Time for another entry in our “Frolicking Under The Sea: Mermaid Fantasy Film Festival – August 2016”, and for some spooky fun we’re taking a peek at 2001’s pay cable remake of a 1956 classic, “She Creature”. Made for the Cinemax pay cable TV movie channel, it was part of a series of 5 Halloween films called “Creature Features”, all of which borrowed the titles of some of American International Pictures classic films of the 50’s and 60’s to make new films that weren’t strict “remakes” in as much as inspired tributes to those old classic movies. Of them all, “She Creature”, I personally think, was the best, and had the most lasting impression on this wee Catgirl. So much so that I naturally picked up a copy once these were released on DVD.
A quick synopsis? How’s this then: “Two Irish carnival workers, Angus and Lily, operate a lackluster sideshow for a tacky rundown circus. All of that has the potential to change when they meet an old sailor, Mr. Woolrich, who happens to possess a real mermaid. With visions of fame and success running through his head, Angus abducts the mermaid and boards a boat to America with Lily. However, the mermaid is not as docile as she seems, and as the voyage begins to go terribly wrong, crew members start mysteriously disappearing.”
Yep… a real honest-to-goodness period piece mermaid horror story. Neko just loves those…. Wanna hear the details and find out if it’s worth hunting down for a look? Then Gentle Visitors, you know what you gotta do, right? 😉
This version of “She Creature” blends the old folklore about mermaids with the old Greek myths of the sirens to have us see our title mermaid as a deadly and inhuman seductress luring men to their deaths in a particularly bloody and horrific fashion. Sexploitation movie gold at it’s titillating and risque best… Personally I’ve never quite understood the whole sex-appeal of the mermaid. Seriously. I mean… yes… they are usually awfully pretty and bountifully bosomy décolletage, at least from the waist up, but…. errrr…. ummmm…. they have scaly fishy tails instead of proper “lady bits” which kinda sounds like a deal breaker for most horny sailors if you ask me. But hey… I’m willing to roll with it… 😉
This one gets underway on the proverbial “dark and stormy night” in 1905 and an old lady wanders the halls of a suitably creepy Irish mansion overlooking the pounding surf on a perilously craggy cliff. Withing moments, a vicious unseen thing strikes, and with screams of terror she’s torn apart! Yep… now that’s the way to get a horror story rolling.
The scene then shifts to a tacky little carnival, where a sideshow barker fills a tent for the freak show unveiling of a “zombie” from the West Indies. Provoked by a heckler in the crowd our zombie runs amok, threatening to kill the audience before being entranced by the siren song emanating from another nearby tent where a mermaid is kept in a glassed in tank. It’s all a hoax of course, a cheap, but effective bit of showmanship for the gullible crowd, but it does pique the interest of an obviously intoxicated old man, who returns later after the carnival has closed only to find that the “mermaid” is a fake, in reality nothing more than pretty English actress Lillian (played by Carla Gugino) putting on a sideshow for her lover Angus (played by Rufus Sewell) the manager of the sideshow.
He breaks down, and Lilly prevails upon Angus to escort the sad old man home out of pity. That creepy mansion on the cliff…. oh yeah. Now we’re getting somewhere. The old man, Capt. Woolrich (played by Aubrey Morris) invites them in to explain himself and we discover that he had believed that the carnival had actually been harboring a real mermaid… and he wished only to warn them of the dangers such a creature truly represented. Naturally our duo is skeptical of his tales of dangerous sea creatures and the legendary “Forbidden Isle” of the mermaids until he reveals his secret. He has a real mermaid (played by Rya Kihlstedt)… the one responsible for the murder of his own wife, imprisoned here in this very house! Gasp!! 😉
The mermaid turns out to be very, very real indeed, kept chained in an armored half cage/ half aquarium tank for reasons that are never really explained. I mean… where did Capt. Woolrich originally find her? Why has he kept her here for what sounds like years… even after by his own admission she has killed, and presumably eaten his wife? We never really learn anything and although the plot doesn’t need it, I’ve always wanted to know the backstory here… that could have been a movie in itself. Oh well…
Angus naturally sees the dollar signs the minute he realizes what captain Woolrich has, but Lilly on the other hand is both entranced and frightened by the sexy inhuman captor. Angus offers to buy her to take away with them to America, where he feels the sensation will make him and Lilly rich beyond their wildest dreams. Woolrich however, sobering up, declares he’ll never sell her, that he lives now only to watch her slowly die as she wastes away in the tank.
Think that will stop Angus’s plans? Think again. Although Lilly tries to talk him out of pursuing his ideas any further, he sneaks back to Woolrich’s mansion with several of the other carnies to try to steal the mermaid. In the course of the crime, capt. Woolrich suffers a fatal heart attack and dies, but they’ve all come too far down that road to just abandon the prize now. So it’s a quick midnight trip to the harbor, a little hush money in the right hands, and our little carnival troupe is off to America with the mermaid secretly smuggled aboard to the cargo hold, some lame story about Woolrich changing his mind about the sale, and Lilly none the wiser.
