Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955)

A small budget unpretentious allegory dealing with diverse issues

The Beast with a Million Eyes is a 1955 science-fiction movie about the arrival of an extra-terrestrial who is able to see through the eyes of the many creatures it takes control of. The alien uses them to threaten a dysfunctional family that owns an isolated date farm in the California desert.

Directed by David Kramarsky, Lou Place, Roger Corman (uncredited)
Produced by David Kramarsky, associate: Charles Hanawalt
Written by Tom Filer
Music by John Bickford
Cinematography: Everett Baker
Edited by Jack Killifer
Production company: San Mateo Productions
Distributed by American Releasing Corporation (later becoming American International Pictures)
Running time: 75 minutes
Budget: $33,000


Paul Birch (Allan Kelley)
Lorna Thayer (Carol Kelley)
Dona Cole (Sandy Kelley)
Dik Sargent (Larry)
Leonard Tarver ('Him')
Bruce Whitmore (voice of The Beast)
Chester Conklin (Old Man Webber)



(Warning Spoiler Alert)

With the Earth drifting isolated in space, an alien voice-over informs us that it needs our world. We are then given a shot of a space ship flying over the Earth superimposed by water-like ripples.

The alien informs us in a suitable stentorian voice that it's coming to our world and that it lives on hate. “I need your world….I live on fear and human hatred.” As a part of his plan of world domination, he intends to begin with the unthinking animals and weaker-willed humans as his eyes and ears. A superimposed single eyeball lunges toward us through the superimposed ripple effect. This then is……The Beast with a Million Eyes!

The background to the opening credits contains a somewhat surrealist form of artwork consisting of trees and rocks with multiple eyes. We then fade to panning shots of a vast expanse of barren and sterile desert surrounding an almost oasis-like ranch of date trees. The voice-over of character, Alan Kelly informs us about how they're having another bad season, in fact “ten years of off seasons” and that they've been losing money for three years. To his way of thinking “I guess this makes me a failure.”

Such a scenario reminds us of a nation finding itself in economic strife with its ordinary citizens bearing the brunt of the crisis and struggling to make a go of things. It is then not surprising that there should be a feeling of being left fearful, dispirited, isolated and surrounded by hostile forces somewhere out there leaving many of those so afflicted ripe for manipulation and control by powerful forces….. 

Alan contemplates the ever present desert ominously surrounding his date ranch. It may appear to be lifeless, but Alan can’t shake “the feeling you get when you think what’s out there,” that “grinding, twisting thing that’s slowly destroying us.”

Things have also been hard on Alan’s wife, Carol. Alan goes inside to talk to Carol and tries to convince her to let their teenage daughter, Sandy go to college in the autumn. As Sandy overhears the conversation, Carol says she doesn't want Sandy to go to college, and bitterly declares that “sometimes when I see her so young and pretty….sometimes I do hate her.”

There are many who feel that their hopes and dreams for a better and more meaningful life are for one reason or another thwarted. Often their inner turmoil and feelings of frustration are then misdirected as they lash out at those closest to them and those who are the most vulnerable, and not at the real cause of their dilemma. 

After Alan steps outside, Sandy enters the house with her German shepherd, Duke but Carol chases dog out of the house. After calming down, Carol admits to Alan that without Sandy, she'd go crazy with him working the date groves all day, being surrounded by “all that wasteland and mountains” and being alone with ……."Him." From a window of the shack next to the house a face looks out and to the accompaniment of ominous music, the curtains suddenly close.

Inside, “Him” (their nameless mute handy man) lies on a cot with a magazine next to a wall covered with pictures of women from magazines. It’s a part of a world that “Him” can only look at and wish for but from which he, as someone who has been “damaged” is excluded. A likely candidate for whatever force wishes to ”recruit” him to its cause.

Meanwhile in the house, Carol chases Duke out of one door but he simply opens and enters the house through another door. Carol is on the verge of trying to explain to Sandy what's been bothering her: “Sandy there’s something I want…..” Sandy, however, is still hurt and curtly replies to her mother with “Do you really care?” Sandy then leaves to go swimming in a water hole in a date grove.

Divisions between the generations can be exploited by forces that wish to direct the disaffection felt by youth toward particular causes that can serve to destroy social cohesion.

Unknown to Sandy, “Him” follows her to the water hole and watches her from a vantage point high up a ladder next to a tree while she is swimming.

