The Beast with a Million Eyes

Ham and Cheese Omelette MRE: A meal so bad, not even a starving Croatian dog would eat it

It’s human nature, sometimes we do things that we know we’re going to regret – such as that one shot of Jagermeister too many or the last call hookup, which usually follows the one shot too many.  We’ve all been there.  They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but if that cover is gray with the title like “The History of Riparian Rights in Upper Canada from 1800-1849″, you know that you’re not getting an Ian Fleming-like page turner. If you pick the book up and read it anyway, you will be reaping the boredom you have so unwisely sown.  Like the guy that does one shot too many or the girl who, with beer firmly goggles in place, decides at closing time to settle for Mr. Rightnow, I have little sympathy for you.  In that spirit, I ask that you offer me no sympathy either, for I have no one to blame but myself for watching The Beast with a Million Eyes.

To give you an idea of what sort of movie we’re getting in The Beast with a Million Eyes, the Wikipedia entry says:

The Beast with a Million Eyes, released in 1955, is a movie.

Even though I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there waiting with bated breathe to see this movie, I’m going to warn you up front, this review has spoilers.  So let’s get on with it, shall we?

The film opens with some stock nature footage.  You know the type I mean; ants carrying leaves into the ant colony; birds flying overhead; beavers, making their morning commute to work, waiting at a bus stop, chatting about the big game they saw on tv last night; kangaroos doing the laundry, a crab building a sniper’s nest on a water tower somewhere in Middle America . . .  typical stuff like that.  Accompanying these scenes is a voice-over, by an alien from the distant planet Exposition, who explains the plot of the movie.  The alien has no body, but comes from a species that has evolved into pure thought.  It, through force of will, is able to possess lower life forms such as birds, animals, and 1950’s B movie voice-over actors.  By possessing a large number of creatures, it becomes the Beast with a Million Eyes! Bwahahahaha! Get it? Because each creature it possesses has eyes and so if it possesses, let’s say, a half million creatures, each with two . . . never mind.

Then we are treated to some views of palm trees in the desert with a second voice over by Allan Kelley (Paul Birch), the owner of a date ranch. “A date ranch in the off season is the loneliest place in the world.”  To which we respond Rocky Horror style, “Why?  Can’t you get a date?”  While we’re still laughing over that lame joke, Allen goes on to explain that his date ranch isn’t doing well financially and that he’s having problems with his wife.  We then meet Allen in the flesh, who probably won some sort of award for pulling his pants up to his nipples, which as ridiculous as it looks, it’s still better than the baggy pants at half mast look that the kids have been wearing for the last fifteen years or so.  The new spin on this is the kids are wearing tight skinny jeans that look painted on, but they still wear the pants very low on the waist and baggy in the inseam, making it look as if they walking around with a full diaper – very cool!

We meet the rest of the cast in short order: Allen’s wife, Carol Kelley (Lorna Thayer); their daughter Sandra Kelley (Dona Cole); her boy friend, Deputy Larry Brewster (Dick Sargent) the brain damaged ranch hand Karl (Leonard Tarver) and the local Old Coot (Chester Conklin).  There are also a dog and a cow, both of whom turn in better performances then any of the humans.  I bet that the only cast member’s name that you recognized was Dick Sargent, the actor who played the lesser Derwood on Bewitched.  Yeah, they couldn’t even get the good Derwood for this movie.

The theme of The Beast with a Million Eyes is regret, but that is probably not what the screen writer or producer intended. It’s supposed to be the triumph of love over evil, but that message felt tacked on.  It’s really about regret.  Allen, we find out at the end of the movie, is responsible for Karl getting wounded in the war, which turned him into a mute simpleton. He also has the additional burden of being saddled with a ranch that is going down the tubes. Carol, whom it’s hinted married below her class when she married Allen, regrets getting married to Allen and leaving the life she knew, which was apparently more awesome than living on a failing date ranch.  Carol also harbors some resentment toward her daughter, jealous that Sandra has her whole life in front of her.  Karl, if he was able to express his thoughts on the matter, probably regrets listening to anything Allen had to say during the war.  Sandra regrets her taste in party dresses, or at the very least she should.  The alien regrets his choice of spacecraft, which he apparently picked up at Ed Wood’s yard sale.

Okay, so now we have a cast of characters which potential for conflict.  We have them in an isolated and claustrophobic environment.  We have a nameless, formless force with an evil plan who can command birds and animals to do its bidding.  Failure is not possible.  Or is it?

The Beast with a Million Eyes, rather than building tension, is talky and silly.  The ancient evil intelligence they are up against is as sharp as a bag of pillows and talks too much.  The Beast arrives in his spaceship, flying low and loud, shattering windows and glass.  He’s not a master of stealth. Next, the Beast takes over a bunch of birds and has them attack Allen and his Woody, but instead of swooping at their targets, the birds more hurtle at them.  It’s like somebody shot a bunch of black birds with a pellet gun and put them in a bucket, so when they needed birds for a bird attack, they’d grab a few from the bucket and toss them at the actors from off camera.

