing.
The commentary is slightly hurt by some remarks made by Maslansky regarding horror and its fans towards the end, though. When asked if he liked the genre, he says no, and then explains that "people will accept in horror movie I think, probably, a lower standard..." and the horror movies today aren't made for "serious people" but "are made for children." However, considering this is the guy that produced all of the Police Academy movies (including at least one episode of the failed TV series), it's quite easy to take his remarks with a grain of salt. It does seem quite rude to make such statements in the company of Steele, who is best known for her horror films. These statements are very brief, but they don't fail to somewhat taint an otherwise fantastic commentary.
Click cover to purchase.
(Equipment includes a Mitsubishi WS-48613 48” HDTV, OPPO DV-970HD DVD player and Onkyo HTS-770 Home Theater System and, in some cases, a Sony 27” WEGA TV and a Sony DVP-NS50P DVD player.)
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