The Beast with a Million Eyes

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(1/10) Perhaps Roger Corman’s worst movie of the fifties, this slow-moving super-cheapo really has no redeeming qualities, despite a somewhat clever idea. A group of B-actors run around the Coachella valley trying to look afraid of the friendly animals that are supposed to attack them, controlled as they are by an evil hand-puppet from space, created by Paul Blaisdell for combined material costs of 200 dollars. Love triumphs over the evil that apparently traverses space in a tea kettle.

The monster hand-puppet from The Beast with a Million Eyes, designed by Paul Blaisdell. Never seen this clearly on screen.

The monster hand-puppet from The Beast with a Million Eyes, designed by Paul Blaisdell. Never seen this clearly on screen.

The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955, USA). Directed by David Kramarsky, Lou Place, Roger Corman. Written by Tom Filer. Starring: Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent, Leonard Tarver. Produced by David Kramarsky & Samuel Z. Arkoff for American Releasing Company. Executive producer: Roger Corman.
IMDb rating: 3.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

Let’s jump right in with the plot on this one. There really is no point in describing it in detail, so here’s the long and the short of it: an incorporeal alien arrives to Earth in a spaceship with the plan of taking over the minds of all its inhabitants. It will start with the animals and then move to feeble-minded humans. Through its host’s eyes it will see everything, and that is why we shall come to know it as THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! This is not a spoiler. This is what the alien itself tells us even before the title sequence.

The film follows the ordeal of a dysfunctional family living on a remote ranch in the desert, the Kelleys: father Allan (Paul Birch), mother Carol (Lorna Thayer) and daughter Sandra (Dona Cole). Crops are failing, Carol is depressed by the loneliness and the dull farm life and lashes out at her daughter, and the daughter lashes back because she is a teenager, and seeks comfort in her dog. The mute, giant, mentally handicapped farmhand, called ”Him” (Leonard Tarver) reads smut magazines in his shack and spies on Sandra when she is swimming. The deputy Larry (Dick Sargent) is Sandra’s girlfriend. Chester Conklin as a comic relief farmer completes the cast of the movie.

Lorna Thayer as Carol and Paul Birch as Allan.

Lorna Thayer as Carol and Paul Birch as Allan.

When she is not burning her cakes in the oven or shouting at Sandra or Him, Carol worries about a ”jet” that’s flown over the farm, shattering all her fine china, the only memory she has from her life before the war – and before she became a farmer’s wife stuck in the desert. But we, the audience, know that it was no jet, but THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! All of the sudden, strange animal attacks start occurring: blackbirds attack Allan’s car, Conklin’s cow kills Conklin, thankfully removing the film’s comic relief, and Sandra’s dog attacks Carol. Soon both Him and Sandra are also put under the spell of THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES!, drawing them out to where his space ship, resembling a tea kettle with a propeller on top, has landed in the desert. Him goes out looking for Sandra, brings her back, then off he goes, and then off Sandra goes again, Larry goes out looking for Sandra, Allan goes out looking for Larry, and around we go.

That is basically what you see of the monster in the film.

That is basically what you see of the monster in the film.

Finally we get to the big showdown, when Allan, Carol and Larry catch up with the hypnotised Him, dragging Sandra with him to be probed by the alien. Him snaps out of it when Larry calls him by name: Carl. Larry explains that he was Carl’s commanding officer in WWII, and because of a mistake he made, Carl lost a chunk of his brain, and Larry decided he needed to look after his old friend; that’s why he keeps Carl around on the farm. Carl releases Sandra and dies on the spot. Then THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! begins a monologue, basically explaining what he already explained in the beginning; he is an incorporeal super-mind whose species is planet-hopping from one place to the other, taking over the minds of the local inhabitants. Now they have chosen Earth, because they feed on hate and evil, which opens the minds of the lesser beings.

