DVD Review of
The Beast Of Yucca Flats
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 6/29/08
I watched the legendary The Beast Of Yucca Flats for the first time ever on one of those cheapo 50 movie pak DVDs, so there were no extras, save for chapter selection. Given my years of childhood staying awakings throughout the 1970s, and watching every film, it seemed, in the catalogs of such legendary shows as Chiller Theater and Creature Feature, how I missed this is beyond me; especially given that its lead star is the truly legendary Tor Johnson, of Plan 9 From Outer Space infamy.
For those in the know, Johnson was a Swedish wrestler who played a ghoul in Ed Wood’s great 1959 bad film, and, were that his only claim to- ok, let’s call it ‘fame,’ that would be enough. However, just a mere two years, and it seems 150 or more pounds heavier, Johnson turned in an even better, or badder, role in the 1961 black and white atrocity, The Beast Of Yucca Flats. Ok, perhaps atrocity is too strong, for this film does have a few of the ‘good’ bad aspects that define Wood’s film, as well as the classic Robot Monster. Better yet, it clocks in at a mere 54 minutes in length, showing a decency and consideration most bloated Hollywood bombs never show their viewers. However, it does not have enough of them that it can rank up there with such as the other aforementioned films. Mainly, this is because it lacks all humor….except for the narration (by the film’s director, Coleman Francis), which is amongst the worst ever in film, save for its unintended humor. The cinematography, however, has no such caveat, as the poor framing, atrocious editing, and unsynched audio track- the film was filmed silently, then conversations were added in later, but it’s a mess, nonetheless, as characters speak only when their faces are not visible, and gunshots ring out only when the pulled guns wander out of frame. Because the director did not care to even allow his actors to speak I don’t think it’s even necessary to delineate them nominally, so I won’t. Besides, would you even watch this film is you knew it starred Bing Stafford as….? No, ain’t gonna give you the name of the actor. The reason you’re even reading this is because of Tor Johnson, anyway. Back to detailed criticism: even worse than the unsynched audio is the scoring, in which standard 1950s era television ‘exciting’ music clues the viewer into the fact that something ‘exciting’ is going on. Well, not really, but didacticism has its needs. No? Perhaps the worst aspect of the film, however, is the screenplay, written by the multitasking Francis, whose prescience in doing so, decades before the term multitasking was coined, is a marvel.
Ok, here is the plot: a defecting Soviet scientist, Joseph Javorsky, played by Johnson, is hunted down by Soviet agents. Although Javorsky is so fat he can barely move on his own, but the agents continue to miss him. A car chase ensues, into Yucca Flats. Then, shit happens. Ok, not, shit, but an atomic blast. Or, as the narrator says, ‘The A Bomb.’ Javorsky then becomes a Beast, or The Beast. He turns murderous, killing a man and abducting his wife to a cave. All that seems to have occurred is that he spilled some food on his face. Nonetheless, he is dogged by two ‘desert patrolmen’- Joe and Jim, who are basically cliché-spouting morons who chug gallons of water. Oh, yes, a couple with two boys wanders into all this. The boys get lost, the cat glasses wearing mother futzes around, and the husband, whilst searching for his lads, somehow has the misfortune of walking into an outtake from Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. Yes, he is buzzed by a small airplane, in which Joe or Jim starts mindlessly gunning for him, because one of those J’s- we are informed by the narrator, was a paratrooper in Korea. Also, he is egged on by his partner to….’shoot first and ask questions later.’ It seems that the wild shooting cop plugs the dad, who falls into several ravines.
But, apparently, Korea Joe (or Jim) is as good a shot as was Lee Harvey Oswald (if you believe certain persons), for the dad survives, and comes upon the good wifey, still at the car she left, while dad searched for his progeny. Dad runs toward her, and orders her to stay behind. Apparently he has no cares that the wifey might be the next target for the poor shooting psychotic from the sky (from the dad’s perspective). Anyhoo….back at the Beast’s cave, where he stowed the first wife he abducted (who was subsequently rescued by the J’s, before the excursion into Hitchcockian outtakes), the Beast struggles to rise from a prone sleeping position. Somehow he has had the fortune of having the two lads he was chasing take refuge in his cave. Although both ten years old and younger boys could easily outdistance the Beast on foot, neither seems to realize they are stuck in a bad film, for it only takes a poor cut to have the Beast somehow on their tails again, even if, mere seconds earlier, they were outdistancing the slovenly Soviet by tens of yards.
