From the DVD case:Dr. James Moran (George Coulouris) returns from the Amazon jungles with a sacred tribal tree that can produce a sap which will reportedly restore life to the dead. Unfortunately, the tree can only live and grow by devouring beautiful young women! (1958, b&w)
Mark says:Womaneater (aka The Woman Eater) is a British film that drips with a 1950’s sexuality that just borders on full exploitation.Beautiful women with heaving breasts, always adorned in dresses that leave one shoulder bare, are sadistically fed to a “miracle-working juju” plant.The plant (which resembles a hairy tree with tentacles) devours the women as men stand by with looks of pure orgasmic joy on their faces.But don’t get too excited, this is 1958 after all, and the luridness is much more implied than shown.
Bill Warren, author and genre critic, writes in his book, Keep Watching the Skies:
Charles Saunders’ ponderous direction makes a slow story painfully halting, in a point-by-point plodding technique of showing all actions. It makes Womaneater one of the dullest science fiction-horror thrillers ever made, almost unbearable to sit through. It isn’t even campy.
Though I’d concur that Womaneater is a slow-moving film (we only have to endure it for 71 minutes, but it seems longer), I strongly disagree that the film has no “camp value.”
George Coulouris (Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb) plays Dr. James Moran, an explorer and scientist who discovers the woman-eating tree in the Amazon jungle.Moran returns to London with the tree as well as one of the natives, Tanga (Jimmy Vaughn). The plant, it is told, produces a sap that can restore life to the dead.
Dr. Moran is your typical mad scientist (it is mentioned very early on that many of Moran’s relatives have been “sent away”), but Coulouris plays the role as well as can be expected with such a script.Moran’s madness shines brightest right before a buxom woman is sacrificed.His eyes nearly bug out of his head as his jaw opens tensely. This is a man who seriously enjoys his work.After the sacrifice, Dr. Moran quickly regains his composure and reassures himself that these deaths are important for the sake of science.
Jimmy Vaughn plays Tanga in manner that is adequately disturbing.If anyone could possibly enjoy a woman sacrifice more than Dr. Moran, it’s Tanga.Tanga beats his, ahem, drums while wearing what amounts to diapers.He almost always has a sweaty, anticipatory expression on his face, especially just before a feeding.Tanga leads the trance-like victim to his hungry tree idol.The victims, however, regain consciousness right before being devoured, and Tanga has to pull or shove the victim to her demise.He obviously finds great glee in this procedure.
Why Tanga agreed to come to London with his tree idol is one of the many plot holes in the story.Tanga literally becomes Dr. Moran’s servant and doesn’t even get a say in who is sacrificed.Ultimately, Tanga betrays his master in a dirty trick that takes five years to pull off.At the film’s conclusion we discover Tanga has given Dr. Moran only half the solution.Moran is able to restore a dead person’s body, but not her mind.
Womaneater is absolutely littered with gorgeous women. Marpessa Dawn (Black Orpheus) is particularly stunning as the native sacrifice.Other women sacrifices include Sara Leighton and Joy Webster(Curse of the Werewolf).Vera Day (Quatermass 2) is the love interest, Sally Norton.All of these women are knock-outs, which seems to be a requirement for the carnivorous tree.
Bill Warren states that Womaneater is “one of the most misogynist movies I’ve seen.”This is certainly a valid claim, as women are treated as little more than plant food and window dressing.Even the hero, Jack Venner (Peter Wayn), ogles Sally’s breasts as he simultaneously chastises her for not holding a light steady.We are not to worry, though, he promptly asks her to marry him moments later.
The only unattractive woman in the film is Dr. Moran’s housekeeper and past lover, Margaret (Joyce Gregg).Dr. Moran treats her like a disposable piece of waste.When a younger, prettier, Sally Norton arrives on his doorstep looking for work (she lost her job as the carnival hula-hula dancer), Dr. Moran is ready to chuck Margaret aside without notice.
I find it is exactly this bizarre “misogynist” tone that gives the film the camp value Mr. Warren finds lacking.It’s the stereotypical patriarchal hierarchy of the 1950’s (amplified to ridiculous extremes) that causes me to grin, or outright laugh, throughout the movie.
Speaking of camp value, the monster itself is at least worth a smile.Most of the time it is shrouded in darkness, but we get some clear glimpses here and there.The most “fearsome” aspect of the tree is its tentacles, which are obviously human arms covered in rubber gloves.As far as I can tell, the tree doesn’t even have a mouth; it just sort of hugs its victims to death.
I found Womaneater to be good fun, albeit a bit slow.I also went into it with incredibly low expectations, which most assuredly helped.
Look for Robert MacKenzie (Fiend Without a Face) as doomed explorer, Lewis Carling.
Directed by Charles Saunders with music by Edwin Astley (The Giant Behemoth).
Scene to watch for: Lewis Carling’s (Robert MacKenzie) heroic rescue of a native girl is cut short by a well-placed spear.
Line to listen for: “All men are talent-spotters in one way or another.”
Trivia: This was Marpessa Dawn’s only English speaking film.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.