Monday, 16 July 2018

The Woman Eater (1958)




An entertaining film containing quite a good yarn sandwiched between a silly beginning and an awful ending. 

Directed by Charles Saunders
Produced by Guido Coen
Screenplay by Brandon Fleming
Music by Edwin Astley
Cinematography: Ernest Palmer
Edited by Seymour Logie
Production company: Fortress Film Productions
Distributed by Eros Films
Running time: 70 minutes


Cast


George Coulouris: Doctor Moran
Robert MacKenzie: Lewis Carling
Norman Claridge: Doctor Patterson
Marpessa Dawn: Native Girl
Jimmy Vaughn: Tanga
Sara Leighton: Susan Curtis
Edward Higgins: Sergeant Bolton
Joyce Gregg: Mrs. Santor
Harry Ross: Bristow
Vera Day: Sally
Peter Forbes-Robertson: Jack Venner
Alexander Field: Fair Attendant
Joy Webster Joy Webster : Judy
David Lawton: Man In Club
John A. Tinn: Lascar
Maxwell Foster: Inspector Brownlow
Peter Lewiston: Det. Sergeant Freeman
Roger Avon Roger Avon: Constable




Trailer



A crazed scientist feeding women to a flesh-eating tree!
A serum that can bring the dead back to life!

See the…

REIGN OF TERROR FROM EARTH!


In my previous post on the film, The Trollenberg Terror (1958), I concluded with a brief observation about the role of women in both vintage and modern era sci-fi and other genre films.

The Woman Eater presents us with an interesting insight into the exploitative nature of many films at the time in relation to the portrayal of female characters. It does this in an odd way by seeming to make use of and be almost enumerating every exploitative technique under the sun in its depiction of the female gender. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, The Woman Eater highlights the various ways in which a male-dominated society sets about using and as the title suggests, consuming women for its own benefit.

Such a situation in both the entertainment media of film and TV and in the wider society it reflects would inevitably produce a reaction that would take decades in the making. Consequently, we now have in film and in areas such as politics and the corporate world, more women being represented and brought to the fore either through personal merit, quota systems or positive discrimination.

Unfortunately, in many instances the reaction produced has turned out to be just as problematic as the original set of social circumstances that led to it. As women fill more prominent roles in film and the real world, they are often simply being asked to speak and behave in ways that are sadly indistinguishable from their male counterparts. Little that is unique or distinctive about women is allowed to be explored within an already established system whether it be the depiction of female roles in sci-fi and other films or female conduct in the world of politics and the opportunistic and self-serving corporate sphere.

Could an unintended consequence be the eventual creation of an expanded power elite consisting of an equal proportion of male and female members leaving the rest outside (as Orwell might have put it) looking from woman to man, and from man to woman, and from woman to man again; and being impossible to say which was which……

We seem to have moved away from a world that normalized the idiotic notion of females being seen as fragile and subservient beings in constant need of rescuing and have instead slipped down a rabbit hole into a bizarre world of elitist jack-booted feminism populated by angry and intense females with men being allocated the roles of irrelevant limp under-performing appendages! Such warped notions and outcomes surrounding gender roles and equality are being frequently depicted in modern films, particularly in sci-fi and action-type films.

So, what about this 60-year-old film, The Woman Eater? What makes it stand out from other similar films of its era?

Read on for more......




Spoilers follow below….

The film’s title is certainly clever in its simplicity with the combining of two intriguing ideas in order to draw in audiences: women being eaten. Gotta’ see that! The title didn’t even have to be simplified for US audiences at the time! THAT in itself is unusual! 




We begin at a bastion of privileged male exclusivity, the Explorers Club in London where Dr Moran informs the other club members about “a tribe in the depths of the Amazon jungle” which has “a miracle-working juju that can bring the dead back to life.” It is his intention to embark on an expedition to get the miracle substance.

We next proceed to the apparent depths of the Amazon jungle where we find Dr Moran and a party of nonentities sporting safari-style clothing stained with fake sweat hacking their way through artificial foliage on a film set. Of course, there’s a bit of stock wildlife footage thrown in for the sake of ‘authenticity.’



The Embrace of Death!



Dr Moran and his young nondescript colleague suddenly stumble upon a secret ceremony being performed in which a gorgeous young native woman under the spell of the sound of beating drums, is led toward a large carnivorous tree to be consumed by it.

Moran’s younger companion declares that he can't stand by and see this happen. He sallies forth and shouts out, "Stop you devils!" As he turns back around to call out to Dr. Moran to help him, one of the natives launches a spear which catches him in the chest.


It turns out that the giant tree feeds on the blood of women and generates a fluid that can bring the dead back to life. The giant tree is worshipped by the natives, who have just performed a sacrificial rite to appease it.


See the nerve-shattering Dance of Death! 

Even in this supposedly ancient and stereotypically uncivilized and primitive culture, it is women (particularly young beautiful women) who are sacrificed in order to satisfy the needs of their (patriarchal?) society.

The good Dr Moran almost dies from 'jungle fever' and is stretchered off the scene……


"England - Five Years Later"

Five years later, Dr Moran has recovered and is back in England at his manor house. He has moved the plant from the Amazon jungle into a laboratory in his basement along with Tanga, a member of the tribe of worshipers who is tasked with caring for it.

We have the scene being set for a depiction of the traditional mad scientist conducting ungodly experiments in his secret basement laboratory and being aided by his sinister ‘Igor’-like assistant. Amid his bubbling beakers and test tubes, our mad scientist, Dr Moran begins to conduct his experiments by first finding women to feed his carnivorous plant. Moran believes that by using his scientific approach, the plant's sap will both reanimate the dead, and even give them - immortality!




No Beautiful Woman is Safe!



T
o start with, a beautiful young English woman, Susan Curtis is kidnapped and fed to the tree where according to Moran, “She'll become a part of the plant, and from it I'll get the serum to bring the dead back to life. She won't have died in vain.' 

In the lab Dr. Moran takes a beaker containing the special serum and fills up a syringe with it. In a giant glass container there is a large heart into which Moran injects the serum. Slowly the heart starts to beat. A "pulsometer" (nicely labelled and worthy of being in the Bat Cave!) indicates the beating action of the heart. All seems to be going well when suddenly the heart starts to beat slower and slower until it stops completely. A shaken Dr. Moran believes that all they need is more serum from the plant and that next time the experiment will work.

With the failure of the experiment a beautiful young woman has been needlessly sacrificed, this time on the altar of science.

In the next scene Police Sgt Bolton arrives at the manor on his bicycle to question Moran about the missing Susan. According to Bolton, it appears that she was staying with some friends in the area and then simply vanished without a trace. Moran, along with his housekeeper, Margaret deny any knowledge of her. 



Upon leaving the manor, Bolton passes a sign on the road advertising a carnival fun fair that has arrived in town. This provides us with a seg-way into the next scene later that night at the Fun Fair. Here we see Sally Norton performing at a sideshow, doing a terrible version of a hula-dance to attract customers to see the show. It doesn’t matter that she has a completely un-Pacific South Sea island girl appearance and that she can’t hula dance to save herself. 



Hey, it’s Vera Day and she looks good just being on the screen! A couple of salivating leering men in the audience obviously think so too as they are suckered in to parting with their pennies. A lesson quickly learnt by advertisers and employed to good effect by them!

When Sally takes a break, we see Jack Venner at the shooting gallery trying to win a cupie doll, but not succeeding as he’s somewhat attracted to and distracted by Sally. Having improved his aim, Jack comes over to her and gives her a cuddly toy panda bear he won. After several lame pick-up lines Sally informs him that she's leaving in the morning to go do a charity show. Jack not surprisingly offers to drive her there and she readily agrees despite having just met him and not even knowing his name!

Just at that minute Sally’s abusive spruiker boss appears on the scene and harangues Sally about having to be up on the stage and attracting more customers with her wiggling hip routine.

When Jack tries to tell Sally’s boss that it was his fault and that he was having a drink with her, the spruiker becomes aggressive and receives a sock to the jaw for his troubles. Of course, this costs Sally her job. 



