Botanicult Fiction: Maneater of Hydra
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Living Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens.
Have the restrictions for COVID-19 left you feeling bored, frustrated and in need of new horizons? If your answer is yes perhaps its time you considered a new challenge in life such as the film Maneater of Hydra? This Spanish–German co-production was released in 1967 and directed by American expatriate Mel Welles. Maneater of Hydra should be celebrated as a film that pays tribute to the truly niche category of horror film based upon plant breeding and ornamental horticulture. Set in the confines of an exotic botanic garden this is a film perfect for botanic garden curators and plant nerds in general .This film has been described as being a badly acted and dubbed Euro-horror and is a truly obscure film that fails to make the grade even as a B Movie. Think D or E instead and, as a result, is a pure joy to watch
The film is set around a group of tourists who travel to a mysterious island to see its exotic flora. One of these is respected University of Michigan botanist, Professor Julius Demerist, whilst the young hero of the film is called David Moss (get it)? Upon arrival in the botanic garden they are greeted by Baron von Weser a reclusive botanist studying ornamental horticulture. Demerist notes that Weser’s expertise concentrates on the hybridization of carnivorous plants through methods or germplasm manipulation by X-ray and ultraviolet light. As a result, the garden is full of carnivorous plants including Agave musicipula, a cross between a century plant and venus flytrap and which is fond of devouring small and large rodents.
As one might expect, slowly but surely, the hapless guests disappear one at time. When the bodies turn up, they are mysteriously drained of blood. A theory evolves that a vampire is loose in the garden until one stormy night the truth is revealed. Weser has hybridised a blood sucking tree called Maneater hydra. The money the tourists have paid to visit the island will fund Weser’s future botanical experiments whilst the tourists themselves will feed Maneater hydra itself! The film ends in a dramatic fight between Weser and Moss resulting in a truly Shakespearean monologue of over acting.
Aside from being a fun botanical horror romp this film is also unusual as the print quality is so bad. It is a soft full-frame speckled mess, full of dropouts, emulsion scratches and jitter. The badly dubbed dialogue combined with print quality serves to add more layers of weirdness to the production values. This enhances the films reputation further and is notable for the rare genre of its take on mad scientist portrayed as mad botanist!
Maneater of Hydra can currently be viewed for free on YouTube but if you can find a copy of Elvira’s Movie Macabre DVD featuring this film it is further enhanced by her commentary and jokes about the schlock value of this classic. Now where’s my X-ray machine. Muhahah!
Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation