The Woman Eater

The British answer to 1957’s From Hell It Came was The Woman Eater, made one year later. “See the nerve shattering Dance of Death!” the poster promises. I must’ve missed that scene or maybe my nerves aren’t that prone to shattering that easily every time someone bangs a tune on the bongos. The poster also promises the tree’s “hideous arms” devour “the beauties of two continents”, another thing you don’t really get to see in the film. For a scene where we’d actually see a woman disappear into a tree would imply a larger budget than this film must’ve had. Not that The Woman Eater is in any way as bad as From Hell It Came (told you earlier this week it would become a standard). Even though the basic idea is equally ludicrous: here we may not have a walking tree, but it’s a tree that has women for lunch or dinner. How this was actually discovered we’ll never find out, but the core idea is that someone bangs the drums until a woman is in some sort of a trance and she’s ready to be thrown inside the tree, which is basically standing there with waving arms. Well, at least it doesn’t walk.

There are a couple of reasons why The Woman Eater isn’t as crappy as From Hell It Came: the actors are visibly better (no fake Australian here) and the writer allowed its characters to have some form of depth. Sure, the idea of a tree that feasts on women makes no sense at all and there are more plot tricks that seem to make little sense. I found it ridiculous how one explorer tried to save the poor woman about to be the tree’s dinner and was viciously killed by the tribe (who don’t have a problem with everyone else looking at the offering). I also didn’t buy the fact that suddenly we were five years later and back in England, where one of the explorers Dr. Moran (George Coulouris) had managed to have the same tree (or part of it) waiting in his basement. But there is detail in that the characters have some background: the writer managed to include a housekeeper who’s in love with Dr. Moran, there’s a storyline that explains how Sally (Vera Day) ended up in Moran’s house… many of them are just details but all in all this helps you to go along with The Woman Eater‘s wacky idea of a woman-eating tree. I did have problems with Moran’s reasoning this tree could help him to bring the dead back to life (not to create an army of zombies, just to make everyone live eternally), but if you can get by the notion of a tree residing in someone’s basement, devouring the occasional victim, it’s not too much of a problem.

Brandon Fleming was the man behind the story and screenplay of The Woman Eater. He only wrote a handful of movies, including There’s Always A Saturday, another movie where he teamed up with director Charles Saunders. Saunders has a slightly more productive career in cinema, directing over 30 movies (as well as a couple of episodes of tv shows), from drama (Fly Away Peter) over thrillers (Kill Her Gently)  to nudist movies (Nudist Paradise), but not a lot of them can be classified as well-known. In fact, The Woman Eater (or Womaneater as it was originally known) may be the film for which he’s most remembered. While that may not be a blessing, at least Womeneater is entertaining enough to be a guilty pleasure.

Two clips to end this review. First here’s the trailer:

And now a scene where the tree is fed his dinner. Bon appetit!

P.S. The Region 0 release by Image Entertainment shows the film in its original 1.66:1 ratio. The print shows a bit of wear from time to time, but overall it’s more than good enough for you to enjoy this exceptional feature.

Tales That Witness Madness

It’s Tree Week here at the Avenue. While looking for movies in which a tree plays a prominent role, I had to think of a movie I reviewed for the IMDb way back in 2000. It’s only a mini-review and apparently not really a good one (only 1 in 5 people found it useful), but it’s appropriate for this week’s theme, so nine years later it proves to be useful after all.

Tales That Witness Madness (or as I like to call it, Tales That Provoke Boredom) is a Freddie Francis movie starring Kim Novak, Donald Pleasence and Jack Hawkins… how bad can it be? Well, pretty lousy actually.

The movie starts with a car entering a psychiatric hospital. Then we hear from Dr. Tremayne that he’s going to show us four extraordinary cases, after which we are subjected to them, in true portmanteau style. Err, wait a minute, wasn’t there an Abacus movie called Asylum (1972), a movie where … (to finish this sentence, please re-read the first two sentences of this paragraph).

So, by the end of the movie, you’re pretty much expecting that the film will also end in a way similar to Asylum.
Alas, it doesn’t. The ending is even more ludicrous than the four stories you’ve just seen. Yes, one story has an invisible tiger. Yes, there’s the story of Uncle Albert, a man on a painting who makes his next-of-kin ride on a bicycle (which makes them go back in time where they’re observed by Albert, in the shape of a moving statue). Yes, it’s a the man who falls in love with a tree (though, as he’s married to Joan Collins, we cannot blame him). Yes, it’s a man who has to devour the flesh of a maiden. And yes, the ending is even more ludicrous. (Although the last minute itself isn’t too bad.)

