In the pantheon of B film seductresses,
she towers a good 44 feet above the rest. Had she starred
in only one film, the cut-rate cult thriller Attack
of the 50 Foot Woman, Allison Hayes would be revered
forever by B film fans the world over. But spirited portrayals
in The Hypnotic Eye and a pair of Roger Corman
films, Gunslinger and The Undead, proved
that she was far more than fifty feet of feminine pulchretude.
She could act.
When the part called for a strikingly
sinister, aggressive, domineering female possessed of
formidable physical attributes, B film producers invariably
would ring up Allison Hayes. Born Mary Jane Hayes in Charleston,
W. Va., she spent much of her youth in Washington, D.C.
A polished classical pianist, she represented the nation's
capital in the 1949 Miss America contest. Soon after,
she took the name Allison, and, following some local television
work, was signed to a Universal Studios contract.
Allison's first stop on the star-grooming
regimen was a smallish role in Francis Joins the WACs.
She found herself in good company as the dopey but lucrative
talking mule series served as a proving ground for several
aspiring starlets, Julie Adams and Mamie Van Doren among
them. Proceeding from this dubious starting point, Hayes
crammed nine films into her first two years of studio
work, appearing as everything from a gun moll to a scantily-attired
pagan woman, perfecting the sensual sneer that endeared
her to the male patrons of poverty row films.
In 1956, she appeared opposite
Beverly Garland in Roger Corman's quickie western, Gunslinger.
Hayes' role as a sort of sinister Miss Kitty was a showy
one, and this seedy oater is interesting as a showcase
for two strong actresses in unusually dominant roles.
Edward L. Cahn's verveless Zombies
of Mora Tau was next, a plodding tale of vengeful
cadavers guarding a cache of stolen diamonds. Allison
has little to do but look good.
A slapdash, no-frills shocker called
The Unearthly found Hayes assaying a thankless
turn as an atypically squeamish female. Junk movie icons
John Carradine and Tor Johnson can do little to leaven
the moribund proceedings.
Corman's shadow-bound saga of witches, Satan and
hypnotic regression, The Undead, showed Allison
to much better advantage. Shapely, sinister -- an altogether
evil eyeful -- Hayes portrays the scheming witch Livia,
threatening in every scene to spill out of the revealing
bodice she's been poured into.
In Walter Grauman's bare-cupboard
voodoo shocker The Disembodied, Hayes takes center
stage as a scheming wife who incongruously leads the local
tribal rituals. Decked out in a scanty leopard skin miniskirt,
she jiggles and gyrates amidst totems and tom toms to no
avail. The film is a plotless stinker.
Though many notable fright films
punctuate Hayes' résumé, they're interspersed
with a variety of crime flicks and dramatic pot boilers.
She called upon her caste-iron sensuality to enhance a spate
of stale mellers with titles like Hong Kong Confidential
and Chicago Syndicate. It was during this struggle
to diversify that Hayes took on the role that would forever
eclipse the larger body of her work.
It was Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
that permanently endeared Allison Hayes to cult fandom.
As Nancy Archer, Hayes' ludicrous encounter with a towering,
transparent alien ignites a comically unconvincing growth
spurt. Swathed in what we're asked to believe are bedsheets,
the babe behemoth stamps into town to avenge the philandering
of her conniving husband. To the accompaniment of Ronald
Stein's rollicking honky tonk soundtrack, a massive, flabby
rubber hand scoops up hubby as gold digging barfly Yvette
Vickers looks on in horror.
Allison's sharply sinister beauty
and sullen, threatening delivery enhances The Hypnotic
Eye to a marked degree. In this, one of the more trying
gimmick films to emerge from the early sixties, Hayes is
hypnotist Jaques Bergerac's disfigured paramour. By the
film's denouement however, the audience's patience has been
sorely tested and the shock is minimal.
In 1964, Allison appeared in Herbert
L. Strock's bargain-basement shocker, The Crawling Hand,
serving as little more than visual enhancement. Likewise,
the following year, she found herself with little to do
in a nauseating Elvis vehicle called Tickle Me. This
was her last film.
In the early seventies, Hayes was
diagnosed with leukemia and drifted toward treatments that
some have assessed as quackery. Further, she claimed to
be suffering from lead poisoning, and her wan, wasted appearance
shocked friends and loved ones. She died in 1977 at the
age of 49. Budget notwithstanding, she left behind a gallery
of fiercely feminine, aggressively sensual portrayals. Despite
the poverty of the properties she enlivened, Hayes remains
one of the most darkly alluring of all B movie femme fatales
-- all fifty feet of her.
There's no denying that Allison Hayes
struggled through some decidedly shoddy productions. A sampling
of those more befitting her station as a vamp to be reckoned
with are chronicled here:
They'd string Corman
up for churning out this half-baked horse opera were it
not for the presence of Hayes and fiery blonde sheriff Beverly
Garland. Slimy John Ireland has his work cut out for him
as the two brazen ladies leave no scenery unchewed.
The Undead (1957)
Hayes has perhaps
her meatiest role as a bosomy witch wrapped in a revealing
medieval sarong. Her seductive combination of cleavage and
black magic are clearly this atmospheric film's most formidable
Hypnotic Eye (1960)
Among the spate
of gimmick flicks that hammered the horror market in the
late fifties and early sixties, this one is easily among
the more gory. Allison's icy stare is put to brutal use
as she partners with her hypnotist husband to disfigure
Pier 5 Havana
One of a series
of mob melodramas from the director-star team of Edward
Cahn and Cameron Mitchell. Hayes helps warm the Caribbean
waters as a sultry chanteuse who once shared her affections
with Mitchell as well as his drunken best buddy.