Friday, June 5, 2020

The Beast with a 1,000,000 Eyes

The Beast with a 1,000,000 Eyes
David Kramarsky, Lou Place, Roger Corman (uncredited)

Allan Kelley (Paul Birch) is the father of a small family that runs a failing ranch. A high-pitched whine fills the air one day and soon after animals and people begin to act strange and aggressive. It doesn’t take long for the Kelley family to begin to realize that something invisible is lurking out in the desert and it is using living beings as its pawns. Allan must find the lair of the thing before he and his entire family are driven mad just like the wildlife around them.

Despite its impoverished production, The Beast with a 1,000,000 Eyes works far better than you would expect. The plot hangs on a simple premise, the horror of being watched by something alien. The film never explicitly makes a Lovecraftian connection, but the underlying threat is something so distant from human understanding that any living things it encounters become changed. The actual alien of the film is never seen, it is something that inhabits other beings. We do get a monster to look at near the end, but this creature is also just an unwitting pawn of the thing controlling it.

"You'd never abandon me, porn magazines."

There is a sense of alienation evident from the opening moments of the film with its long stretches of empty desert. We are introduced to characters who are already feeling distanced from their lives and the lives of those around them. Our main protagonist, Allan Kelley is running a failing ranch in a dying landscape. His family and ranch hand all struggle with lives that are slowly slipping away from what they wanted, this dissociation is pulled into even sharper contrast as an outside intelligence takes over those around them.

This is a tiny production that leans heavily on its atmosphere rather than special effects. The first time I watched this film I was disappointed that the monster gets so little screen time and is just jammed into the final moments. Now that I have had more time to go back and take in more of its drama and atmosphere, I don’t mind so much. The Beast with a 1,000,000 Eyes feels like an early run for Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956) which also leans heavily on atmosphere and mystery until its final moments. In that movie’s case, the monster is so ludicrous it threatens to undo all the work that went beforehand. Perhaps it is a blessing that time with Beast’s monster has such a limited screen time.

"Hi, I'm the thing you waited 70 minutes to see... I'm sorry."

The Beast with a 1,000,000 Eyes doesn’t look like it has much going on from a surface viewing but with a little patience, it reveals itself to be an effective little horror film that takes its human drama and enhances with the quiet yet forceful intrusion of something outside of our experience. Don’t let the rubber monster at the end fool you, this is a smart film and worthy of more eyeballs on it.

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