Halloween Blitz ’17: Harlot Fever

Underlining the term “guilty pleasure” with a vengeance, 1957’s SHE DEVIL, now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment, is a movie as sleazily seductive as its lead character.

Basically an EC Comics redux of the naughty mandrake root fable Hanns Heinz Ewers’ Alraune, SHE DEVIL valiantly (on a nothing budget) attempts to likewise update Frankenstein, as told by Mickey Spillane with a dash of BUtterfield 8 on the side (well, let’s say an exclamation mark). It’s the seriously damaged brainchild of writer/director Kurt Neumann, who coscripted the piece with Carroll Young, from the pretentiously titled story The Adaptive Ultimate by John Jessel (considering the result, it might as well have been George Jessel).

It’s the story of two bio-chemists, Bach and Scott, who suspiciously live together and specialize in fruit flies. Why, you ask?  Because these insects are the most adaptive and actually thrive when exposed to the planet’s most harmful elements. That Bach and Scott are portrayed by Albert Dekker and Jack Kelly (just a year or so before the latter reinvented himself as the witty, heroic Bart Maverick on the long-running TV series bearing his character’s surname) prove that they’re likely their own worst enemies. Dekker and Kelly are also fascinated by female sexuality, and, after developing a bat-guano crazy serum to go with their theory, they decide to find a suitable victim…ummm, patient.

Since some idiot allows Dekker to do yeoman service at the local poor people’s clinic (jeez, didn’t anyone see Dr. Cyclops?), he uncovers manna from heaven in the pleasing form of spectacularly named Kyra Zelas (Mari Blanchard), a comatose young woman dying of TB.

Taking the gasping babe into their home, Bach and Scott inject her with their formula right smack dab into her pineal gland (get out of the gutter – it’s her brain).  Yup, you can’t ask for anything better than this, and before you can say “trampire,” she magically turns into a severe version of Marie Windsor (with bleached-blonde hair that can only be classified as Diana Dors # 69, and explained away by the woman’s “insect adaptability”). Strangely enough, even her bland wardrobe undergoes a transformation – magically morphed into skin-tight stripper togs from Filene’s Barbara Nichols Collection.

The now belle-of-the-balls, Kyra seeks satisfaction from every male within skanking distance. Entering a fashionable boutique, she sidles up to elderly gentleman Paul Cavanagh, and without wasting time on her volcanic seductive charms, introduces herself, pushes him into a corner, grabs his wallet and bitch-slaps the hell out of him.

It’s the latter part that pounds Kyra’s g-spot to rapacious orgasmic heights, so she decides to switch to the even faster lane, skip robbery and ratchet her violent tendencies exclusively to homme-icide.

Of course this greatly disturbs Bach and Scott, particularly their study on the female animal which has instantly relegated them to a couple of fallopian boobs. Their attempt to stop her only results in their being caught in her amorous web themselves – along with Kyra’s wooing and screwing slimy adulterer/multi-millionaire John Archer (replete with pornstache).

SHE DEVIL is the type of movie that you can’t believe genuinely exists – even as you’re watching it. Its blatant stupidity is perfectly balanced by its loopy addictive qualities, buttressed by the fine cast and crew.

Dekker, whose private life would soon exceed his wildest on-screen performances, went on to play koo-koo Dr. Hochstader in the 1959 freak show Suddenly, Last Summer. His role as Bach is about neck-and-neck with his aforementioned turn as the teeny-weeny-obsessive Dr. (Cyclops) Thorkel. Blanchard, who, prior to SHE DEVIL, I only recalled as running saloons in about 120 million Universal-International Fifties westerns, has the role of her life in this exploitative germ…errr, gem (with the possible exception of her portrayal of Adah Issacs Menken in a Sugarfoot episode). She may be the screen’s greatest zom-be-otch!

Director Neumann was certainly on a roll. What can only be termed a Kurt Neumann special, SHE DEVIL was packaged as a double-feature for nabe/drive-in consumption with his more respectable giant robot sci-fi opus Kronos. The nice box-office raised his profile considerably resulting in Fox’s bumping him up the ladder to helm 1958’s The Fly.

SHE DEVIL was part of Fox’s low-rent offshoot company, Regal Pictures. Regal essentially offered up modest 75-minute programmers in black and white and scope (i.e., the stuff that they were too ashamed to release under their Fox banner). Regal’s catalog comprised westerns, horror pics and lurid thrillers (featuring second-string stars or performers on their way down the slippery celebrity slope).  Funnily enough, Fox even refused to let Regal use the CinemaScope logo; all their product was affixed with the RegalScope moniker (for more detailed RegalScope info, check out https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/for-a-few-dollars-less/).

The Blu-Ray of SHE DEVIL turned out a lot better than Bach and Scott’s experiment. Save for a few slight emulsion scratches, it’s in pretty good shape – and it won’t kill you. The crisp monochrome images look swell in 2.35:1, likely the first time available in the correct aspect ratio since 1957. The cinematography, I should mention, is by the wonderful cameraman Karl Struss, another reason for giving this delirious train wreck a peek. The audio features a score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, and it’s a hoot. It not only utilizes cliché slinky bad-girl horn/sax music, but cops riffs from Fox’s The Seven Year Itch soundtrack (a perk from working under the auspices of a big studio).

As a fan of movies where lead characters are both victim and villain, I find SHE DEVIL hard to resist. Cheap, tawdry and great celluloid trash, it certainly delivers the promised goods (or is it bads?). LSS, Mari Blanchard’s Kyra is one helluva damn-sel in distress!

SHE DEVIL.  Black and white [Letterbox:  2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; Mono DTS-HD MA.  UPC: 887090055604.  Cat #: OF556.  SRP:  $29.95.

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