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Friday, October 9, 2009

THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS -- movie review by porfle

Did you ever watch a movie that made you suspect that you had just gone totally insane? THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961) is one of those movies. There are thousands of low-budget, inept, negligible cinematic duds that are just plain boring, and a number of big-budget ones, too. But THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS goes beyond all that and emerges as a viewing experience not unlike being attacked by aardvarks while mowing the shag carpet in your Aunt Petunia's house in Buffalo. If that doesn't make any sense to you, then you have a good idea of what this movie is like.

The first image that greets the lucky viewer about to be subjected to this cinematic Rorschach test is that of a young woman drying herself after a bath. She's naked except for a towel, and a pair of loafers. Why is she wearing loafers right after stepping out of the bathtub? Well, if you start asking questions like that this early on, you're never gonna make it. But here's another one: why would a film that could otherwise be shown to general audiences begin with a gratuitous glimpse of a woman's bare nipple, in a scene that was obviously tacked on, and which has nothing to do with anything that happens in the rest of the film? But wait, it gets better, because while she's sitting on the bed drying off, she's attacked by a large maniac whom we only see from the chest down. He strangles her, and then--get this--climbs into bed with her. WTF? Let me check...this was made in 1961, right? Where did the filmmakers plan for it to be shown? In a tent?

The star of the film is Tor Johnson. Yes, the bald, hulking Swedish wrestler who played Inspector Clay in PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE is the reknowned thespian whose talent has been enlisted to carry THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS on his big, hairy shoulders. Here, he tackles (and wrestles into submission) the role of defecting Russian rocket scientist Joseph Javorski, who arrives in the Nevada desert with top secret information for our government (something about the Russians landing on the moon, I think--the narrator keeps asking "Flag on the moon...how did it get there?") and is being pursued by two KGB agents who want to kill him. Oh, I'm sorry--did you just feel as though you were going totally insane? I'll repeat it, then--Tor Johnson plays a rocket scientist. Tor Johnson, rocket scientist. I know it doesn't seem as though those words should go together like that, but that's one of the charms of this incredible film.

Anyway, Javorski and his escorts are fired upon by the KGB agents and he is forced to flee into the desert, right into a nuclear testing ground. The bomb goes off, Javorski is bathed in deadly radiation, and--of course--he turns into a monster. Well, not quite a monster. More like Tor Johnson in tattered clothes and a rubber facial appliance that looks like a fried egg has been glued to half of his face. Naturally, this unfortunate turn of events makes him want to wander clumsily around the desert and kill people, while muttering "ahh...ahh." No doubt about it, Tor Johnson could mutter "ahh...ahh" with the best of them.

"Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast," the narrator sadly tells us. In fact, he talks through the entire movie, because it seems to have been shot entirely silent, with the sparse dialogue dubbed in whenever the actors' mouths couldn't be seen. "Joseph Javorsky, respected scientist," he continues. "Now a fiend prowling the wastelands, a prehistoric beast in a nuclear age. Kill...kill just to be killing." This guy needs help. His every utterance is intoned with such mournful solemnity that he constantly seems on the verge of hanging himself, and the most mundane events fill him with the urge to spout endless profound pronouncements on the human condition.

"Progress" is the subject he seems most obsessed with. As young lawman Joe Dobson rounds up his partner and they set off into the desert in search of the killer, the narrator woefully moans, "Jim Archer, Joe's partner...another man caught in the frantic race for the betterment of mankind. Progress." Later, when the vacationing Radcliffe family stops at a roadside gas station, the two young sons, Randy and Art, scamper around back to cavort with the local fauna, prompting him to note: "Boys from the city, not yet caught up in the whirlwind of progress, feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs." Like I said, this guy needs help.

The two lawmen, Joe Dobson and Jim Archer, could use a little help, too. These guys are nuts. In order to reach a cave where the beast may be hiding, they scale a sheer cliff where one slip could result in a fall of hundreds of feet, even though Randy and Art, who have wandered away and gotten lost, later stumble upon it simply by walking there. When, for some reason, Joe and Jim decide that the beast must be on top of a high plateau, former paratrooper Jim gets a pilot to fly him up there so he can parachute down to the otherwise unreachable location--where he is later picked up by Joe, who drives there in the patrol car. The lost boys' father, Hank, gets there on foot while searching for his sons.

Unfortunately for him, though, Jim Archer is a "kill first, ask questions later" kind of cop who whips out his sniper rifle and starts shooting at Hank from the airplane as soon as he spots him. "Find the Beast and kill him. Kill, or be killed. Man's inhumanity...to man." This leads to a sequence that can only be described as utterly insane, as the innocent father desperately runs for his life amidst a hail of bullets fired by the grimly determined, bloodthirsty cop. You just watch it and think, "Am I losing my mind?"


Randy and Art continue to wander around the desert until finally the beast spots them and gives chase. It may sound exciting, but "giving chase" wasn't exactly one of Tor Johnson's specialties. Most of the time you're amazed that this gallumphing mountain of beef can even remain upright, so seeing him chase someone is about as thrilling as watching Eskimoes run away from an advancing glacier. As the melancholy narrator continues to remind us of the irony inherent in the current beastly state of "Joseph Javorsky...noted scientist", Jim and Joe catch up with him at last and a life-and-death struggle between man and beast ensues. I was rooting for the beast.

After the film's climax reaches the excitement level of watching your elderly neighbor wash his car and then begins to taper off so that we can begin the long, difficult struggle to recover from it, there's a final, thought-provoking shot involving a bunny rabbit. That's right, a bunny rabbit. I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet it was caught up in the wheels of progress, too.

THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS is a film that should be seen by anyone who loves bad, bad, really bad films. Because it's really, really bad. In a fun way, that is--but only if you're hardy enough to endure it, because it's also incredibly boring at times, and it's also one of the most stupefying things you could ever possibly subject yourself to. I'm only giving it one star because, perversely entertaining though it is, I think it could actually be considered a danger to humanity at large to give it any more than that. But you owe it to yourself to watch it if you want to see just about the only film imaginable that, for Tor Johnson, could be considered a step down from PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.

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