The League of Tana Tea drinkers proposed an idea for another round robin post – Villainess in movies. Now for those of you newer to this blog, I'll take a quick moment to explain the LOTTD. It is an affiliation of bloggers whose mission is: to acknowledge, foster, and support thoughtful, articulate, and creative blogs built on an appreciation of the horror and sci-horror genres. In other words we're horror bloggers, and every so often a group theme is pitched about which the majority of us choose to blog about. This month the topic is, as I mentioned, Villainess in Movies.
I thought this was a pretty interesting idea and pondered about how I wanted to approach this topic. I pitched several ideas around in my noodle - best villainess, favorite villainess, current villainess – before finally settling on VILLAINESS IN PUBLIC DOMAIN FILMS.
As a TV horror host public domain films are a topic I know quite well. They are films that, for a variety of reasons, lost (or never had) their copyright status, thus making them free fare for folks looking for material. They are most often low budget films, and honestly quite often really bad movies, too. BUT I have come to not only appreciate but even embrace many of these films, and there are some classic female villains in them, too. Tonight I’m going to focus on a Trio of Villainess that I particularly like in PD films:
Jan in the Pan, Jan Compton
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962)
played by Virginia Leith.
If you’ve never seen The Brain that Wouldn’t Die you’ve missed one of the great sleaze classics of all time. A doctor and his fiancé are in a horrific car crash. She is killed and the doctor brings her severed head back to his laboratory where he KEEPS HER SEVERED HEAD ALIVE THROUGH SCIENCE! That’s right, he hooks her to a series of machinery that keeps her alive while he, the generous guy that he is, searches for a replacement body. Problem is he’s looking at bodies that are occupied, i.e. alive, and plans to murder the occupants of said bodies to graft his wife’s head onto... AND where else
While it may seem that Jan is nothing more than a victim this isn’t the case. She slowly evolves throughout the movie. She is at first confused, then aghast, and ultimately angry at her predicament. Her husband has perverted science for his own mad desires. She slowly gains psychic powers, and communicates telepathically with a creature the doctor keeps locked in a closet. You see, this doctor had been conducting Frankenstein-style experiments, and he keeps one of his failed experiments locked up. Jan communicates with it and leads it in revolt – the creature, under her control, murders the doctor while the lab goes up in flames, Jan laughing hysterically all the while.
Jan isn’t a villain in the classic sense – she’s a tortured creature, much like the Frankenstein’s monster, and the image of her severed head on the lab table is an iconic image in science fiction cinema.
THE WASP WOMAN (1959)
played by Susan Cabot.
An aging owner of a cosmetics company is desperate to look young again. She employs scientists to help search for a formula to reverse aging. They are able to manufacture such a formula using enzymes extracted from the royal jelly of a queen wasp. Janice demands SHE be the test subject for this formula or she’ll withdraw all funding. The formula seems to be working but too slowly for her liking, so she begins injecting herself with larger doses of the serum, unbeknownst to the scientist. This, however, causes an unforeseen reaction – in true B-movie fashion, Janice changes into a human/wasp hybrid and feeds on human beings!
This movie was directed by Roger Corman. It is his take/ripe-off of The Fly. The thing I like most about it is that there is an honest to goodness monster in it. Half woman, half wasp – all cheese!
LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971)
played by Rosalba Neri
Dr. Frankenstein (Joseph Cotton) succeeds in bringing his creation to life, but is killed by the monster, which escapes into the countryside. His Daughter Tania takes up his work where he left off, with the help of his lab assistant Marshall. Marshall and Tania are lovers, but he’s old, and this won’t do for Tania. Much like the Doc in Brain that Wouldn’t Die, she uses science to service her loins. She transplants her lover’s brain into the hottest bod she can find - the studly body of a retarded servant named Thomas. All goes well until the original monster arrives looking for revenge, and the two creatures battle – and of COURSE there’s an angry mob thrown in as well.
This movie works for one reason – the performance of Rosalba Neri. She is terrific as the lustful, ambitious Tania, who is eager to follow in her father’s footsteps and prove a woman can be every bit the scientist as a man. The most villainistic of the three candidates on my list, Tania uses her womanly whiles to feed her ambition.