Monday, September 26, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, sociological, psychological*

To get the obvious stuff out of the way: yes, BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES is a boondoggle. It was the last of three films that Roger Corman had contracted to deliver, and it had the least amount of front-money to work with. David Kramarsky, listed as "production manager" and "assistant" on a couple of earlier films, is credited as sole director, but current information asserts that he shared directing duties with Corman and another fellow, Lou Place, who both had minimal directorial credits in 1955. The idea was pre-sold to distributors before the film was completed, and some if not all of these distributors were less than pleased to learn that the titular "beast" was an invisible alien whose "eyes" were those of the various animals and humans he could control. There certainly were not 50,000 of these critters in the film's desolate setting. One might suppose that the "million eyes" might stand for the thousands, if not millions, of people that the alien and his people would control when they invaded Earth. But that's probably being too charitable for a title that was probably cobbled together by a producer on a cocktail napkin.

IMDB has no credit for an original story, so I'd guess that credited screenplay-writer Tom Filer simply had to work from the skeleton of a plot given him by Corman or one of Corman's associates. If there's anything worthwhile in BEAST, it's probably as the result of Filer trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (or maybe a cow's ear, given the film's hilarious bovine attack sequence).

Filer only worked on two films, this one and the later SPACE CHILDREN. According to his online bios, he was not a regular Hollywood screenwriter, and seems a consciously "literary" type who was briefly drawn into Corman's orbit for some reason (most probably Filer's willingness to work cheap). Some of his stories appeared in Pushcart Prize anthologies, so we're not exactly dealing with a routine Hollywood hack. Still, not even the most exalted writer could have done much with the restricted concept of BEAST, so it's no surprise that Filer didn't quite manage to make that silk purse.

The quick summation of the story is that a somewhat dysfunctional family. the Kelleys, lives on a ranch in an arid valley, with only one close neighbor (an old man who apparently has just one cow on his ranch). The aforementioned alien lands in the valley, apparently testing its mental control-powers on the local wildlife, and on the more susceptible humans as well. The Kelleys consist of middle-aged father Allan, his wife Carol, and their grown daughter Sandy, but there are two other residents on the ranch. One is Sandy's faithful dog Duke. The other is "Him," a handyman who cannot speak; under vague circumstances Allan brought Him to the ranch, claiming to have found him wandering about. Of the three family-members, then, two have strong bonds to a non-familial resident, and for good measure, Sandy also has a boyfriend of sorts, a young sheriff named Larry.

Carol, at the outset, seems to be the main source of the dysfunction. At the outset Allan's voice-over admits to the audience that he's barely making a go of the ranch (chickens are seen at one point) and that this had led to a strain between him and his wife. This is confirmed when Carol begins grousing not only about money troubles, but about the horrible isolation of life in the valley. While the assorted directors aren't skillful enough to show the actors at their best, the shots of the desolate valley do capture the sense of a brooding wasteland inimical to life. Clearly Carol is having a mid-life crisis: her daughter is grown and about to go off to college (at Allan's insistence), and Carol feels she's been stuck in a dead-end business with a husband who has failed to provide for her. During the opening quarrel with Allan, Carol even says she feels like she hates Sandy, who's still got her life ahead of her.

For SF films of the period, this was a pretty rare look inside the head of a middle-aged woman, predating a similar approach in THE LEECH WOMAN five years later. On the minus side, though, Filer doesn't follow through on Carol's emotional arc; she's simply the means by which the script establishes the sense of the valley's hostile environment, long before the alien lands and starts monkeying around with the wildlife. Blackbirds, chickens, and the family dog start echoing the hostility Carol expressed toward the world of nature, and on a few occasions, even humans begin acting strangely, particularly "Him." These various animal-attacks, relying on lots of stock footage, are theoretically designed to build up to the family's climactic encounter with the alien (hastily given a nominal physical presence by "monster maker" Paul Blaisdell to placate irate distributors).  However, the only "attack" that supplies any tension is when friendly Duke becomes menacing, and must be "put down" by Carol. Mysteriously, once she's vented her violence upon her daughter's dog, Carol's animus toward her dead-end life simply vanishes, and she re-confirms her bonds of love to both daughter and husband.

The conclusion is also marked by an overly convenient resolution, when the script discloses, rather arbitrarily, that the alien can't control fully functioning human beings because they have souls. The sudden introduction of religious concerns, sanctifying the unity of the family, may be intended to give the audience the assurance that the dysfunction was purely short-term in nature. And the suggestion of an eleventh-hour intervention by an agent of God is equally problematic. The alien, a non-corporal intelligence occupying the enslaved body of another alien, is forced to flee when the host body mysteriously dies. The possessor-alien jumps into the body of a rodent, and the rodent is snatched up and killed by an eagle-- a bird which, according to the Kelleys, is never seen in the valley. Apparently God decided to put in his oar only after the Kelleys had come through their baptism of fire.

BEAST is a cheat on many levels, but there's some interesting unused potential here. The film isn't a post-apocalypse story, but it has roughly the same vibe as Corman's DAY THE WORLD ENDED, released six months after BEAST. Both films focus on a nubile young woman trying to find happiness with her ideal mate, but being threatened by males she does not want. Both films also have a patriarch-figure who seeks to protect his daughter, though there's no maternal figure in the later film. However, in BEAST there's a strange connection between Allan and one of Sandy's unwanted suitors, "Him." That connection is,. to be sure, given a naturalistic explanation at the climax. That explanation, aside, though, it's not impossible to see "Him" in psychological terms, as the "shadow side" to the beneficent patriarch. It's tellingly disclosed that the handyman, long before he becomes the alien's pawn, nurtures a forbidden passion for his benefactor's daughter. On the whole, "Him" may in the tradition of the un-intellectual stooge who works for the patriarch, sort of a road-company Caliban to Allan's Prospero. And if there are Freudian currents in BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES-- however badly rendered-- that puts the Corman film up on the better known Freud-film of the next year, FORBIDDEN PLANET. But such currents had arguably been around for years in the horror-films of previous decades, as exampled by 1934's THE BLACK CAT.

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