This movie is, of course, artistically bankrupt. It is artless, tedious and frankly illogical. It is, however, rather watchable in an odd sort of way… Not quite in the Plan 9 fashion, where you’re left laughing all the time, because the production values here aren’t all that bad for the time. The “She Creature”, whilst a risible concept, looks quite impressive, given a bit of disbelief-suspension – vital for any true lover of film, of course. ‘Tis a shame the creature moves so slow as to make anyone killed by it look utterly pathetic.
The plot is a mixture of clichéd horror and cut-price hypnotism, a concern which you can tell was topical in 1956. It has some interesting areas which are largely unexplored: the big-business involvement with the good Dr Lombardi could have made for some reasonable drama and comedy. This missed opportunity is far from the worst thing about the story; the relationship between Marla English’s Andrea and both Lombardi and Erickson is abysmally written. We are presented with scenes that stutter on for days between Lombardi and Andrea; scenes that say nothing new at all, as we knew right from the start about Andrea’s dilemma. Even worse is the abrupt, tiresomely predictable “romance” between Andrea and Erickson. The acting is devoid of charisma, humour and often even the vaguest physical or emotional expression. Perhaps these marionettes would make good human-fodder in a Ballardian concept, but they really wouldn’t have the poise to achieve that.
Lance Fuller gives a kind of unintended, minimalist-hammy performance as the sceptic-type Dr Erickson. You frankly end up rooting for Lombardi, such is the unfounded, uncalled-for smugness of the ‘rational’ Erickson. Cathy Downs’ character only shows interest in him due to the constraints of genre convention. Erickson’s battle of wills with Lombardi over Andrea’s mind and the only intended humour, which comprises scenes of the house-servants, are some of the feeblest, most cringe-worthy scenes in the annals of cinema.
The crucial figure is that of the sole experienced and professional actor in the film, Chester Morris, who seems to know how to handle this ludicrous material, by playing it deadly seriously. He actually gives an effective portrayal of a taciturn, smalltime showman who isn’t quite as clever as everyone is endlessly saying. Morris’s range of expressions is ridiculously small, reduced to a permanent frown, and, on second thoughts, perhaps some wry humour and flamboyance would have lifted the film, if even been out of character. He does, after all, sport the archytypal villain’s moustache and black cape – so often found in the ripest stage and film melodramas.
It really is ‘against all odds’ – as a Mr Collins once crooned – that this film is fun to watch. Perhaps it is the black-and-white photography that lends it some atmosphere. Indeed the film, if you suspend your disbelief, works on a 1950s B-Movie level, without ever threatening to reach the heights of that genre. Most of the fun is in observing these hapless, smug characters – only just managing to keep within some rather ropey genre conventions – and finding the unintended mirth in what they say and do. So, worth watching – it is mercifully brief by latterday measures – but do keep expectations very low!