As Carol is working in the kitchen, a single high-pitched piercing tone erupts and intensifies. The terror Carol feels is written on her face as she screams.

Back at the water hole Sandy puts the noise down to "crazy pilots, always showing off." Duke’s barking soon causes Sandy to look up and spot “Him” up the tree. She tells “Him” to come down from the tree and then proceeds to scold him, but realizes he’s just a simple-minded mute.

Back at the house Carol calls the sheriff to report the incident and the damage caused.  All of her glassware is broken.  The camera focusses on the shattered remains of yesterday’s life, today’s disappointment and tomorrow’s hope for something better. As Carol stares at the shattered china cabinet and a broken goblet, somewhere deep within her she weeps for her shattered hopes and dreams symbolized by her broken glassware.

The last straw occurs when Carol runs into the kitchen and pulls her burnt dinner from the oven. Carol’s anger is not surprisingly directed at the harmless “Him” when she yells at him, “No food now or later! Get out!” And again later at her own daughter even when Sandy says she understands and observes that her mother’s glassware was all she “had left from home.” She even asks Carol, “what can I do?” to which Carol harshly responds, “You can pick up the glass in the living room.” She follows this up by yelling at “Him,” “Get out of my house!”

During the strange fly-over, in a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds, a bird strikes Alan’s car’s windshield as he is driving. While he's out of his car looking at the bird, he's attacked by a flock of birds.

Also during this time, Duke has been mysteriously drawn out into the desert…

Later on, Alan pays a visit at the farm of their elderly neighbour Ben. Ben informs him that things have been strange ever since a plane flew over earlier. At least to him it sounded like a plane. Ben observes that's the second time his cow has kicked over the milk bucket that day. Strange days indeed…..

Deputy Larry arrives at the house and asks about the damage. While in the company of Sandy they come across “Him,” who is carrying an axe in an almost brooding and potentially threatening manner seemingly displeased about Sandy being with Larry.

Jealousy and craving what can’t be possessed could open up another avenue of control and manipulation by whatever force is at work.

Sandy explains to Larry that "poor old Him." doesn't talk and they don't know his name, but that Alan keeps him around anyway. This is followed by a shot of “Him” on his cot-his entire world-framed by the window light, a world within a little room behind a locked door shutting out the world outside.

In the scene when Duke returns from the desert, Carol spots him and comes outside to call for him. However, Duke behaves in a threatening manner (despite happily wagging his tail and looking more like a friendly pooch!) Carol dashes inside while Duke goes to the other door and opens it. At that point Carol grabs a rifle, shoots but misses Duke.

After running out of house, Carol pleads with “Him” to let her in his shack, but he doesn't respond. Carol then grabs his axe and dashes into the woodshed. Duke follows her and fiercely barks and snarls at her. “Him” comes out his shack, but decides to run off while Carol screams in terror. “Him” then wanders off into the desert.

Later that evening, Alan and Sandy return from town. Sandy is excited as one of the packages she’s carrying contains a surprise present for Sandy from Carol; a dress. Alan enters to find Carol, sitting quietly on the couch in the dark. Despite all the light bulbs having been shattered earlier, she manages to turn on a light! She tells Alan that she doesn't want Sandy to see Duke, who she killed in the woodshed. While Alan goes out to see, Sandy enters and realizes her mother is acting strangely. Sandy then sees the gun on the floor and begins to join the dots. She suddenly runs out, screams and returns to the house. Carol tells her about how Duke was acting but Sandy doesn't believe Duke would act so savagely. Sandy then runs off.

Carol and Alan later conclude that something strange is going on, and that they have got to stay close. She feels that there is some kind of “power trying to tear us apart.” Carol declares, "We haven't been close in a long time."

As “Him” is walking in the desert under the alien influence, he soon comes into contact with Sandy, who was walking ahead of him. She comes out of her trance, grabs “Him,” and wonders what they were doing there. Sandy then takes “Him” by the hand and leads him back to the ranch. Even though supper is ready, “Him” refuses to come inside to eat.

Carol and Sandy manage to forgive each other, hug and make up. After supper, we have a shot of the three of them being a family in the living room and doing what many families did before the widespread use of TV, the internet and mobile phones. When Sandy gets up to go to bed, Alan tells her to sleep with the shutters locked-in a time when people rarely felt the need to lock the doors and windows in their own homes. He suggests that Sandy and “Him” being together in the desert made them stronger than the strange forces at work.

