Thanks to Mykal of Radiation Cinema who alerted me to this tasty morsel back when I reviewed DEAD SNOW. Richard Cunha's SHE DEMONS (1958) stands as a particularly sleazy example of 50s drive-in horror, a melange of ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and the real-life Nazi horrors that the world witnessed just over a decade before this film saw release. While not a zombie film in itself, it still anticipates later movies like SHOCK WAVES and Jess Franco's OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES, though it's still more striking to consider how Georges Franju would borrow key plot points from this film to create his 1959 masterpiece, EYES WITHOUT A FACE.
The main plot of the film focuses on a group of boaters (including the delicious Irish McCalla) who become stranded on a remote island during a hurricane. After one of them falls victim to the island's mysterious inhabitants, the trio explore their surroundings, ultimately learning that a group of Nazis, lead by a war criminal known as "The Butcher," now use the island to continue their nefarious experiments. These experiments turn the island's native female population (who look very fetching without, presumably, modern cosmetics) into fanged but otherwise relatively unthreatening "she demons." The real horror comes from the Nazi guards who cage these women and routinely whip them for their perverse pleasure.
The motivation for the experiments stems from the head Nazi's desire to restore his wife's beauty after she became horribly scarred during a lab accident. Her face remains carefully wrapped for much of the movie, until the climax, when she dramatically reveals her disfigurement. Indeed, this popular trope--a scientist who sacrifices other women in the name of restoring his loved one's feminine beauty--which became a major building block in the development of Euro-horror, leading to films like FACELESS and THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, may have its origins in American drive-in cinema. Who knew?