Reviews

Astounding She-Monster, The (1957)

If you’ve never listened to the song “Night and Day” by Al B. Sure!, you should. With its killer hooks and camp theatrics, this song has the power to get anyone pumped about anything. It makes everything better. And smoother.

“Night and Day” has nothing to do with The Astounding She-Monster, aside from the fact that they both make me happy and prove that the world isn’t a black hole of garbage — as long as you know where to look. To quote the killer in Blood Lake: “That’s good enough for me!”

A Hollywood socialite named Margaret is kidnapped in broad daylight. At the same time, a burst of extraterrestrial light shines on Earth and unleashes the She-Monster! The kidnappers (one of which is Kenne Duncan, star of Ed Wood’s Night of the Ghouls) and their alcoholic girlfriend swerve off the road to avoid the monster. They take refuge in a log cabin owned by a geologist named Dick. Margaret and Dick form a pact to escape, as the kidnappers drink, argue, point guns, wave switchblades, and dismiss the existence of the She-Monster. That is, until she jumps through a cabin window and demonstrates her radioactive touch of death. There’s also a scene where Dick has a conversation with his dog about dog food.

For most people, sitting through a horror movie from the 1950s is as appealing as getting a mosquito bite on your eyelid. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are a select group of grayscale nightmares that transcend their cringe-worthy, boomer-era mores and stand tall next to Eraserhead and Tetsuo: The Iron Man as fascinating DIY headtrips. She Demons. Daughter of Horror. Night of the Ghouls. And of course, The Astounding She-Monster. In this case, the gateway is the She-Monster herself. With her two-story high eyebrows and glittering leotard, she looks like a long lost member of Big Shim’s gang in She Mob. Or like she should be hanging out in the backseat of Divine’s car in Mondo Trasho. Or even the singer in a band that opened for Blondie in 1977. The She-Monster’s look overflows with timeless mid-century cool. But that’s only the beginning of what makes this movie so endearing.

The Astounding She-Monster was born out of desperation. And it shows. Produced and directed by Hollywood fringe-dweller Ronnie Ashcroft after declaring bankruptcy the previous year, She-Monster was cobbled together with one set, stolen shots of Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, and an editing machine in Ashcroft’s living room. The movie utilizes horror host styled narration (“It was a rendezvous of fate!”), radio broadcasts, and stock footage to tell the story when overdubs weren’t an option. The She-Monster’s appearances are ghostly and stilted, a product of watery double exposures and Shirley Kilpatrick’s robotic movements. When combined with the cast’s histrionics and a seriously killer score, these elements build an intoxicating ambience. The screen becomes a magical portal to another galaxy. Even when things slow down, we’re always displaced by the mood.

What I appreciate most about this movie is that Ashcroft embraced his limitations and let it ride. She-Monster is a gutter-noir/sci-fi/horror film that literally originated in the gutter and does nothing to hide it. When the desire to create eclipses common sense and resources, we get outsider movies with the potential to turn the world upside down. Not all of them stand the test of time. But the ones that do provide us with an alternative. And those alternatives have the ability to cast a spell of comfort, fun, and inspiration to anyone who’s lucky enough to see them.

This movie also includes one of the sickest burns of the last century: “The way you put your foot in your kisser, it’s a wonder you don’t get athlete’s mouth.”

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