You know what I like about my revieweress duties? Aside from the big paychecks, the red-carpet premieres, and the sexy celebrities offering me anything I want in exchange for a good review, what I like most are the pleasant surprises. Movies that may not be diamonds in the rough, but are cubic zirconia at least.
One such film is She Creature, which was made for Showtime cable channel as part of their “Creature Features” programming back in the early 2000s. Though clearly limited in terms of budget (and a shooting time of less than three weeks!), it’s got a fairly intelligent script, good performances, and a creature that’s just as effective as it is unlikely.
It’s 1905 somewhere in Britain, and carnival workers Angus (Rufus Sewell) and Lily (Carla Gugino) have a pretty good act going where she poses as a mermaid. One night a strange old man is seen lurking about the carny tent, and we soon find out that the old man is in possession of a real mermaid. Thanks to a pre-credits sequence, we’ve been led to believe that this mermaid isn’t just some cute fairy tale creature. Angus steals the mermaid, and over Lily’s objections they smuggle the mermaid on board a ship to America in hopes of making the big time.
It’s clear from the beginning that the mermaid is something to be reckoned with. Rya Kihlstedt’s performance as the mermaid, aided by some excellent effects, gives us a creature who’s beautiful and alluring yet alien at the same time. The mermaid’s considerable physical beauty (from the waist up) seduces the men on board the ship, but it’s Lily who truly falls under the creature’s spell. Already unsettled by the fact that one of the sailors on the ship remembers her from her shady past, Lily soon finds her mind and even her body being worked on by the mermaid. And when members of the ship’s crew begin disappearing, things get creepy.
She Creature is one of those movies that shouldn’t work, but does. The thanks for this goes to the actors, who play it straight and convey the fascination the mermaid holds as well as the deepening unease the situation causes. Sewell and Gugino are both excellent, and have good chemistry together. They’re two people who’ve both been around long enough and through enough to appreciate each other, yet not to have their shady past lives turn them into unsympathetic people. And Kihlstedt is the true star as the mermaid, erotic and menacing whether she’s speaking in her incomprehensible language or swimming within the confines of her glass-and-metal cage.
The movie’s not without its flaws. Some of the mermaid lore doesn’t seem well thought out, and the climactic sequence on the boat doesn’t have the punch it should. And the ship’s crew are for the most part complete ciphers – having some that we could care about, let along distinguish from each other, would have helped.
But despite the flaws it’s an enjoyable little chiller, all the more so for being so unexpected.
The DVD has a surprisingly robust set of features, the best of which is a commentary by producer/effects man Stan Winston and effects supervisor Shane Mahan. Also included are featurettes, production stills, trailers, and more.
'ed note: Be sure to check out Kelly's debut novel The Day After Yesterday, now available at Amazon in paperback and ebook!