The next day we find Sally walking down the street towards Jack’s garage where he's working under a car. She walks in, and after discussing her need for a new job, Jack suggests that she go and see Dr. Moran who only has a housekeeper and might therefore require some more help. We can see where this is going!

Jack and Sally drive out to Dr. Moran's house, and once there, Jack for some reason stays at the front gate while Sally takes a long walk to Moran’s house. Why not drive her to the door? Bastard! Sally had a rather cute clop, clop clopping way of walking. In my mind I couldn’t going “Blop!” ” Blop!” “ Blop!” in time with her steps. I get easily distracted.

After Sally’s trek to the house she rings the bell and Tanga answers the door. After he lets her in to see the doctor, she asks Moran for a job. At first, he tells Sally that he doesn't have anything for her, but then suddenly asks her if she'd be prepared to live in. After a brief discussion which has a rather creepy potential future “Me-Too” campaign implication about it, Sally accepts the job.

After her meeting with Dr Moran, Sally walks back to the entrance gate and tells Jack about the job and the weird feeling the place gave her. Jack grabs her bag and accompanies Sally back to the house and tells her that he hopes they'll be seeing more of each other.



Back in the study Margaret the housekeeper lets Moran know that she’s unhappy that he's hired Sally without knowing anything about her. He tells Margaret that she needs some help as she's been overworked lately and that it's been affecting her nerves. Margaret responds by accusing him of just wanting Sally around because she's young and beautiful. Moran is adamant and declares that he won't hear any more argument about it. Suddenly, the doorbell rings and Margaret’s facial expression and demeanour indicates what is seething beneath the surface of this obviously threatened and desperate older woman who fears losing the battle with Time, losing the man she’s devoted to and of eventually becoming ‘invisible’ to the world.

Later on, Detective Inspector Brownlow accompanied by Sgt. Bolton drive up to Dr Moran’s house to question Moran again about Susan's disappearance, He becomes irritated by their questions, but he gives them permission to search the grounds.

The inspector receives a phone call and while he is talking on the phone he picks up a strange looking knife and inspects it. When the inspector asks the doctor about it Moran almost becomes frantic and snatches it out of his hand. Moran tells the inspector that it's a unique find from the depths of the Amazon. Bolton tells Brownlow that he didn't find anything and the two leave Moran’s place in the car together.




See the Woman Eater ensnare the beauties of two continents!
One night Dr. Moran is out roaming the streets of London on the look-out for another victim to sacrifice to his tree. Having spotted his female prey, he stalks her until she enters a bar to meet her boyfriend. The man is an absolute tool and he treats the woman as if she were garbage. After they have a huge fight, the tool leaves without even paying for the drinks they just ordered. The bartender comes over and demands payment for the drinks and threatens to call the police when the woman refuses. This gives Dr. Moran an opening to step in and pay for the drinks. He then joins her at the table and soon invites her out to a roadhouse.

A lot of women in her situation don’t find much in the way of better men to have relationships with than the kind of loser she was with or perhaps some sleezy old geezer who might want an easy pick up. They often conduct themselves and reflect the way many men perceive them to be and don’t know any better. We know the kind of labels that get attached to them.



"Come along now. You trust me, don't you?"

As Moran and the woman are driving in his car she's smoking a cigarette that seems to be adversely affecting her. When they eventually get to his place he takes her down into the basement lab.


“There was a time when you trusted me”

Margaret later enters and surprises Dr Moran. She castigates him for being out late again and suspects that he was out with other women. It turns out that five years previously they had a relationship before Moran went to the Amazon, hence her current jealousy. She then goes on to suspect him of performing activities of an evil nature behind the iron door which she is barred from opening and entering the room behind it. Margaret questions Moran about what lies behind the door, but he merely responds that it is only his lab behind the door and that he doesn't permit anyone to enter to see his experiments.

