Monday, April 01, 2013

White Elephant Blogathon: 'The Beast of Yucca Flats' (1961)

Sadly, last year I missed out on the White Elephant Blogathon, in which bloggers submit movie suggestions to a pool and then write about a randomly chosen selection from another blogger, but I'm back on board this year. The first year I participated, I got something boring (Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts), and the second year, I got something terrible (Scorpion Thunderbolt), and this year I got a movie that's both boring and terrible, Coleman Francis' The Beast of Yucca Flats.

Although Beast is probably best known for its appearance in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I did not cheat -- I watched the original film without any comedic commentary, although I did check out some MST3K clips online. And boy is this a movie that needs comedic commentary to liven things up. It's only 54 minutes long, but it feels like a lifetime, with maybe 10 minutes of plot crammed into endless scenes of cars driving and parking (seems Francis must have been a big influence on Birdemic's James Nguyen), all narrated semi-coherently by Francis himself, since there was no sound recorded during production.

That means that either Francis is narrating in his rambling, ponderous style (sometimes filling in plot and character details, sometimes waxing poetic about nuclear armageddon), or he's throwing in awkwardly dubbed dialogue that can only be delivered when characters are offscreen or have their faces obscured in some way (since none of the words match up to the movement of the actors' mouths). It's possible to achieve a sort of otherworldly effect this way, and the movie's opening scene (which seems to have no connection to the rest of the story), in which a nearly naked woman is strangled by an unseen brute as a clock ticks loudly, is actually pretty creepy.

But the rest of the movie is just moronic, with a Soviet scientist played by Ed Wood favorite Tor Johnson getting caught up in a nuclear blast and transformed into the beast of the title. Mostly that means he lumbers around the sparse landscape, occasionally listlessly choking some anonymous passerby. Francis fails at creating suspense or even shocks; Johnson looks less like a beast and more like a guy with a bad sunburn. He clumsily stalks incompetent cops and an annoying family on vacation, but none of the performances have enough energy to make the threat seem urgent or even particularly dangerous. When the beast is defeated, it's the final anticlimax in a movie that's just one long disappointment.

Kenji Fujishima wrote a fascinating post on my pick, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, which I definitely need to revisit.


Paul C. said...

Lots of MST3K movies are pretty deadly without the snarking going on in the background. ROBOT MONSTER, to cite one example, made me want to claw my face off.

Guy Callaway said...

The jackrabbit sniffing the dying Tor is one the strangest things I've ever seen.