Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

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Director: Nathan Hertz
Starring: Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers

The Amazing Colossal Man had already shown us how enjoyable a film about someone being turned into a giant can be. Yes, it’s an inherently silly concept, but if you put some effort into the characters, play up the tragedy and then pay it off with some suitably overblown scenes of carnage and mayhem, you’ll have a good (if not great) film on your hands.

Despite being *cough* inspired by TAMC, the makers of Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman clearly weren’t paying close enough attention.

Nancy Archer (Hayes) is an extremely wealthy but troubled woman. With a history of mental health issues and alcohol abuse, her woes are amplified by her philandering husband Harry (Hudson) who is with her purely for financial reasons and flaunts his infidelity around town with local floozy Honey Parker (Vickers).

Things can always get worse though, as when Nancy is driving through the desert one night, a glowing, spherical UFO lands in front of her and when she investigates, is grabbed by a giant hand.

After arriving at their local bar in search of her husband who pays off a policeman to say he’s not there, Nancy is taken home in distress. Nobody, including Harry, believes her alien encounter actually happened, so she talks him into taking her back into the desert to look for proof.

Sure enough they find the craft and it’s giant occupant, but when Nancy is grabbed again, he abandons her to her fate. She doesn’t die though and is later found on the roof of their pool-house, seemingly intact.

Unfortunately, Nancy has been altered by the extra-terrestrial being and quickly begins to grow larger and larger, until she erupts through the roof of her mansion. Now, she has only one thing on her mind – to take revenge on the husband who broke her heart and left her for dead…

While having some well-drawn characters and a suitably statuesque protagonist, Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman is a small film and one that it’s hard to love.

Notably, its lead role isn’t the doomed woman of the title, but her philandering husband, an odious creature who cares more about drinking with his latest mistress than helping his wife. He’s left her once before and is only back to try and take her money. Worse, his plan is to have her committed to an asylum, assuming he doesn’t follow through with Honey’s suggestion and murder the poor woman.

These are awful people, make no mistake. Which is an interesting scripting choice and certainly makes for deeper characterisation than you would normally see in a film like this. It’s also very difficult to feel any empathy or engagement with them either though, as they’re really, really awful people.

Nancy, being the titular character, could be our identification role instead, but she’s not in it enough and is almost constantly in a state of distress or mania up until she starts growing. You feel for her of course, but you never really get to know her.

It’s unfortunate, as a good half of the film is devoted to the relationship drama at the heart of it and with a bit more effort in showing us more of the real Nancy, the tragic consequences of her encounter in the desert would have had much more emotional impact.

Speaking of that encounter, it’s completely mishandled too. A giant, bald-headed man in a medieval tunic isn’t the most alien of designs at the best of times, but then to have such cheap-looking effects that he’s transparent and moves in slo-mo? Urgh. His giant papier-mâché- hand that grabs Nancy is woeful too, meaning the whole thing just feels completely unnecessary and smacks of trying to achieve too much with both limited budgets and inspiration.

When Nancy finally stands tall, things definitely improve somewhat. She looks incredible and every bit as strikingly iconic as she is on the film’s classic poster. Alas the slo-mo and transparency issues rear their ugly heads again, but there’s some marvellous scenes in there too.

The now-traditional King Kong window homage is in there, but with being a woman on the outside, there’s nobody in the room to scream in horror as the giant hand comes crashing in.

She looks suitably iconic standing in front of the power lines and for a few seconds, we’re reminded what Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman could have been with a bit more thought and care, but we’re brought back down to Earth with the return of the big wobbly hand prop as Nancy gets her revenge on Harry and Honey.

There’s an interesting idea in here of a spurned, exploited woman and her very atomic age style of revenge, but the execution of it is poor. Nancy has no agency and is a victim from start to finish, while Harry isn’t even pleasant to his girlfriend never mind his poor wife. All you are left with is the final rampage, but when it’s as badly realised as this one, it’s just another misfire in a film that has had far too many already.

A missed opportunity.

Rating: 1.5/5.


The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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