Margaret then accuses Moran of not trusting her and he replies by telling her, “My dear Margaret, I have never trusted you or any other woman with anything I didn't want anyone else to know.” You can well imagine how a comment like that would make her feel. A shaken Margaret declares, “there's evil all round me. It's here tonight! I can feel it!!” Moran ends the confrontation by telling Margaret that she should go away and never come back. Margaret pleads with him to let her stay, and he warns her that if she ever tries to meddle in his business, it'll be the last thing she ever does. He then dismisses her by sending her back to her room as if she were a naughty little girl. In fact, she is a mature woman probably feeling that her best days have passed her by and that she is caught in a trap of emotional dependency.




See the hideous arms devour them in a death-embrace!


In the next scene we find Dr Moran down in the lab with Tanga and the young lady he had virtually kidnapped from the bar in London. She is undergoing the ceremony and meets the same fate as the other previous two young women.



The next day Sally clip clops her way over to Jack’s garage where he is working on a car. We then have a silly little fluffy playful scene in which Sally offers to help Jack with the car he's working on. Clearly (being a woman of course) she doesn’t know a damn thing about cars which is fine by Jack who declares, "Good! I hate mechanically minded women." I guess dumb flighty vacuous blondes are preferable.

After succeeding in annoying the hell out Jack, he asks her to hand him a screwdriver and unexpectedly follows this up by asking her to marry him! Of course, you would after knowing someone for only two days. But, hey, he did fall for her after only two minutes of having met her. A perfect basis for a lasting marriage!

After annoying Jack some more with her version of helping him out, Sally declares, "There's only one thing for it. We'll be married and you'll just have to teach me all about cars." These days in films I suppose they’d have the woman stripping the car and reassembling it in the time it would take her husband / partner / or whatever to put on an apron and make them a cup of tea. Nah, she’d be more likely to have a same sex partner. Might as well do away with men completely…..

When Sally returns to Dr. Moran's house, Margaret answers the door and an argument over Sally’s lateness ensues between the two women. Dr. Moran overhears, and he comes out and intervenes by sending Margaret to her room again.

Dr. Moran apologizes to Sally for the way Margaret treated her. He then informs her that he's decided to send Margaret away as her recent behaviour suggests that she is in desperate need of a rest. It is Moran’s intention that Sally take Margaret's place. The harder Sally tries to refuse, the harder Moran tries to convince her to accept his proposal. Sally leaves without giving Moran a firm commitment. Feeling troubled, Sally then grabs her coat and purse and heads out of the house to seek out Jack.

Meanwhile in the lab, the doctor and Tanga are busily collecting serum in a glass beaker. Dr. Moran declares that what they have collected will be enough and that by that night, they will reach the end.

A visibly shaken Sally turns up at Jack’s garage where she informs him that she can't stay in Dr Moran’s house any longer and that she has to get out of there. After downing a glass of alcohol from a medicine kit of all places (Jack’s stash!), Sally tells Jack about how Dr. Moran frightens her and that she saw it all in his eyes when he was talking to her. She then tells Jack that she has to return to the house because Dr. Moran doesn't know she's gone. Jack tells her that he's going to get her out of there that very night.

In the next scene an obsessively and frantically determined Margaret is telling Dr. Moran that she won't leave. She accuses him of being in love with Sally and declares that she's still in love with him. He callously responds that to him she's just a thing of the past, making her feel like a used and disposable Kleenex.

Such treatment sends Margaret over the top and she tries to stab Moran with a knife, but he manages to prevent her from doing so and she drops the knife. Moran then strangles Margaret to death, the last view of her being a rather long disbelieving and accusatory stare directed into his face.



"Did you really think you were going to get away as easily as that?"

Later, in Moran’s study, Sally enters bringing tea for the doctor. She then informs him that she can no longer stay, and he replies that she may leave whenever she wishes.

After packing her things to leave, Sally is spotted by Dr Moran just as she pauses at the main door. Moran reminds her about her salary that she's owed but she tells him not to bother since she didn't give him proper notice. Moran, however, insists and tells her that he has the salary owed to her in his study. Will she fall for the old salary owed in the study trick?

