Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

The Beast of Yucca Flats has the reputation of being one of the worst movies ever made, and possibly the only movie ever made that is more technically inept than anything in Ed Wood’s cinematic output. And it lives up to its reputation.

At the height of the Cold War (the movie was made in 1961) a defecting Russian scientist, played by the legendary Tor Johnson, is chased onto a nuclear testing ground by a couple of KGB agents. The resulting nuclear explosion turns him into a shambling homicidal maniac. When the body of a murdered man is found by a roadside, the local sheriff’s deputies adopt what one assumes is their standard investigative procedure. They fly over the area where the body was found and start shooting the first person they see. When that person turns out not to be the murderer, they shoot the next person they see. In this part of the US shambling nuclear-irradiated and mutated homicidal maniacs actually seem rather less dangerous than the local police.

I hope I haven’t given the impression that this movie has a coherent plot. Nothing could be further from the truth. The lack of any story-telling logic is the least of this film’s problems however. There’s also the lack of any dramatic tension, the acting (atrocious even by ultra low budget movie standards), the uninteresting cinematography, and most of all the sheer tedium of the movie. Ed Wood was technically incompetent, but his movies were redeemed by their extreme bizarreness. The Beast of Yucca Flats is mostly just dull.

Such entertainment as it has to offer comes mostly from the narration by the movie’s writer-director, Coleman Francis. The movie requires a narrator, because it was not only shot without sound, it wasn’t even properly dubbed later. The only dialogue occurs when the character supposed to be speaking is looking away from the camera, or is out of shot altogether. This does provide some amusement. As for the narration, it has virtually no connection to any of the events shown onscreen. When the narrator informs us (over a shot of a dozing gas station attendant) that nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers, we might expect that flying saucers will play some part in the movie. But no, flying saucers do not make an appearance and are never mentioned again. The narrator seem to be simply repeating random thoughts that have popped into his head.

The movie just doesn’t have enough weirdness value to qualify as a so-bad-it’s good movie, and it isn’t sufficiently outrageous to have much camp appeal. I got it in one of those multi-disc public domain boxed sets which work out at around 50 cents a movie, and for 50 cents it does provide some mild amusement. It’s one of those movies you do probably need to see if only because you you’re not really going to believe that anyone would make such a movie if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes.

1 comment:

Jonny Metro said...

I know I'm a few years late to the party here, but I had to see what you thought of this film. It is so ridiculously bad, and yet I'm strangely obsessed with it! You're right, the narration is priceless, and I singled out that line about flying saucers in my own review.

Anyway, just wanted to leave a comment. I know I always appreciate them on my older posts. Blogs are so "immediate", that all the hard work you put in in the past seems to disappear after a week or so. So it's always nice when someone dives into the archives.

My review (if you're interested)