Saturday, 14 November 2009

Eegah (1962)

Eegah appears on the IMDb’s list of the 100 worst films of all time and was the subject of a celebrated episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Which just shows how spectacularly some people can miss the point. Sorry folks, but you’re wasting your time trying to send this movie up. It was clearly intended as a comedy in the first place.

It’s a rock’n’roll monster movie, for heaven’s sake. Cult movie legend Arch Hall Sr set up Fairway International Pictures with several aims in view, one of which was to make his son Arch Hall Jr a movie star. But Dad Hall was no fool. He knew his progeny was no Brando, and that if he was going to make it he was going to make it on the drive-in movie circuit. So he set out to produce (and often write and direct) drive-in movies. The results were some of the most entertaining drive-in movies ever made.

Eegah opens with a young woman driving across the desert at night. Suddenly a giant dressed in animal skins and carrying a huge wooden club appears in her headlights. It’s a real live caveman! The woman, Roxy Miller, is the daughter of an eminent author, explorer and adventurer (played by Arch Hall Sr). Her dad is inclined to be sceptical about her tale, but if it is a caveman he wants pictures. It could be the subject of his next book! Roxy’s boyfriend Tom, played by Arch Hall Jr, works at the local gas station, but he also fronts a band. We get to hear several of his songs, and we’re inclined to think he should hang on to the job at the gas station. The younger Hall actually wrote some of the songs he performs in his various movies, and while they’re fairly awful they’re no worse than the general run of songs you’re going to encounter in rock’n’roll monster movies.

Mr Miller sets off in a helicopter to explore the hills around the spot where Roxy met the caveman. And he soon discovers that her story was absolutely true. He’s so shocked when he runs into the neanderthal that he falls over and manages to break his collarbone. Meanwhile back at the ranch Roxy is getting anxious. Mechanical problems have prevented the helicopter from returning to pick up her father, so she and Tom set off in Tom’s dune buggy to make the rendezvous. Once they’re in the right area they do what people always do in horror movies. Tom takes his gun and sets off into the hills, leaving his girlfriend all alone by the dune buggy so that she can be kidnapped by the prehistoric man. Which is of course what happens. He takes her to his cave, where she finds her dad who has also been kidnapped. It turns out that this primitive is named Eegah, and he is the last survivor of his race. He is also apparently incredibly old, despite his appearance. He’s not really a monster, in fact he’s fairly good-natured, but he is a little on the unpredictable and excitable side. And he’s very lonely. He’s especially lonely for feminine company, and Roxy is a very attractive woman. Eegah hasn’t had a girlfriend for a very very long time and he is anxious to get to know Roxy better.

Various unlikely complications ensue as Roxy tries to protect her virtue from the lustful cave-dweller.

There’s a great deal of often very amusing sexual innuendo, which would certainly have been enjoyed by drive-in audiences. There are plenty of laughs, but despite what you will read in most reviews I don’t believe any of the humour was unintentional. The whole thing is being played for laughs. Arch Hall Sr has thrown into the mix every possible element that could appeal to a drive-in audience - a goofy plot, some songs, a love story, lots of sexual jokes, a pretty leading lady who at times is wearing very little, teenagers, dune buggies, silly humour.

Once you realise it’s all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek you also realise that it’s quite wrong to see it as a bad movie. It’s very much like The Horror of Party Beach - it’s self-consciously parodying teen rock’n’roll monster movies and it’s doing a pretty good job of it. The hammy acting is a major asset. Arch Hall Jr was a terrible actor, but he was never dull. Marilyn Manning as Roxy delivers her lines in a sly knowing kind of way, especially the more suggestive dialogue. And when she starts to find her caveman suitor rather appealing and a bit hunky she does the sexy ingeue thing quite well. I’m inclined to think she knew exactly what the part demanded and knew the movie was intended as comedy and played the role accordingly, and her performance works for me. Richard Kiel also seems to be having plenty of fun being a zany, lecherous but oddly vulnerable and sympathetic caveman.

The extreme silliness of the plot makes perfect sense as well, since any good spoof movie should have a plot that is totally unbelievable and defies logic. And you get bonus points for having characters behave in classic dumb horror movie ways. The shaving scene is truly bizarre, but it’s funny and weirdly sexy.

Eegah succeeds extremely well in doing what it sets out to do - it’s an enjoyable romp of a movie that never takes itself seriously and is deliciously camp. One of the biggest and most common mistakes that many modern reviewers make is to fail to realise that very often the low-budget film-makers of the past actually knew exactly what they were doing and were intending their films to be both silly and funny. If you’re looking for a fun popcorn movie this one delivers the goods.

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