***And, yes, I suppose a spoiler alert is in order***

Then commences a battle of hearts and minds, as THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! tries to reclaim the mind of Sandra, but the family, now together again, struggle against it, with another monologue, this time from Allan, who explains that the alien cannot win, because humans have a power greater than hate – and that is: yes you guessed it: love. And since the alien has no concept of what love is, he can never defeat it. If the audience is slow to catch on, Carol then confirms this: ”Yes! It is love that makes us strong!” Yes, as long as the family is together, they can’t be overtaken by an alien in a tea kettle. We then finally see THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES!, as it opens the hatch of the space ship, revealing a hand puppet with two eyes, and over it Roger Corman has superimposed a psychedelic spiral and a giant eye-ball in order to disguise that it is just a hand puppet. Allan shoots it with his Winchester, and the space ship takes off. But then they realise that they didn’t shoot the alien, just the previous host from another planet, and the alien has now jumped into the body of a rat. But just as they get worried, an eagle swoops in and makes the alien his dinner. Carol then philosophically asks ”Where did the eagle come from?”, and equally philosophically, Allan chooses to answer with a question to the heavens: ”Why do men have souls …?”

***End of spoilers***

Dona Cole as Sandra and Paul Birch as Allan.

Dona Cole as Sandra and Paul Birch as Allan.

And before we proceed any further, let’s make one thing clear, or puppet maker Paul Blaisdell will return from the dead to haunt me: no, the alien seen in the spaceship was NOT THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! He wasn’t an idiot. He didn’t get the call to make a puppet of THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! and think, ”hmm, well, how many eyes should I stick on the puppet for THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES!? Lets’s make it two.” No, this was THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES!’s slave – as can be seen by the chains that he carefully put on the creature, which no-one ever saw, because his puppet was so obscured by all the superimposed junk that the producer Roger Corman stuck on top of it.

The beastly dog.

The beastly dog.

This film (sometimes called The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes), despite its less than splendid quality, was something of a milestone, as it was the first science fiction film released by what was then known as American Releasing Company, and would change its name to American International Pictures a year later, and become a juggernaut of cheap Hollywood exploitation cinema, making the kind of films that are now generously referred to as ”drive-in classics”. The film was produced by Roger Corman and directed by … well, that’s a story I’ll get in to later.

American Releasing Company came about at a period of great cultural upheaval. Several elements, including a better standard of living, a loosening of traditional family values and sexual codes, the rise of pop culture, the introduction of rock music, television and the wide availability of cars, led to the introduction of a new social group: the teenagers. When before, a person would be shipped from school directly to work, and usually marry and start a family at a fairly young age, in the fifties more and more young people went to high school and onward to college, or took a sabbatical year to travel, work a part-time job or to ”find oneself” – or just to party and have fun. They had pocket money and they wanted to spend it. Increasingly, the drive-in theatre became the place to go to hang out, make out and space out. For movie producers this was a golden opportunity, but as far as content was concerned, no major studio had yet made a serious effort to tap into this market. It was an audience who wanted thrills and chills, not harmless family fun, and not high-brow drama. Some people in the business recognised the potential gain of earning the love of this generation, not only Roger Corman, who had made his production debut in 1954 with Monster from the Ocean Floor (review), but also people like James Nicholson and Samel Z. Arkoff.

Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson.

Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson.

James Nicholson was a minor legend among cinema owners in Los Angeles when he ran a number of revival cinemas, and used shrewd marketing tactics to advertise his movies, packing theatres at a time when cinema was experiencing a slump due to the growing popularity and availability of TV. He was eventually hired by Realart Pictures, a company that specialised in re-releasing old films for cinema, especially from Universal’s catalogue. Nicholson was put in charge of the marketing department, and continued his work there, a work which often involved changing the titles of lesser known films to make them more appealing to the audience.

Alex Gordon and Bela Lugosi around 1952.

Alex Gordon and Bela Lugosi around 1952.

As chance would have it, he got a letter from a young independent writer-producer called Alex Gordon, threatening him with a lawsuit, since one picture he had renamed had the same title as a movie Gordon was producing. It was through this affair that he came in contact with Samuel Z. Arkoff, who worked as Gordon’s lawyer. After settling the matter of the movie title, the two immediately struck up a friendship, and decided to set up their own production company, named American Releasing Company. Ironically, one of its primary producers ended up being the man who threatened to sue Nicholson, Alex Gordon. The other great production force in the company was Roger Corman.

