01 November 2012

THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES/1955/ROGER CORMAN

THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES

1955/Director: David Kramarsky/Writer: Tom Filer

Cast: Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent, Leonard Tarver

While not a great movie in any the sense of the word (hence its inclusion into the Uranium Café's much coveted b-movie oeuvre) The Beast With A Million Eyes has some definite historic value, in terms of cult trivia anyway. But be forewarned if you want to check it out (a matinee feature of the full film will follow this post) that the film drags at such a pace that it mere running time of about 75 minutes seems to go on forever. Bad movie buffs, such as myself, may not mind that but many more mentally and emotionally balanced people may find the strange effect the film has on them a bit disorienting at best. The film is structured almost purely around the cheezy dialog of the undeveloped characters who describe action or events that are happening off screen (in other words, action that isn’t happening). Producer and uncredited co-director Roger Corman saved oodles of money and worked with a near nonexistent budget –something Corman would come to have no issue with as time went by, though these were his early days and he was prone to fits of visible stress and pressure on the set- by presenting the audience with an invisible monster, a Cormanesque euphemism for NO monster- and so a monster that in no way whatsoever resembles the misleading artwork on the film’s classic poster. And okay, there is a monster, albeit one that makes a super brief appearance at the film’s end, and that is where some of the more pertinent historic value of the films comes in. First off the film is, while not the actual the first, but almost the first film Corman did with then fledgling producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff for their company American Releasing Company (it would later be released under the company’s new name of American International Pictures) after he piqued their interest by turning a big profit on the $12,000 budget film The Monster from the Ocean Floor, which was released by another company as Corman and Nicholson-Arkoff did not see eye to eye on the original business terms. The pair were willing to compromise after Corman’s ability at managing and turning a low film budget into a decent money maker was demonstrated. Beast was third of a three part film deal with ARC,and it came in last after The Fast and the Furious and Five Guns West (a color western that ate up a $30,000 budget).

After Five Guns West things were to operate on the most meager of budgets. The film was shot way outside of LA in the deserts of Indio to get around using union workers as much as possible. Corman’s role as director, in whatever capacity that may have been, went uncredited and much of the direction was supposedly done by Lou Place, though final credit went to David Kramansky. In the end it does not matter I guess as the final product is a bit on the odd side anyway. And so it went with other duties and jobs behind the camera as well. In those days it was a common practice to present potential distributors with only a finished poster, or something similar in terms of artwork, of a film and get them to insure venues for the film's showing. Once some type of distribution was guaranteed a film could get underway. Many distributors approached to back Beast, including the biggie Joseph E. Levine, did not buy Corman’s arguments defending an invisible monster, and that the actual “million eyes” were the eyes of the people and animals it controlled. They were treated with a titillating poster (I am not sure if the poster we see here is the same they saw but I will assume it was similar) of a pretty cool looking monster menacing a screaming woman in her underwear. Yea, it never happens. And the potential distributors weren’t so bothered by that as they were the fact there was no monster at all. There had to be a monster! And so comes another great piece of b-movie history in the form of a desperate Corman seeking help from pal Forrest J. Ackerman. Ackerman was shocked at what Corman was offering as payment for a special effects artist, but after some thinking he recommended the young Paul Blaisdell, who was looking to move from magazine work to doing movie special effects. He was paid about $200 for his first ARC/AIP creation, and his relationship with AIP and Corman would produce some of the zaniest and coolest low budget monsters in the history of sci-fi/horror films. And lets be honest, this was one weird little, puppet monster that we only see fidgeting around for a few seconds at the film’s end. But it is the first Blaisdell monster ever to appear on film, and well, that means something I guess. It does to me anyway.

Well that is enough of the historic aspect of the film. Maybe a little more later, who knows. But for now, what is the film about? Is it really so bad as to deserve a warning from your schlock jaded editor here? Yea it is bad, but like all films here I recommend it. It is only like 75 or so minutes long. Come on. Is that really too much to endure to see the first ever Paul Blaisdell monster? I think not.

