Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beast with a Million Eyes, The (1955)

... aka: Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes!, The
... aka: El monstruo del millon de ojos (The Monster with a Million Eyes)
... aka: Unseen, The

Directed by:
Roger Corman (uncredited)
David Kramarsky

Historically-speaking, this "nothing brings the family together like random farm animal attacks" flick is quite an important production as far as horror and sci-fi flicks are concerned. For starters, it is one of the earliest films ever to depict normal animals suddenly turning on humans and attacking them. In fact, there are a enough surprising similarities between this and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) to suggest this was a major inspiration behind that classic film. Second, this is not only an early producing credit for the prolific Roger Corman, but also the very first genre film that he stepped behind the camera to direct. Though Kramarsky receives sole credit, Corman had replaced him early on into the production. Third, this was a key establishing film for the fledgling company American Releasing Corporation, run by a few fellas named Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson. ARC would later become American International Pictures. Of course if you know anything about vintage horror, drive-in and exploitation films, you'll know just how important these names are.

Beast (originally titled The Unseen) was also a production beset with problems. Originally part of a multi-picture package arranged between Corman and Arkoff / Nicholson, the film's budget was initially slated to be way higher but had to be slashed down to just 29,000 dollars. Problems with the filmmaker's union led to the production being shut down after just a day a filming. It also resulted in the original director and cinematographer both having to be sacked and Corman having to complete the film along with new D.O.P. Floyd Crosby (who also received no credit for his work). Reputedly, the two managed to knock out all of the interior shots (48 pages of the script!) in just two days on studio sets! The exteriors were filmed in Indio, California and, all things considered, the photography actually looks quite good.

Paul Birch - later to appear in Corman's Day the World Ended (1955) and NOT OF THIS EARTH (1957) - stars as Allan Kelley, a farmer who lives on a date ranch deep in the California desert along with his wife Carol (Lorna Thayer) and teenage daughter Sandy (Dona Cole). The family have seen better times, especially Carol, who's neurotic, miserable because of the constant isolation and bitter to the point where she starts resenting and hating her own daughter out of sheer jealousy. An alien spacecraft that makes a strange humming noises lands in a cave in the desert, all of the glassware in the home shatters and, soon after, all manner of animals start going crazy and attacking. Birds of all kinds begin swooping out of the sky, a cow tramples over a farmer, chickens flog Carol and the family dog turns vicious and must be chopped up with an axe!

Also living on the farm is a character that would later become a staple of these kinds of films: the perverted, creepy, half wit handyman. The one in this one, played by Leonard Tarver, is a lonely mute referred to as only "Him." He's not only a voyeur who constantly stares at the females through his window, but he also spies on the daughter character stripping down to her swimsuit and going for a swim and then tries to touch her. "Him" sleeps in a shack next to the house where the walls are plastered with pictures of bikini or lingerie clad girls and he lies in bed looking at girlie magazines while his eyes bug out. I've seen this character countless other times in various exploitation movies, portrayed almost exactly the same as it is here, but never before 1955. This adds a rather sleazy touch to the proceedings, which is especially odd considering the film is essentially a family drama whose core message is about how it's important for families to stick together and support one another.

Though interesting and boasting an intriguing and original premise, this really isn't a very good movie. It's slow, the dialogue is hokey, the acting is gratingly melodramatic and the animal attacks are very poorly staged and edited and are mostly accomplished by filming the animals approaching the camera followed by a terrified reaction shot from the actor. People also rightfully snicker at the special effects, which include a tiny little spaceship that looks like something you'd serve coffee out of and an alien so bad they had to make the image all hazy and then superimpose a giant eyeball over top of it. Then again, the movie was originally filmed minus all that. Since Arkoff had pre-booked the film on the promise of a "beast" based on the title, he insisted a "beast" be in the film. Special effects man Paul Blaisdell was then given a whopping 200 bucks to create both the ship and the alien creature on short notice. The fact he was able to come up with anything at all is actually quite impressive in itself.

A young Dick Sargent (going by "Richard" here and years before finding fame as Darren in Bewitched) plays a small supporting role as a deputy and Sandy's love interest. Production manager "Jack Haze" would become Jonathan Haze and later became immortalized for playing Seymour in Corman's cult classic The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

After somehow managing to bypass a home video release here in America for decades, MGM finally put this out on DVD in 2005 as part of their "Midnite Movies" series. They've paired it with the lousy THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1955).


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