Corman, as stated above, produced his first sci-fi monster film in 1954, on a shooting budget of 12 000-20 000 dollars, depending on who you ask. Engineer by trade, movie lover at heart, Corman worked with menial tasks at large studios, and was horrified over how much, in his opinion, money and time went to waste through overhead costs, bad planning and bureaucracy. He saw what was basically B movies produced for budgets of 300 000-400 000 dollars, and thought he could essentially make the same films for a tenth of those budgets. Thus was Monster from the Ocean Floor born, made outside of union regulations with a skeleton crew, filmed at a California beach. Cutting costs by giving a young writer the chance to direct and act in the film, filling one of the roles with himself and another one with a guy he picked up at a gas station, he built the movie around a paddle-submarine that he got to borrow for free, and had a marionette artist make a miniature octopus puppet for the cost of a bag of peanuts. He sold the film to Lippert Pictures, and it took in a whopping 850 000 dollars at the box office, a feat that didn’t go unnoticed by Nicholson and Arkoff.

Roger Corman in 1955.

Roger Corman.

So when it came time to start their new production company, the duo looked to Corman for their first release, and decided to buy the rights to his second picture, the road-racing film The Fast and the Furious, an impeccably made little lightning in a bottle, and offered him a contract for two films, of which they demanded one be made in colour. He would have a total budget of 100 000 dollars for both films combined, reimbursed after he had finished the movies.

Filming in colour was a lot more expensive that filming in black and white, so Corman knew he had to cut costs wherever he could on in other departments. That’s why he chose to do a colour western – it was a genre that needed no fancy sets or effects. He also figured he would be able to direct the film himself, thereby saving the director’s salary. He kept the cast and crew to a minimum, and set out do do Five Guns West on a budget of 50 000 dollars. However, right from the start everything went wrong. When shooting was about to begin, it started pouring down, and everything turned to mud and muck. The shooting dragged, and the production was plagued by different problems. On his first day of directing Corman was no nervous that he was physically ill, and had to throw up in the bathroom between takes. However, he soon realised that he did, in fact, have some knack for directing, and as the weather cleared, he was able to get a reasonably good-looking film on tape. But the budget had bloated, and he now had less than 30 000 dollars left with which to make the second movie.

This presented a problem. First of all, he didn’t have the money to build much in terms of sets or incorporate any effects to speak of. Second, he knew he couldn’t afford to hire a director or much of a crew, which meant he had to direct it himself. But this was complicated, as he wouldn’t afford to pay everyone involved union-sanctioned fees, so he had to make it in secret as a non-union film. But that meant that he couldn’t direct it, as he was now a member of the Directors Guild, and would have to report the film to them if he directed it. But these were all problems that could be solved, as long as he found an appropriate script. And after he shook some trees, a small script fell out of the woodworks, titled The Unseen, written by a budding writer called Tom Filer. And it gave Corman a bit of a joygasm. It was set on a remote farm, which meant he could shoot it essentially like a western. It was a science fiction monster movie, something that he knew he could sell to ARC and its exhibitors – and best of all: the monster was invisible! Ergo: no expensive monster suits, trick photography, animation or puppetry. Corman was a happy cat.

Leonard Tarver as Him.

Leonard Tarver as Him.

So now Corman had a script that he could shoot on location a good distance away from the city to avoid union agents, and one that would cost him no more than to shoot a dirt-cheap western. But there was still the problem of director and crew. So to avoid union entanglement, he gave the directing job to Lou Place, who had been assistant director on one European film, and acted in The Fast and the Furious. Place would go on to co-direct on a number of films, and work as production manager. However, Place opted out of the direction credit (perhaps because of the quality of the film), which instead went to the assistant director, David Kramarsky, who had worked as production assistant on Corman’s two previous films. Because of the union problem, Kramarsky also became the producer of the film, with Corman acting as ”executive producer”. ”Associate producer” was Corman’s key grip Charles Hannawalt.

Because of union regulations, renowned cinematographer and AIP go-to-guy Floyd Crosby couldn’t shoot the film, since he was a union man like Corman. So that job was taken over by Everett Baker, who seems to have been a random guy hanging out on the ARC lot in 1955. Of course the union guys weren’t stupid, and it didn’t take them too long to figure out what Corman was doing up in the Coachella Valley with his little crew, but by then location shooting was all but done. However, the union threatened to shut down production unless everyone involved registered immediately and were given appropriate pay. Corman had no intention of paying anyone union salaries, so instead he fired his entire crew, and finished the film himself along with Crosby. According to the always superb and you call yourself a scientist?! the duo + the actors holed up in a tiny sound stage and raced through 48 pages of interior shooting in two days. The film was then wrapped, canned and ready. Or so they thought.

This was the poster that exhibitors saw, naturally expecting the monster to show up on film.