Somehow, the J’s catch up with Javorsky, and shoot him dead. Or so they think. For when they approach him, the Beast roars up, after a game of possum. He batters the two smaller men, although this consists mainly of flailing about and almost suffocating one of them with his mass. The unflattened J then opens fire and the Beast dies. The two lost boys, meanwhile, are blissfully unaware of all of this, and return to their mom, as the dead Beast is nuzzled by a small desert hare, which seems to want to nibble at parts of its face. Unfortunately, the legendary Johnson finds it even more difficult to play dead than he did to rise up from sleep, as his body visibly moves several times. After all, the rise was just hauling his mass while death required actually doing nothing. For a fat man, filled with noxious gases, this is, of course, a tasking act.
The bizarreness of the film’s end, however, is only matched by its odd and unattached beginning. In it, we see a nude woman strangled to death as she leaves her shower. We never see the murderer, and because it is pre-A Bomb, it cannot be a victim of the Beast. This setup is never mentioned again in the film, although one might suspect it is the wife of Javorsky, killed by the Soviets to punish him for defecting, but it is hard to believe that a nubile über-babe would pay any attention to a fat, bald sixtysomething man, even pre-Beastly.
Ok, I gave you the bad, now for the good (dare I type great?). The film’s narration. Ok, the words are a logical dissonance from anything onscreen, but, when one adds in the utter seriousness with which Coleman declaims such things, it’s, as the commercial says, absolutely priceless! Here are a few gems, in no particular order of chronology nor excellence:
- A man who owns a gas station is sunning himself as the couple with the boys pulls up. He ignores them. The narrator intones: ‘Nothing bothers some people. Not even flying saucers.’ Um….not a saucer in the sky. Not even some of the flaming tin pie plates from Plan 9!
- As Johnson stumbles about in the desert, valiantly struggling to maintain equilibrium against the relentless assault of the earth’s gravity, the narrator declaims: ‘Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast.’ Wow!
- As dad frantically evades the flying and maniacal poor shooting J in the airplane, the narrator informs the audience in a mock savant tone: ‘A man runs, someone shoots at him.’ This is as nonchalantly imparted as if a waitress just served up some grape jam with a peanut butter sandwich.
- Upon the introduction of the second J- Jim, the one who goes maniacal in the plane….I think, the narrator gets positively Nietszchean: ‘Jim Archer; Joe’s partner. Another man caught in the frantic race for the betterment of mankind. Progress.’ That last word is uttered with a disdain so veiled it is merely my hope that it was disdain, therefore one can somehow justify the word’s inclusion.
Well, you get the picture, and I am running out of clever modifiers to use in place of ‘said,’ so let me get to the summing up of this review. The Beast Of Yucca Flats is a bad film that is so nonsensical that to emphasize its badness is utterly beside the point, for anyone seeking sense in such a film should have his head examined. See, I can stoop to banality when needed. Oh, and before I forget, parts of the film are in nearly pristine condition, while other reels are streaked and blemished. I just decided to throw that factoid in. And this: the film is dull, unless one factors in the bad narration, which would then make the narration somehow redolent of something deeper, even if the onscreen action is still dull.
But, then there’s the (imagine a deep, rich manly voice bellowing) X FACTOR!!!! Tor Johnson, whose utter inability to emote, heroic resistance to gravity’s pull on corpulence, and seeming unawareness to differentiate between real life and fiction make him utterly irresistible to the human eye. I challenge any film critic to watch this film, or any of his other classic B film appearances, and state that he dominates the screen like few cinema stars ever have. Granted, a month old festering corpse might attract the same sort of perverse voyeurism, but that’s just details. Having seen this film now, I can honestly say I am content to lay down in a desert and have a wild hare nibble at my rotting remains. Although, I doubt I could master Johnson’s moving corpse as well. Cue solemn Coleman Francis narration:
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Hackwriters website.]
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