Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cinematic Pain Part VI: The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

I asked in my review of The Blood Waters of Dr. Z how you could ruin a movie in which a deranged scientist turns himself into a toxic gillman. And somehow Monster A Go-Go was tremendously boring despite the presence of a giant radioactive monster. A similar statement could be made about The Beast of Yucca Flats; how do you ruin a movie in which a Russian scientist is turned into a murderous radioactive beast by an a-bomb test? Especially when that monster is played by Tor Johnson. Ed Wood was able to make entertaining movies with Tor Johnson, for heaven's sake! Of course, Wood's movies were unintentionally humorous, but at least they were entertaining.

The movie begins with a woman killed in her home shortly after getting out of the shower. This makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film. Presumably it was the Beast that killed her, but at no time does he leave the general vicinity of where the a-bomb test occurred (i.e., the middle of nowhere). This scene, which was obviously inserted after the initial filming, constitutes 25% of the total body count. That's right; in a movie involving a murderous radioactive monster, there are four whole deaths, and one of them is the monster himself (oops, spoilers).

With that pointless sequence (which is not the first event of the movie, chronologically), we're introduced to defecting Soviet scientist Joseph Javorsky. Not long after his arrival in the United States, Javorsky and his American contacts end up in a very boring shootout with KGB agents. In his escape, Javorsky wanders into a nuclear testing area (great security there, guys) and is exposed to the radiation of an ill-timed test. He is thus turned into the titular Beast (i.e., Tor Johnson with some very rudimentary latex "radiation burns").

Shortly thereafter, the Beast kills a couple in their car. This attracts the attention of the grotesquely irresponsible and inept local police. The police, searching for the killer from a small airplane, actually open fire on a vacationing father who is out looking for his lost sons. Now, the reason the police were using an airplane was supposedly because of the inaccessibility of the flats where the monster was. The whole inaccessibility issue is then forgotten and the police end up reaching the flats on foot. Considering that the lumbering Tor Johnson was apparently able to scale the flats (while using a stick for support!), you would think that these two desert patrol officers shouldn't have had any trouble.

The police eventually search for the Beast on foot... for a very long time. The Beast wanders around the desert... for a very long time. This is a 54 minute movie and the majority of it is watching people wander around. The climax shows the Beast menacing the lost boys while they hide in a cave. The cops show up and shoot the Beast. As Javorsky lays dying, a rabbit hops up to him and nuzzles his face (no, I don't know what that's about).

Coleman Francis not only gives us a slow, minimally threatening monster and uninteresting protagonists, but he also throws in some technical incompetence as well. Throughout the movie, the narrator pipes in to ironically proclaim that the creation of the Beast and the subsequent tragedy are the results of "progress" ("the whirlwind of Progress", "the wheels of Progress", etc.). The narrator makes several declarations that are meant to be profound but are actually nonsensical and/or stupid. This is annoying. Second, to save money the movie was filmed without synchronized sound; sound effects and voices were all recorded after the fact. Francis made sure that you could never clearly see the faces of people while they were talking so that the actors dubbing the voices wouldn't have to try to match up with the mouth movements. People hold conversations with their backs to the camera, in the dark, while standing behind a car, etc. The director's attempt to hide the actors' mouths is very obvious and very annoying. At least Francis' other disasters, Red Zone Cuba and The Skydivers, had sound.

Tor wants out of this movie as much as we do.

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