This was the poster that exhibitors saw, naturally expecting the monster to show up on film.

Now we need to go back in time a bit. Before shooting began, James Nicholson, master of promotion and movie titling, changed he name of the film from The Unseen to The Beast with a Million Eyes, because of course that was going to sell more tickets. In later years Nicholson became known for first coming up with a title, then tell the marketing department to draw up a poster, and only then order a writer to create a story around it. This time there was indeed a script without a visible monster, but Nicholson nonetheless ordered a poster depicting a beast with a million eyes devouring a scantily clad brunette. This was the poster that the potential exhibitors of the film had in mind when they were invited to the screening of the movie, which ended in an appalled silence. After a while, theatre owner Joseph E. Levine formulated the question that was on everyone’s mind: ”Where’s the monster?” (This was, by the way, the same Joseph E. Levine who one year later would found Embassy Pictures and release Godzilla, King of the Monsters in the US.)

A fair question, since the poster promised a giant, tentacled, fanged monster with a million eyes devouring a girl in her undies. Nicholson understood the argument, and told Corman to add a monster to the movie, preferably the one his art department had drawn up, and pay for it with his own money, according to Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies. Corman placed a call to his acquaintance, original super-fan, collector, literary agent, publisher and all-round sci-fi guru Forrest Ackerman, and told him he needed someone who could make a monster fast. Ackerman, apparently not yet quite up to speed with the kind of films Corman produced, suggested Ray Harryhausen, at the time known for his brilliant stop-motion work on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review). Writes Warren: ”Corman recoiled in economic shock”.

Forrest J. Ackerman.

Forrest J. Ackerman.

According to Randy Palmer’s book Paul Blaisdell – Monster Maker, Forry then suggested architect, designer and futuristic eco-warrior Jacques Fresco, who had designed the space station and moon rockets in Project Moon Base (1953, review). Corman contacted Fresco, who said he would create the monster for 1 000 dollars. Corman said that was too expensive, and called Ackerman again. Forry then asked Corman to state how much money he was actually prepared to spend on this very central piece of special effects. Corman replied: 200 dollars. Ackerman recoiled in economic shock. Then laughed. But then he thought of a young illustrator that he had recently hired to draw covers and illustrations for his sci-fi magazines, Paul Blaisdell. Blaisdell had no professional experience with film work or this sort of model-making, but Ackerman remembered him mentioning that he used to build his own model kits from scratch and dabbled in sculpting as a kid, and thought that he might be interested. So Corman called up Blaisdell, who agreed to create the monster for 200 dollars in wages and 200 for materials. This was a bit more than Corman had hoped for, but by now Blaisdell was his only hope, so he agreed.

Little Hercules.

Little Hercules.

Corman sent over the poster, and told Blaisdell that the monster really didn’t have to do anything, just show up on screen for a few seconds and then fall down. Since it would never interact with the actors, Blaisdell could make it small-scale, and he just needed the upper torso, since its ”legs” could be hidden behind the hatch. A hand puppet would provide just enough different kinds of movement needed, it was fairly simple to make, and didn’t cost much. However, Blaisdell also had to build a miniature space ship and the desert it sat embedded in, because he had to be able to stand beneath said desert in order to control the puppet. Said and done. He modelled the dragon-like creature from clay and made a simple positive latex mould on top of that. The creature had wings, and Paul’s wife Jackie modelled its hands. Paul dubbed it ”Little Hercules”, and made him a leather jacket, a custom made eight-starred medallion and a toy gun, and finally added manacles and chains to its arms to point out his slave-status. According to Palmer’s book, Blaisdell was quite pleased with his work, and apparently so were the crew.

1955-the-beast-with-a-million-eyes-030-paul-blaisdell-jackie-blaisdell

Paul and Jackie Blaisdell, with a bust of Little Hercules standing on the mantle-piece between them.

