During the opening sequence of Michael Reeve's first feature film, The She-Beast, we see some medieval villagers execute a hideous looking woman for witchcraft. Before she's put to death in a nearby lake, she curses the townsfolk and promises them that she'll be back to get her revenge. Fast forward a few hundred years to (what was, at the time) modern day Transylvania where Philip (Ian Ogilvy) and his new bride Veronica (Barbara Steele) are honeymooning. They head to a hotel in a small town where they meet an eccentric old man named Count von Helsing (John Karlsen) who tells them about his ancestors and his work. Later that evening, Philip gets into a fight with the hotel's owner, Ladislav Groper (Mel Welles), when he peeps in on Veronica. They leave the hotel in an understandable huff but soon their car veers out of control and they drive into a very familiar looking lake. Philip makes it to shore but is soon rather distraught to learn that the women pulled out of the car is not his wife but the horrible witch executed in the opening scene, back for revenge.
As Groper and his friend try to cover up any evidence from the police, Van Helsing tries to convince Philip that his wife has been possessed by the witch so that he'll help him stop her before she kills everyone in the town. Philip isn't so sure, but after a few encounters with the monster, he soon allies himself with Van Helsing to bring his wife back and put a stop to the witches reign of terror.
A bit similar in plot to Bava's Black Sunday, Reeves film is an odd one, particularly in how it breaks up scenes of what we assume were meant to be serious tension with goofy comic relief. This results in a wildly uneven tone, and as entertaining as it might all be, the film sometimes seems to loose its footing. The involvement of Groper and his truck driver compatriot adds very little to the plot and an early scene involving a bike-riding policeman who is 'quirky for the sake of quirky' pushes the movie into slapstick territory. On top of that, the monster make up used to bring the old witch to life is bad, even by the low budget horror movie standards of the era in which it was made.
What makes the movie watchable is some excellent camera work that maximizes the 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio and that really helps capture some interesting atmosphere. On top of that, Ogilvy and Steele have an interesting chemistry together and share some rather clever dialogue as well, almost coming across like Steed and Mrs. Peel from The Avengers with their constant back and forth. A few odd gore scenes help things out a bit, including a noteworthy one involving some blatant communist symbolism Interesting bits and pieces like these make the movie watchable, even if they don't elevate it above other similar films. Reeve's direction is strong and he keeps the movie clicking along at a very brisk pack. This ensures that the film is never boring, even when it's ridiculous. Taken seriously, The She-Beast is a real mess of a picture but enjoyed for what it is - a dopey blend of horror and comedy that was obviously never meant to be taken all that seriously in the first place - the movie is entertaining enough and it makes for good fun.
Appearing on DVD in its original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio for the first time, Dark Sky's progressive scan transfer looks quite good. There is the expected amount of grain and some minor print damage appears in the form of the odd speck here and there, but this is otherwise quite a good looking image. Color reproduction and skin tones appear lifelike and natural while black levels stay strong and consistent throughout. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts nor is there any obvious edge enhancement to note.
The sole audio option on this DVD is an English language Dolby Digital Mono mix with optional English subtitles. The mix isn't fancy, but it doesn't need to be - it gets the job done quite nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to report. Levels are well balanced and while a few scenes sound a bit flat, given the age and budget, the movie sounds just as good, if not a little bit better, than you could realistically expect.
The main extra on this disc is a feature length commentary track with stars Barbara Steele and Ian Ogilvy who are joined by producer Paul Maslansky and moderator David Gregory. Steele only worked on the film for a day and all of her scenes were shot in that short period meaning that she didn't have as much time on the set or get to know the rest of the cast and crew as well as the other participants and as such, her input here is minimal but she seems cheery enough when talking about her work on the picture and about the people she did collaborate with on the film. Ogilvy spends a fair bit of time talking about the late Michael Reeves and the odd circumstances around his passing while Maslansky discusses putting the film together and how various people came to work on the movie. It's a pretty solid commentary track with some good information in it - definitely worth a listen for those interested in learning more about this odd little picture.
Aside from that, look for a nifty still gallery of vintage lobby cards and poster art, some static menus, and a chapter selection option.
An enjoyably goofy horror/thriller/comedy, The She-Beast isn't essential viewing but it is good mindless entertainment with a few stand out set pieces. Dark Sky has done a fine job on the transfer and the commentary is a nice extra as well - recommended for horror buffs, a solid rental for the curious.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.