Before the credits comes a prologue, so pay attention now: A woman steps out of the shower. Wrapped in a towel, she makes her way to her bed, where she shows off her legs. A shadow falls over her, then, as she sits there loking bored, she is strangled to death by an unseen assailant. You got all that? Good, because it has no connection with the rest of the movie whatsoever.
Now: Joseph Javorski, as our lazily philosophical, omniscient and omnipresent narrator explains, is a noted scientist who has "escaped from behind the Iron Curtain." On his way to a meeting with U.S. government brass, he carries a briefcase full of military secrets to an atomic bomb testing site in the desert (Whose idea was it to hold the meeting there, anyway?) Two Russian spies have followed him, and they try to kill him, which leads to shooting and a car chase and much confusion and bad editing. Javorski, by the way, is played by Tor Johnson, an actor who was approximately the size of a museum and who was best known for his role in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. This is Tor (on the right):
So he's perfectly cast in the role of Javorski, because the one requirement to become a scientist in Russia is the ability to smash a refrigerator to pieces by sitting on it. Now Javorski, trying to evade the assassins, runs into the desert and right into the A-bomb testing zone. BOOM! He's smacked upside the head (and body) with radiation, and now he's the Beast, a mindless killing machine (though he still looks just like Javorski).
The Beast's first victims are a young couple having car trouble. He comes along, kills the husband and chokes the life out of the wife, then lugs her into the desert, none of which is going to get him into the Good Sam Club. The young man's body is eventually found by local patrolman Joe Dobson. So far we have two major characters: one is named Joe and the other is named Joseph. Great job, writer/director Coleman Francis! Joe alerts his pal Jim Archer and they head out to find the killer, but not before we get a lingering shot of Jim's wife in her nightgown that really defines the word "gratuitous." She and her cleavage are on the poster, which you can see above, even though she's in the movie for about 45 seconds total.
Meanwhile, the vacationing Radcliffe family stops at a service station, where the kids -- "Boys from the city, not yet caught up in the whirlwind of progress," as the narrator describes them -- feed soda pop to pigs.
Jim and Joe decide that they should focus their manhunt efforts on the searching the top of a desert plateau, but it proves impossible to climb. So what do they do? Naturally, they put Jim in a plane so he can parachute onto the plateau. (How exactly do they think the killer got up there if it's impossible to climb? Sigh.) By this time, the stupid Radcliffe boys have wandered away from their stupid parents, so their stupid dad Hank ventures into the stupid Yucca Flats to look for them. But it sucks to be him, because Joe has instructed Jim to "shoot first, ask questions later," and when Jim sees a dude walking on the ground, he sticks his gun out the window of the plane and starts shooting. He has no indication that this guy is the killer, but who cares?
Hank, looking only slightly annoyed by the whole affair, runs from the plane in a sequence that lasts approximately 73 hours. He's shot in the leg, but that doesn't stop him from running back to the car and driving off to find help, telling his wife to stay behind on the side of the road in the 110-degree heat.
Remember the Beast? Well, he finds the kids, and tries to grab them, but only succeeds in yelling at them, like this: "AAAAYYYUUUHH UUYYYHH!" The narrator says, "The Beast, finding his victim gone, unleashes his fury," at which point Tor picks up a rock and drops it! HOLY COW! Look at all that fury he just unleashed!
Soon enough the Radcliffes are reunited and Joe and Jim meet the Beast and shoot him dead, twice. The End. Wait, no -- then a bunny comes and nuzzles the dying Beast, and he sniffs it. Then The End.
Is It Scary?
Ohhh no. Mostly just stupid and boring. I always thought it was hyperbole when snarky movie critics talked about movies being "painful" to watch, but I now I get it. I'm glad this was only 54 minutes long.
Lessons I Learned:
- Beware the power of atomic energy! It will turn giant, hulking brutes into giant, hulking brutes who drop rocks!
- Don't shoot people.
I can't believe it didn't occur to me until now to include a count of all the folks who kick the bucket in these movies, but better late than never. This one had four, if you include the superfluous towel-clad chick at the beginning.
My Favorite Lines:
NARRATOR: A man runs. Somebody shoots at him.
NARRATOR: Joe and Jim plan another attack. Find the Beast and kill him. Kill or be killed. Man's inhumanity to man.
NARRATOR: Touch a button, things happen. A man becomes a beast.
NARRATOR: Vacation time. People travel east, west, north or south. The Radcliffes travel east, with two small boys, adventurous boys. Nothing bothers some people... not even flying saucers. [Note: There are no flying saucers in the film.]
About ten minutes in, I realized something remarkable about this movie: There was absolutely no sound recorded on location for the entire film. Most of the words spoken come from the narrator, but when a character has a line, the camera is never on that character. Clearly they shot the whole thing with no sound, then recorded the soundtrack later to save heaps of money. I'd have to say that the only enjoyable part of this viewing experience was anticipating what kind of tricks the director would use to avoiding depicting any speaking character onscreen, whether it's setting scenes in a cave, or facing actors away from the camera, or filming from a distance.
The lack of dialogue puts the burden on the narrator, whose ongoing commentary meanders aimlessly, occasionally attempting insight and poignancy but mostly just repeating every character's name a million times.
What the heck was the deal with the bunny nuzzling the Beast at the end? I guess maybe it had something to do with juxtaposition. I was half-expecting the Beast to pick up the bunny and eat it. Then the narrator would have said something like, "Little Bunny Foo-Foo. Hopping through the Yucca Flats. Hopping for the last time. Dog eat dog. Beast eat rabbit."
The credits say "Special guest star Tor Johnson." How can somebody be a guest star in a movie? Usually they don't appear in this movie, but this week they're dropping by for a visit? And was Tor really a big enough star to get a special credit like that? Hmm... I take that back. He was an ENORMOUS star.
Grady Roe, a regular reader of this blog, pointed out to me that in several of the posters for these movies (which I've mostly been finding on Wikipedia), women are depicted losing their clothing. That's pretty representative of women's roles in these movies. Most of them are either helpless (and often crazy) victims or jealous shrews. The most independent-minded women so far have been the gangster's girlfriend in Creature From the Haunted Sea, who was smarter than most of the male characters, and Nan from Attack of the Giant Leeches, who encouraged her dad to defy the game warden's warning not to throw dynamite around. There are four women in The Beast of Yucca Flats: two no-dimensional murder victims, a chick who serves no purpose but to reveal her skin, and a mother who spends most of the movie standing around on the side of the road. So it's not the most progressive horror film I've watched.
You know how Hollywood keeps producing remakes of beloved movies and ruining them? Why don't they remake bad movies, and try to improve on them? I could see a thrilling new version of Yucca, in which Javorski actually becomes more and more monstrous as the film goes on, and maybe Dobson used to be his best friend so there's more drama. Even better, throw in a love interest and some musical numbers and you've got Beauty and the Beast of Yucca Flats.
Letter grade for The Beast of Yucca Flats: F+ (Is there such a thing? The + is only for the fascinating no-sound aspect.)
Next movie in the DVD set: The Terror. I've seen it before. It has Jack Nicholson!