When it came time to film the sequence, Blaisdell had created the desert on a plywood base, where he had painstakingly glued sand and small rocks, and he also brought his space ship. Unfortunately Corman had forgotten to mention that the crew had already built a full-scale version of the ship out of various junk for principal photography, so Blaisdell’s ship was useless. He then had to go back home to re-create the junk-pile that Corman’s minions had slapped together. Hence the ”tea kettle”. Finally the monster was to be filmed. Blaisdell took his place under the desert, Jackie also crammed into the small space to manage the lights inside the ship, and another assistant also squeezed in to handle the hatch. Forrest Ackerman himself showed up to pull the string that made the space ship take off at the end of the sequence. More and more people flooded into the small room to ”help”, and according to Blaisdell the room got so full of people that they couldn’t put the camera in the right place, and he didn’t have room enough to move the puppet correctly. Adding insult to injury, when the opening night came, he discovered that Corman had obscured the monster with an eyeball and a spiral, so that the puppet was barely visible. In truth, the thing looked like a damn hand-puppet which ever way you look at it, and hardly conjured up the sort of fear and awe the audience expected on the basis of the poster.

A rather odd picture of a topless model clad part in a curtain and part in Little Hercules, from one of Forrest Ackermans magazines.

A rather odd picture of a topless model clad part in a curtain and part in Little Hercules, from one of Forrest Ackermans magazines.

However, the exhibitors were satisfied that the film now had a monster, but they still weren’t sure if people would understand the metaphoric title, and the fact that the monster only had two eyes. So once again Corman obliged, and tacked on the absurd prologue where the beast introduces himself to the audience. First of all, it underestimates the audience, and second, it removes all the suspense from the movie, as the audience knows what is happening. The whole plot is based on the idea that the mystery should unravel throughout the film, but not only does the prologue tell the audience exactly what is happening, it also mixes in a highlight reel of all the film’s animal attacks and action sequences. Basically the audience sees the whole movie in a two-minuted montage before the movie has even begun. Thankfully, the prologue was removed for later TV runs and some home video versions.

Whatever Corman and ACR thought of the end result of the monster, they must have been impressed on some level, as Blaisdell became the chief monster maker of the studio for the remainder of the fifties, creating some of the cheesiest monsters of movie history. His creations include the melon-boobed creature from The She-Creature (1956), the conical menace from It Conquered the World (1956), the flying octopi from Not of This Earth (1957), the big-brained aliens from Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), the tree-stump terror from From Hell It Came (1957), and the monster from the classic It! The Terror from Beyond Space, among others. He also acted in his own suits, created special effects and even performed dangerous stunts in Corman’s movies. However, in the sixties he became disenfranchised with the industry and retired. In 1962-1963 he co-published a movie monster magazine along with another super-fan, collector and later movie prop guru Bob Burns, who became one of his closest friends. He later gave up all involvement with the movie industry and became a carpenter. He passed away in 1983 of stomach cancer, only 55 years old.

Lorna Thayer shooting at the dog.

Lorna Thayer shooting at the dog.

So, disregarding the monster, how does the film stack up? As Bill Warren writes, there’s one distinction that runs like a thread through almost all of Corman’s work: ”[His films] may have been childish, opportunistic and cheap, but they were rarely stupid. That is, the basic premise of the film was intelligent, even if it fell apart in every other way.”This is true for The Beast with a Million Eyes. The basic premise of the script is an intelligent one. There are no dashing heroes, no military might, no dark avenger. The hero of the film is an ordinary, dysfunctional family, that through an outer threat is forced to rekindle their love, and in the process drag their problems out in the light and deal with them. Tom Filer even goes as far as to make the monster invisible, as to highlight that fact that it isn’t a physical monster that the family is dealing with, but rather a metaphysical one, or one might say, a philosophical or psychological monster. The real monster is the anger, the suppressed emotions, the feelings of failure och disappointment they all carry in their lives, manifesting themselves as a dark entity. Only by acknowledging these feelings and work past them, do they find the weapon to battle the monster, and that is their love for each other. It was clumsily portrayed in the film, but that basic premise is a good one. As is Filer’s idea to make the monster an invisible mind-controller, taking over the bodies of animals and people. The idea was not new of course, it is basically the premise of evil spirits and demonic possession, and had been used to wonderful effect in John W. Campbell’s novelette Who Goes There? (1938), that became the premise of The Thing from Another World (1951, review), although this aspect of the story was dropped for the original film.

Dona Cole.

Dona Cole.

Unfortunately The Beast with a Million Eyes actually does fall apart in every other way. It is difficult to know how much of the clumsiness was inherent in the original script, and how much was altered by Corman and the crew, and to which extent it is more a matter of the lines being very clumsily delivered. Certainly this is the case whenever Dona Cole opens her mouth and speaks her line as if she were acting in a 3rd graders’ school play. This seems to have been her only film role of note, her other IMDb credits being ”Peggy (uncredited)” and ”Bathing suit girl”.

