International Writers Magazine:DVD Review
Beast Of Yucca Flats
Directed by Coleman Francis.
With Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis,Tor Johnson, Bing Stafford.
watched the legendary The Beast Of Yucca Flats for the first
time ever on one of those cheapo 50 movie pack 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
.except for the narration (by the film's director, Coleman
Francis), which is amongst the worst ever in film, save for its 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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
© Dan Schneider May 2008
Cosmoetica: The Best In Poetica
Cinemension: Film's Extra Dimension
King's Refrigerator, & Other Stories, by Charles Johnson
American novelist Charles Johnson has published three collections of
short stories... this third collection, released by Scribner's in 2005,
is by far the weakest.
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