As the journey begins, Lilly begins to suspect that there’s more to the eerie mute beauty of their aquatic captive. She begins having disturbing dreams and experiencing an inexplicable surge in her libido that draw uncomfortable parallels to the diary of Mrs. Woolrich which Angus claims to have bought from the Captain along with his researches into the mermaid myth.
Add to the tension a man in the crew who recognizes Lilly form waaaay before her carnival days, a life in London where she… as a harlot named Maryanne… made her living whoring and fleecing sailors with her charms. His name is Miles (played by Gil Bellows) and he’s one of those men she played wrong those years ago… and now he wants some payback. Yep. Lilly… or Maryanne… is in hot water now. Luckily for her she’s got a “guardian angel” watching over her now… or something far darker and more menacing.
In her nightmares, Lilly finds herself blurring her own existence with that of the mermaid, and witnessing the horrible death of Miles in a fevered dream, only to be awakened by a commotion on deck as the crew captures the mermaid trying to make her escape to the sea. She would have made it except for being inexplicably drunk…. Hmmmm? I guess you really are what… or who… you eat, eh? Yep… the secret is out about the mysterious cargo and the superstitious sailors have a fit over her.
Somehow… and I can’t imagine how… the crew completely misses Miles’ disappearance on that very same night, not even missing him for several days. When they do, they just automatically assume he fell overboard or something drunk off his ass. Say what? yep… that’s how it gets explained.
Angus manages to sooth things by making a deal with Captain Dunn (played by Jim Piddock) to keep the crew in line and let him keep the mermaid rather than throwing her overboard to placate his men. He still believes that his fortunes depend upon getting to America and displaying her for the world to see. Goofy, goofy guy. He’s gonna wish he’d never seen her….
Lilly keeps reading Mrs. Woolrich’s journal and finds out that she believed the mermaid to have been communicating with her psychically as well as her presence having had some eerie fertility effect on her that resulted in Mrs. Woolrich becoming pregnant at her age. Lilly finds this to be all too true… she’s been barren since a botched back alley abortion went terribly wrong but soon finds herself with morning sickness and all the signs of having inexplicably conceived a child herself.
More people die… and eventually it’s horribly evident that the mermaid has been using her psychic siren powers on the crew as well, driving Captain Dunn to alter the ship’s course and send the ship towards the Forbidden Isles of the mermaids and their spawning waters. Why? Well the night of the Full Moon is coming… the one night when mermaids transform from their normal aquatic forms to become fully human women, part of their life-cycle that permits them to breed…
Stupid, stupid sailors figure it’s time for one big gang-bang and nothing or no one can stop them from unleashing their lusts… However… once our crazed crew has had their way with the mermaid, the horror begins… all according to her real plan all along.
With the treacherous rocks of the Forbidden Archipelago tearing at the ship’s hull, she transforms again… from trembling vulnerable maiden to monstrous scaled beast with razor claws and the strength of 10 men. Let the killing begin!!
This is where Stan Winston gets to unleash some pretty impressive practical make-up and special effects work making “She Creature” look pretty darn big-budget for a made-for-TV film. Nobody really does effects like this anymore in an age of digital CGI rendered monsters and that’s a shame, because when they are done right such old-school effects really rock… 😉
Eventually everybody dies… puny human guns proving worthless before her supernatural vitality and it becomes obvious that our mermaid wasn’t any simple siren, but the legendary monstrous “Queen of the Lair”… all powerful matriarchal goddess of the mermaids, entrusted with the job of finding a suitable large number of victims to feed her brood of mermaid spawn. Sorta like “Mrs. Cthulhu” if you will. At the very climax, Lilly finds herself spared… for reasons again somewhat vague. She’s later found aboard the abandoned ship, among the carnage, the only survivor. Our story ends with her voice over as she explains to the audience that as respect for the Queen she keeps their secret… and perhaps something more. A young daughter with her own dark lovely hair, and the eerie glowing red eyes of a mermaid….
Whooo!! Yep. This one certainly gives us a pretty darn dark and terrible alternative to the more romantic visions of mermaids we usually get in movies. Not potential “magical girlfriends”… these creatures are inhuman and terrifying, with lusts that blur the line between hunger and procreation with a bloody horror that lies in stark opposition to their unearthly beauty. Neko liked this one a whole lot. It’s a simple film, with a modest budget, but it’s skillfully done to maximize it’s look and effectively sell it’s story. I give this film a well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5 for itself. It’s well made, well acted, and atmospheric as all heck. Only a few niddling issues raise their ugly heads, plot wise and in no way interfere with the enjoyment of the film at all. I only wish all movies could be this well crafted.
Scary mermaids I wanted… and scary mermaids I got. Yay!! The film is available on Region 1 DVD as well as several other Regional releases, so finding it ought to be easy peasy. So, Gentle Visitors, if creepy mermaid horror is your thing, by all means hunt yourself down a copy if you haven’t already seen it for yourself. I’m thinking it’s a “sunken treasure” I know you’ll enjoy.
We finish with a Trailer as always, to give you all a peek at all the scary shenanigans! Enjoy!