Paul Birch is OK as the middle-aged, burly protagonist of the film, despite his tendency to over-act, an artefact from his days on the stage, which he never quite got rid of. Birch was, however, a stable element in the AIP films, and appeared in a number of other sci-fis, including Day the World Ended (1955, review), The 27th Day (1957), Not of This Earth (1957) and Queen of Outer Space (1957), starring Zsa Zsa Gabor, who sadly passed away this week. He had a decent career, appearing in over 140 films or TV-shows.

Paul Birch.

Paul Birch.

The same can be said of Lorna Thayer, who is perhaps the strongest actor in the film. Some reviewers just dismiss the role as a ”complete bitch” what with all the yelling and bad temper, and her way of taking out her frustrations on her daughter and on ”Him”, but of course one should look a litter deeper than that. There’s a notion that Carol married out of class, by the way she mourns the loss of all her beautiful china and glass-ware, a last reminder of who she used to be before she became a secluded farmer’s wife, imprisoned on a farm away from civilisation. Perhaps she feels that Allan is no longer the charming man that she once married, now maybe changed by his experience in the war, and depressed by the failure of his farm. Perhaps he no longer sees her, the way she no longer sees him. And then there’s Sandra, now threatening to go off to college, with her whole life ahead of her, of which Carol is jealous – this is perhaps the point on which the script loses its credibility. A mother would rather be happy that her daughter would have the chance to get out of the rut the she herself is stuck in, and the way Carol even professes to ”hate” Sandra for her youth is downright ridiculous, especially as the girl is portrayed as the sweetest, most innocent thing in the world. It is perhaps this weird notion that makes it difficult for Thayer to get a grip on the role, lashing out to over-acting in the most ridiculous parts of the script.

Dick Sargent.

Dick Sargent.

Dick Sargent as anaemic as the deputy. Sargent, of course, is best known to TV viewers for doing the almost impossible and replacing Dick York as Darrin on Bewitched in 1969, and doing a splendid job with it. Before that his acting career was rather undistinguished, as was it after. He did appear in a small supporting role in The Clonus Horror (1979). Leonard Tarver playing Him seems to have been a friend of a friend picked for the role because of his size, and his acting suggests as much. Chester Conklin was an old comedy star of the silent era, known for his work with Charlie Chaplin and as a Keystone Cop. However, he serves no purpose in this film other than showing that there are actually other people living out in the desert other than our family, and appearing as comic relief.

Tom Filer contributed one more screenplay, again for a Corman film, in 1958: The Space Children. But by then he had already gained some recognition as a serious writer, mostly outside of science fiction. Throughout the years he wrote a number of prize-winning short stories and novels, and even tried his hand at acting once — opposite Jack Nicholson in Ride the Whirlwind (1966). In the seventies he settled down in the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Monica Canyon, inhabited by actors, writers, musicians and old beach bums, where he held writing classes and became one of the area’s most important chroniclers. When he wasn’t writing or spending time with his dogs, he went out diving or took adventurous trips around the world. He passed away in 2013.

Dona Cole taking a swim. Because we need a bikini scene.

Dona Cole taking a swim. Because we need a bikini scene.

The music was credited to ”John Bickford”, but in fact it’s a soundtrack made up of old classical composers like Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev, and others. In lieu of anything exciting to show on screen, editor Jack Killifer has opted to punctuate the rather mundane proceedings, like a dog happily wagging its tail or a flock of pigeons taking flight with dramatic and violent musical cues, further enhancing the unintentional comedy.

And now we have pretty much covered the entirety of the cast and the crew.

A KILLER!

A KILLER!

As said, the premise of the movie is a good one. But the movie is not. This may very well be Roger Corman’s worst film, disregarding the later Sharknado incarnations. Later on in his career, when his confidence as a producer and director grew, Corman developed a remarkable knack for churning out films on left-over sets with ridiculous speed, starting without a script, shooting for three days and pulling it all off thanks to a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a good sense of humour on set. But with this film, he wasn’t quite there yet, and this film has a tedious melodramatic quality to it that makes it as heavy as lead, and in the end of the movie downright laughable. The sense of dread and awe that the characters are supposed to feel is undermined by the sheer silliness of what goes on on screen. Of course Corman couldn’t afford trained animals, so when birds are supposed to attack, it simply feels like someone is throwing birds at the actors. The only way to make the cow attack is through the magic of editing, and it sure looks like the most docile cow I’ve ever seen. The rabid dog happily wags its tale and walks friendly around the sets, it looks more like it’s gonna lick Carol’s face than attack her. And despite Paul Blaisdell’s hurt feelings, the space ship does look like a tea pot, and the monster does look like a hand puppet.