Several times, they’d isolate the characters from each other by having Allen drive off in his Woody, Sandra or Karl go wandering in the desert or what not.  Carol always stays at home, in the kitchen, burning cakes.  This seriously undermines the feeling of isolation and leaves the movie feeling cheap and small instead.

Allen and Sandra head into town to pick up a few things.  Carol stays at home, trying to get caught up on her cake burning.  The family German Shepard gets possessed and attacks Carol.   Okay, is doesn’t so much attack as walk toward her with an expectant look, like it was offered a treat.  Carol shoots at the dog, misses, then runs outside screaming to get help from Karl.  Karl, for his part, isn’t interested in opening the door to his little room in the barn to let Carol in, probably because she screamed at him and banished him from the house not more than a few minutes prior to the dog attack.  The dog follows Carol into the barn.

Later, Allen and Sandra return.  Sandra is excited because she has a new party dress, the regrettable dress I mentioned earlier.  They find Carol sitting in the living room, looking tense and guilty.  She tells Allen about the dog attack, which ended when she chopped Rover into tiny pieces with an ax.  Hardcore!  And there is not a drop of dog blood on her dress!  Clearly, she knows what she is doing.

You’d think that chopping up the dog would be one of those things, particularly seeing as Carol up to this point has been acting a little bipolar, that would throw a little gas on the metaphorical fire, but no.  Sandra has a little cry about it.  Carol expresses regret about having to kill the dog and everyone is cozy like three peas in a pod.  Sandra even mentions to Allen the next day that things have been so much better since mommy ax murdered Spot.  Instead of increasing the tension, we get unintentional black comedy.  There is more of that to come.

Old Coot, the old coot that lives up the road a spell, gets up as the crack of noon and goes to milk his cow, which is now possessed by the Beast.  We get the idea from the change in music and the flashing back and forth between a cow walking toward the camera, and Old Coot acting afraid, that the cow stomps him to death.

Later, Carol and Sandra are in the kitchen, having a little mother and daughter quality time and getting some cakes burned.  It’s a very relaxed scene.  Wait!  Something is amiss.  Outside, though the kitchen window, we see the killer possessed cow trot by!  I actually burst out laughing.  Carol and Sandra do too.  They decide to get a rope and lead the cow back to Old Coot’s place. Giggling like schoolgirls they head outside only to have the cow turn on them.  Sandra screams and runs into the barn while Carol distracts the mad cow.  The cow turns on Carol, who trips, falling over into the dirt as the cow prepares to stomp her into bloody chunks just like it did to Old Coot.  I’m still laughing.  Sadly, for the cow, Allen shows up with a gun and kills it.  He’s a better shot than Carol.  Then again, how bad of a shot would you have to be to miss a slow-moving cow from ten feet or so? They all go inside and prepare for dinner, which will feature steak and burned cake.

I think some other stuff happens, but I don’t remember what.  I fell asleep of a few minutes. I do recall that they invited Larry to dinner, but he doesn’t show up on time because he gets conked into La-La Land by Karl, who is now fully under the control of the Beast.  Sandra, upset that Larry hasn’t shown up to see her new dress and eat some burned cake, changes into blue jeans sneaks out of the house through her window to go roaming around the desert at night to find him.  Instead she finds Karl, who grabs and drags her, screaming, into the desert.

Larry, now conscious, arrives at the Kelly’s doorstep just in time to hear Sandra scream.  This scene is awesome.  He hears the scream and turns to look into the darkness with steely determination.   In any other movie, he’d run into the night and save the girl, but not in this one.  Instead he knocks on the door.  The door opens, Larry steps in and takes a look around the room.  Noticing that Sandra isn’t there, he asks Allen and Carol where she is.  Carol says, “She’s in her room. Why?”  Larry, wearing the best mea culpa expression I’ve seen in a while, replies “I thought I heard a scream.”  They find that Sandra isn’t in her room.  Allen gets a gun and leaves with Larry to find Sandra.

Some other stuff happens and Karl ends up dead, killed by the Beast.  Carol gets bored and goes out to join Allen, Sandra and Larry in the desert.   Allen has a battle of wits with the Beast and wins because his love for Carol and Sandra trumps the Beast’s hate.  The Beast, who suddenly has a body, steps out of his spaceship and Allen shoots it.  The soul of the Beast slips into a desert rat and tries to get away. Jesus sends an eagle to eat the rat.  The End.  I kid you not. That is exactly how this movie ends.

The Beast with a Million Eyes has a few riffable moments and some really great unintentionally funny ones.  Unfortunately the great boring gaps between the entertaining bits make this movie feel like it’s taking place on a geological timescale.  It . . . is . . . sloooooooooooooow.

A WTF: Through most of the movie Karl is called “Him.” Why? Supposedly nobody knows his name and as he is mute, he can’t tell them.

The Extra Special WTF Moment: Until the end of the movie, the alien spaceship seemed to be about the size kitchen mixer —  it turns out to be bigger – more like the size of a port-a-potty.

Only a half out of five Vincents

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