The film begins, as many films of the time do, with voice over narrations. First from a bitter alien creature who announces how he lives on hate and will conquer earth by controlling the minds of animals and simpletons. He claims he will do this first, and I guess with later move up to Nobel Prize winners. And like many movies where an alien lands on earth and begins his conquest of the human race he lands not in Washington D.C. or Moscow, but in the middle of the desert (or sometimes taking refuge in a cave. Other movies, off the top of my head, that use this theme would be It Conquers the World, The Brain from the Planet Arous, Killers from Outer Space, and Robot Monster). Of course any alien with real power would land in downtown New York City, but deserts and caves, like beaches and woods, are cost effective for no budget movies, while Times Square hardly is. The voice-overs and flash forwards of the alien intro give way to the morose musings of Alan Kelly (Paul Birch) about how basically his life sucks out on his money losing date (as in big raisins) ranch in the middle of the godforsaken desert. His wife Carol (Lorna Thayer) is pretty much at her limited wits end as well and little things like making sure her cornbread doesn’t collapse or that her antique china collection is not all shattered to pieces doesn’t really work out for her. Not only that but she doesn’t hesitate to remind Alan what a loser he is at every chance and how he has ruined her life, and if that is not enough she blurts out as loud as she can how she hates her daughter Sandra’s (Dona Cole) perky little life and attitude. To cool off Dona goes off to some oasis or grove of date trees and swims in a pool while the “harmless” dimwitted handyman Carl (“Him” as Carol calls him disdainfully and played by Leonard Tarver) watches lasciviously from a date tree he has climbed after stalking her. Dona catches him and scolds him in a sisterly fashion and Alan is always defending him, calling him harmless and laughing off Carol’s concerns, but this is guy is a sexual assault charge just waiting to happen. To unwind he goes back to his perv shed and leers at girly books on his bed, with pinups all plastered to the wall. Yea, this guy is harmless folks. Also running around the farm is Sandra’s German Sheppard Duke who can bark with his mouth shut. A harmless mutt that we see at the film’s flash forward intro foaming at the mouth, so we know he gets possessed here pretty soon. Rounding off the main cast of characters is good ol’ Deputy Larry Brewster, played by Dick Sargent (the 2nd Darren of Bewitched fame) in his first credited role. And there is some old guy down the road named Chester but who the hell cares about him. A milk cow winds up killing this geezer anyway.

If you recall I said the monster would begin his conquest of the earth by first controlling the minds of animals and then morons. So, hmmm, there is Duke and Carl the perv. Wonder where the plot is going now. Well, yea Duke turns nasty and while Carl was already pretty nasty he gets worse. Not only that, crows and chickens start going loco too. Sometimes even animals we never see, we just hear the characters talk about them and look at them off screen. Somehow the family figures out to beat the beast they just have to stick together. By being united the creature can’t control their thoughts. Seems like this is a major flaw in the alien’s plan if you ask me. How was he going to control the minds of millions and billions of humans if he can’t control three simply because they decide to stick together. There is lots of dialog and ruminating and it gets a little thick at times, but if love cheesy dialog and b-movie philosophical quests into the soul the way I do you will appreciate a lot of it. There is a confrontation at the end of the film with the beast and his two eyes that is not much of anything. The thing lived inside what seems to be a coffee percolator and it just wiggles and dies for some inexplicable reason, but not before Carl dies after having a moment of human decency. Oh yea, and earlier in the film Duke dies too after mom shoots him. Lot of tragedy, but in the end there is a group hug and a few more deep musings. For fans of Corman’s films and AIP type films mostly. I kinda' liked it.










5 comments:

Retro Hound said...

Did you ever get The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow re-posted? I think you said it was a mini-review.

Bill D. Courtney said...

RH: Thanks for the insightful comments regarding the movie in this current post. Sent that link to you.

Darci said...

Fascinating. I quickly learned that AIP's posters had little to do with what appeared in their films, but I thought it was because the poster artist didn't watch the film to decide what to include. Instead, the posters were created before the films (or, apparently, even their scripts) existed?

Also interesting to read about Paul Blaisdell's introduction.
Keep up the good work!
Darci

B-Movie Blogger said...

That last pic is not from the movie.It's in color,wtf.

Bill D. Courtney said...

Actually it is the creature from the film, only this is a colorized publicity photo. You can Google "beast with a Million Eyes aliens" and you find a couple versions of this in color and in b/w too.

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