Jennifer Jayne wrote only two movies (as Jay Fairbank). The other is Son of Dracula (1974). Avoid the ludicrous Tales and watch that one and Roy Ward Baker‘s Asylum instead.

From Hell It Came

Welcome to Tree Week! Yes, I can believe this announcement will leave you rather stumped (we might as well get this one out of the way first), but this week’s updates (all tree of them – yes, that pun was intended and it sucked) of Avenue Kurtodrome feature movies starring the most underrated extra of them all: the noble tree. Maybe it’s because certain lousy actors are so jealous a tree is able to be less wooden than them, maybe it’s because their screen performances are generally not that moving… whatever the reason, here’s Tree Week!

And which better movie to kick that off than From Hell It Came, the 1958 masterpiece. The New York Times reviewed it in one line (“From Hell it Came and to Hell it can go”) and the BBC once introduced it in a similar way: “And now on BBC2 From Hell It Came. It certainly did.”

From Hell It Came opens with a spectacular scene, set somewhere in a supposedly exotic region. A young prince is wrongfully murdered and buried under a tree. So far so good, but here’s where it gets special: he then comes back to life as that tree and starts slaughtering the people who were behind his murder (you see, it was all a power struggle).
Of course, a B movie with only ‘natives’ (read: American Z-list actors in ridiculous outfits pretending to be exotic) wouldn’t really work, so From Hell It Came throws in a bunch of American scientists who are lucky enough to be around and who have to save the day.

Which is a bit odd, given the vicious murderer is a walking tree stump and thus has the wonderful speed of a crippled tortoise. Given the fact that there might be an initial shock when you see a tree walking towards you, there’s still a 100% chance you’re able to outrun the tree.
This of course is quite a problem for the makers of the film. It looks as if they were surprised themselves by how slow the stump was and one overnight meeting later they must’ve decided the only way the film could still make any sort of sense was to have the tree approach them behind their backs or to have them faint.

Which doesn’t alter the fact that the tree doesn’t look awfully scary (well, it does look awful, just not scary), which leaves you as a viewer with only one conclusion: the only way this tree can kill you is to die from laughing at it.

The tree isn’t the only special effect that had an offday when the film was made: one of the victims ends up in a pool of quicksand. Which may be a bit dangerous for the actress who has to drown, so the makers came up with an excellent solution: why not use a regular pool which looks a bit dirty?
This might not have been a problem if anyone involved with this film had shown the tiniest bit of talent. Sadly, this is not the case. The pool is visibly so shallow the poor actress has to bend through her knees in order to look like she’s drowning. She does look a bit frightened, but maybe she was thinking of her career in movies.

Still, never lose the trust that From Hell It Came can sink even lower in your expectation. This film even features an Australian woman who is terribly impressed by the American scientist and who keeps trying to seduce him. Sadly, the entire country of Australia was sick with the flu the two days it must’ve taken them to film From Hell It Came because the actress manages to come up with the most dreadful fake Australian accent ever.

But the most surprising fact is that someone must’ve thought this awful idea could be turned into a movie. The idea is so ludicrous the screenplay must be too. And it is. I don’t think it will be much of a spoiler if I tell you the American scientists manage to kill the tree (but I won’t tell you how) and this allows the native chief to remark that American witchcraft is vastly superior to his witchcraft. This may not be the case for American storytelling, it seems.

I don’t think anyone is able to deny that From Hell It Came is one of the worst movies ever. It doesn’t even help that the scenes which aren’t downright silly are quite tedious. Yet this is a masochistic trip you may want to suffer through, because From Hell It Came is so bad it eventually becomes a standard, as in: “Be Kind Rewind is a bad movie but not as bad as From Hell It Came.”

The director, Dan Milner, made two other movies: a detective movie in the 30s and another 50s monster movie, The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues. I liked that one, but not From Hell It Came. As much as I’d wanted it to be a guilty pleasure, it’s more of a guilt trip. But as much as I’d like to hate the film for its awfulness, I can’t do that either.

But don’t take just my word for it: here’s director Joe Dante, introducing the film for Trailers From Hell:

That’s pretty much all there is to say about this movie. It’s time to leave you with a scene that proves everything I’ve been telling you so far. In this scene a catfight between two native women is interrupted by Tabonga. There’s no need to inform you what to look out for, it’s all magic. Enjoy!