You bet she does! Moran immediately closes the door behind her after she enters the study. After getting her to sit down, Sally tells Moran that she is in a hurry to leave as she's getting married to Jack Venner. Moran demands that she stop being so ridiculous, grabs her by the shoulders and tells her that he loves her and that he's been in love with from the first time he laid eyes on her. Moran declares that he's going to be acclaimed as the greatest man on Earth, and that Sally will share that acclaim with him. He the guides her through the iron door to show her what lies behind it.

At Inspector Brownlow's office various pieces of information have been gathered that when taken together serve to paint an interesting picture……

  1. Certain inquiries in Rio Di Janeiro reveal that Dr. Moran had in fact been there. There was indeed a plant that had mystical powers. 
  2. Dr. Moran had been looking for that plant. 
  3. A torn piece of the dress worn by the first young lady who had disappeared had been located in a hedge about fifty yards from where she was attacked. 
  4. That location was in a direct line from Moran's house. 
All this circumstantial evidence is enough for the inspector proceed to Dr. Moran's house.  

In the meantime, Jack has gone to Dr. Moran's house where he tells the doctor that he's come for Sally. Dr. Moran lies to him by telling him that she left in the morning, and that he hasn't seen her since. A skeptical Jack tells Dr. Moran that he thinks that Sally never left at all and that she's still somewhere in the house. Jack gives Moran an ultimatum: that either he sees Sally, or he goes to the police so that they may investigate all the strange things that have been going on there.



It turns out that Dr. Moran has locked Sally in a room. After informing her about the tribe in the Amazon and how they can bring the dead back to life, he takes her down to the lab to show her the tree. Before Tanga has a chance to place Sally under the hypnotic spell of the beating of his drums, Moran pulls her away from the tree before she is inadvertently grabbed and consumed by it. Moran has other plans for Sally involving having and holding on to her for his own.

A bit later on, Sally watches as Dr. Moran, fills a syringe with serum and injects it into a body lying on a table under a blanket. After a pause, the pulsometer starts to indicate the beating of the body’s heart and shortly after the body under the blanket begins to move. As it sits up the blanket falls away to reveal Margaret.


“Only the body, not the mind

There is no response from Margaret when Dr. Moran tries to talk to her. He realizes that he's managed to bring the body back to life, and not the mind. Moran rails at Tanga about how his people had cheated him and about how they only gave him half the secret. Tanga's replies, "our secret not for you." A psychologically crushed Dr. Moran can only mumble, “Failed, failed, only the body, no brain” to which Tanga replies, “the brain for us only.”

While this has been going on, Margaret slowly approaches Sally with her arms outstretched with the intention of strangling her. Just then right at the last second, the serum wears off and Margaret falls to the floor dead, this time once and for all.


Just as the police turn up, Tanga leads Sally toward the clutches of the tree. Moran then rushes over to Tanga and pulls him back from the tree causing him to let go of Sally. During a struggle, Tanga tries to stab Dr. Moran with his knife. 

When Jack enters, Dr. Moran tells him to get Sally out of there. Jack takes her out, and Dr. Moran manages to knock Tanga to the floor. He declares, “you've cheated me, now I'll destroy your idol, as you've destroyed me!”

Moran dashes to the table and retrieves a bottle containing the serum. He then throws it at the tree causing it to be set alight. Tanga suddenly recovers and as Dr. Moran tries to run up the stairs, Tanga throws his knife which finds itself embedded in the doctor's back. 


We close with Tanga kneeling down in front of the tree with his arms outstretched…..




Points of Interest


Eros Films released The Woman Eater in the UK in 1958 on a double bill with the Swedish crime drama Blonde in Bondage (1957).

In the US, Columbia Pictures released The Woman Eater in 1959 on a double bill with the Japanese science fiction film The H-Man (1958) which featured in this blog.

The Woman Eater was given an X-certificate from the British Board of Film Censors, which meant it could not be exhibited to people age 16 or younger. Nevertheless, the film appears to have been promoted as a children's movie in the US.

Certainly, on one level The Woman Eater could be dismissed as being misogynistic in its portrayal of women. However, in a perverse way it also serves to highlight the way in which women have been viewed and treated as objects or things to be used and discarded. The question remains as to the film’s intent? Hedging its bets both ways?




Full Movie




©Chris Christopoulos 2018

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