Despite the fact that “The Astounding She Monster” has all sorts of negatives as a film, it is strangely likable. I know I liked it. What makes it into a good film, despite the many questions one can raise about the story and despite the erratic and often clumsy production? What gives it its entertainment value? It’s definitely not that it’s to be ridiculed or that it’s camp. In my view, those reactions come from a supposedly sophisticated mentality that finds itself entertained and doesn’t want to believe that something like this could possibly be, in some sense, good. No, this movie is not good because some of us laugh at it almost 50 years later. The movie is good because it does some things right. What are they?
The monster is simple but effective. She never talks. She mainly walks. She sometimes walks backwards. She walks sometimes like a model, but sometimes with a peculiar movement of her shoulders. The technical work has given her a hazy luminescent presence. She’s attractive, belying the fact that what she touches dies. We don’t know what to make of her, so there is mystery. What is she up to? We are told in the early narration that the earth has gotten to the point where its nuclear bomb explosions could affect other planets. They may be out to put us in our place. So, one thing this movie has going for it is this creation. It is very unlike a hundred or so monsters of the 50s, most of which were meant to be terrifying.
Then we have the music. It’s often loud and always dramatic. It fills in a lot when people are moving around outside and there’s no dialog. It’s also well-chosen for its suspense attributes.
Then we have an interesting narration at the outset. It sets a mood. The actual story and look of the film is noir. It’s the story of a kidnapping. Most of the film after the kidnapping is at night, either in the interior of a cabin or outside in darkness. People run away from the she monster lit by an oval of light surrounded by darkness. In one scene, the main kidnapper’s suit and face are shadowed very nicely as he is perplexed in looking for his associate whom he finds dead.
The story has two simultaneous conflicts. The cabin belongs to a scientist. It’s invaded by the gang of 3, two men and a woman. These three have in tow the kidnapped woman. So, there is conflict between the scientist and the gang as well as conflict between all of them and the alien.
Alas, the execution in other respects is marred. The film has more than its share of bad acting. It’s best when the talking stops and the confrontations with the she monster occur, and there are quite a few of those. She seems unstoppable.