Campy Monster Fun
by Kristin Battestella
Nestle in with this bemusing array of mid-century monsters and cheesy frights!
The Beast of Yucca Flats– The notorious 1961 SF horror here starts off fun and scary with a toweled pretty, strangulations, space race secrets, communism fears, and nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, this hour is held together by a very dodgy narration which unnecessarily replaces what should be dialogue. It’s mistake numero uno– hardly anyone talks and this makes for the least amount of character development possible. No performance happens; it’s a story being told. While that’s fine in cartoons perhaps, aren’t you making a film because of the show don’t tell possibilities? It’s unrealistic to expect a serious science fiction or spooky adult audience to sit through something like this-which is as is really nothing more than a naughty children’s short. That’s Rule 2: don’t underestimate your audience. Did I mention the music is also much too much? Yes, this ‘film’ is seriously flawed, and to some, that is its very appeal. Fans who enjoy the hokey of the day will love the cars, pace, and weak fifties filmmaking style, and drinking game fans can have a wonderful time with the utterly fake shoot-out and car chase. It’s like they’re kids with pop guns spinning the wheels of parked cars! This one must be seen to be believed, indeed.
The Giant Gila Monster – It had been ages since I’ve seen this 1959 hokey! Though everyone has probably scene clips from the fiery finale, I’d forgotten how much fun this mix of sock hop, classic tunes, cool cars, fifties nostalgia, and creature feature effects really is. The bemusing doom and gloom introduction and opening deaths are accented with some over the top scary music to match the silly premise, and the real lizard footage is downright charming! Sure, nothing is frightening because of the ridiculous production values, but the simple A to B to C execution proceeds at an entertaining little pace. And man, Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies) and his tow truck are always handy! This teen not only looks 35, but he helps strangers, loans books to the sheriff, and sings to crippled little girls. Of course, the Mexican portrayals are a bit offensive if brief, and though the supporting greasers are totally limp acting-wise, drunken DJ Ken Knox is on form corny at his protest over $2 for a tow. The fifties redneck colloquialisms might be tough for some young viewers to understand today. However, this is all just great for audiences looking for such dated vehicular vernacular- a mid-century Texas time capsule captured before the turbulent sixties began. Yes, it’s completely hokey, but it works, and works damn amusingly!
The Monster Maker – Lovely piano concertos set up the gothic mood, eponymous twisted science, and good old-fashioned lovelorn obsession in this hour-long 1944 science fiction horror tale starring a juicy J. Carrol Naish (Beau Geste) and Ralph Morgan (Magnificent Obsession) as his forcibly misshapen and sympathetic victim. The then-contemporary designs and cool science lab are also a treat- except for the ape, of course. Why must there always be a man in a monkey suit in these old capers? A few scenes do drag or feel slow and long despite the short length, and the formula plays a little obvious at times. However, the fun, over the top style works. Women scream, get manhandled, and blackmail. It’s of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.
The Wasp Woman – It seems Roger Corman really likes his women, and this 1959 creepy is The Fly for chicks. Though not saucy or purely for ogle value- which is both good and bad depending on your point of view- the outdoor values, regular Fred Katz music, and scary buzzing sounds set off the more mature science fiction thoughts and laboratory desperation. One chick does get to slap another hysterical chick, yes, but the concepts here are just as fun. How far will we go for beauty? What cost is too high? The suggestion of bees and wasps is also chilling for those who dislike insects and simply terrifying to anyone allergic to bee stings. The sound is tough to hear in some spots, and the added prologue is slow in establishing the freaky premise of using wasp extracts as the fountain of youth. Some animal testing scenes are iffy, too. Thankfully, the fun labs and haywire science keep this one interesting.