Much of movie consists of people walking, walking, walking, back and forth, back and forth, in the forest, in the desert, in the praerie. Large chunks of the film are shot without syncronized sound, and even undercranked, making it seem like a silent movie at places. The direction and editing try to make up for the lack of anything remotely exciting, but that fact is that a happy dog, a docile cow and a tea kettle standing in the desert do not otherwordly horror make. The editing is sometimes jarringly inept, as in a scene where the editing makes it seem as if Allan shoots his wife instead of the cow. One could perhaps have lived with the inaptness of the movie, but the final scene of Allan and Carol talking the monster to death really is the final nail in the coffin.

Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole and Paul Birch talking the monster to death.

Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole and Paul Birch talking the monster to death.

And let’s for a brief moment talk logic; this has got to be the stupidest invader ever put on film. Even though many invaders before and after chose to start their world domination from a small inn somewhere in the Scottish moors, the idiocy of this one is astounding. Here’s a guy whose modus operandi is to take over the minds of animals to kill off the people he can’t control, and put othes under his spell. Where does he choose to set up shop? In one of the most inhospitable places in the world for animals: the desert. Sure, there happens to be a farm nearby with a dog and a cow, and even a braindamaged farm-hand. But then what? Was the cow going to invade Los Angeles? There might have been more suitable options, say like a zoo. Get yourself a couple of tigers and elephants and a stupid animal handler to open the cages, and you’re getting somewhere.

Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl.

Leonard Tarver as Him/Carl.

And then there’s the thing about Him (minor spoiler!). At one point Sandra explains to the deputy boyfriend that they don’t know who He is or what His name is, so they just call him Him. Well, in the end it turns out that he’s an old army buddy of Allan’s. Sure, it’s stated that Allan doesn’t like to talk about the war, but hey, he might have said something along the lines of: ”Hello, family. This is Carl. He is an old army buddy. He is going to be working here. He is a little funny in the head, but he’s a nice guy. Carl, this is my family. Welcome.” And this also begs the question: what DID he tell his family when he arrived home after the war with a brain-damaged farm-hand by his side? A normal family might have asked: ”Hey, Allan, welcome home, where did you pick up that brain-damaged farm-hand?” What did he say:? ”Well, I found him in the bargain bin at the white slave market. He isn’t very smart, but he can chop wood just fine.” Over all these years, has his family never once demanded him of an answer of just who the heck Him is, and why Allan is so devoted to him? And why the f*ck doesn’t Allan use his name? He knows his name, why did he just start calling him ”Him” when he got brain damaged? Obviously he still answers to ”Carl”, as is seen in the end of the movie. The level of stupidity of this film …

The tea kettle.

The tea kettle.

Some have pointed out that the use of birds as attacking animals predate Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds by eight years, and have figured that Hitchcock got his inspiration from The Beast with a Million Eyes. However, The Birds is based on a story by Daphne du Maurier that was written in 1952, and it’s more likely that Tom Filer was inspired by that story, than the other way around.

One can forgive a cheap film for being badly made if it’s got something else going for it, like the tongue-in-cheek attitude of Corman’s later movies, or the sheer passion and love that Ed Wood poured into his films. But this has neither. It is just bad. It’s not the worst cheap sci-fi I’ve reviewed so far, but it’s not far from. I dearly hope, for the sake of the rest of my reviews to come, that this is Roger Corman’s worst movie. I’, giving it one star for idea, but that’s it. It takes its rightful place in my cupboard of shame, the List of Awful Movies.

Janne Wass

The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955, USA). Directed by David Kramarsky, Lou Place, Roger Corman. Written by Tom Filer. Starring: Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent, Leonard Tarver, Bruce Whitmore, Chester Conklin. Cinematography: Everett Baker, Floyd Crosby. Editing: Jack Killifer. Art direction: Albert S. Ruddy. Special effects & monster design: Paul Blaisdell. Special effects assistant: Forrest Ackerman. Produced by David Kramarsky & Samuel Z. Arkoff for American Releasing Company. Executive producer: Roger Corman.

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