When the Kellys’ neighbour, Ben goes to the barn with a pail, his cow goes berserk and charges at him after he falls to the ground. Back at the ranch, Carol goes to feed the chickens which also run amok and attack her. Luckily Alan comes to the rescue with his blow torch and singes their feathers good and proper. Takes care of wondering what’s for dinner tonight.

Afterwards, Carol suggests that the chickens' abnormal behaviour is some kind of animal revolution. Alan replies that ”revolutions have to have leaders.”

The birds, Duke, the cow and the chooks: “lesser” creatures that all fall under the influence of the force and perform acts of violence and destruction. Violent and destructive impulses are quite appropriately associated with those considered to be of lesser intelligence and lacking humanity. Still, experience tells us there are lots of fowls, bovines and canines that possess superior qualities to many people in real life!

It seems that the events and shocks of the past day have brought about a positive change in Carol which is also noticed by Sandy who declares, “I feel like I have a family again.”

Alan and “Him” get into the car later on and head out to the field. Alan then drops” Him” off at a grove and tells him he'll be back in a few hours. “ Him” begins to work but he's soon distracted. He looks up and sees a bird, and wanders off once again.

While Alan arrives at Ben's place and sees the damage caused by the cow along with Ben’s body, “Him” finds himself drawn to the alien craft.

Meanwhile at the ranch, Sandy and her mother see Ben's cow approaching. While attempting to obtain some milk from the cow, it charges at Sandy. Carol tries to fend the cow off with a rake but trips over and is in danger of being charged at by the cow when suddenly there's the sound of a gunshot. Thanks to Alan they will have a full freezer and lots of family BBQs.

Alan attempts to call the sheriff's office to talk to Deputy Larry but the phone goes dead, and the electric power is cut. It turns out that a flock of birds has purposely flown into a transformer causing it to explode.

At about this stage in the film Alan concludes that, "It’s closing in” while Carol experiences the kind of fear as if there were “something more at stake.” Interesting comments in light of the context in which the film was made. It was a time of the fear of the Red Menace; fear of Communist infiltration and subversion; paranoia concerning perceived “un-American” activities; real and imagined threats to freedom, democracy and national unity from “Them” out there with their alien ideologies. Strange days indeed they were……

Fast forward sixty years and what do we find? A time of fear of terrorism and lunatic alien extremist religious, sectarian and fundamentalist ideologies; horribly real, potential, exaggerated and even largely manufactured threats to national security, often distracting attention away from really serious social and economic problems facing us; perceptions of being constantly under siege from those who wish to do us harm; a disturbing willingness to diminish personal freedoms, privacy and accountability in the interest of nationalistic and jingoistic slogans and concepts such as the recently coined “Team Australia.” and their international equivalents. Strange days indeed these are……most peculiar….

Alan returns without “Him” and tells them that they must go to town and get help. Carol, however, refuses to go and declares that her place is with him. Alan eventually convinces her to leave.

After the girls have left, Alan goes in search of “Him.” While he's searching, he sees the damage caused to the transformer by the birds. Just then a flock of birds attack him and Alan tries to fend them off with a rifle first by futilely shooting at them and then by using the rifle as a club. When the birds stop attacking him, Alan notices a solitary black bird watching him.

When Alan gets back to the ranch he is surprised to see Carol there placidly lighting lanterns and behaving as if everything is just normal. She then shows the car and the damage caused to its windshield by birds that attacked the car led by a black crow. Alan and Carol begin to arrive at some disturbing conclusions: First, that “there’s something guiding these birds.” Secondly, that it has to do with a “plane from somewhere else.”

While the Kellys are trapped in the house by the Hitchcock birds, and are trying to get on with a birthday celebration, Deputy Larry receives part of the message from Alan. As he drives out to the ranch in his squad car, he comes across “Him” and so he stops and offers him a ride. As they are driving along, “Him” who is sitting in the back seat, knocks Larry over the head causing the car to run off the road and stop. “Him” then makes his way back to the ranch on foot. When he arrives at the ranch, he sets about letting down the car's tyres. Soon after, “Him” heads back out into the desert.

Notice the contrail next to Carl's right arm

After the bird attack has stopped, the Kellys run out to the car only to discover….Yes, you guessed it!

Deputy Larry eventually wakes up and behaves in an irrational un-cop like manner. Instead of starting his car, he proceeds on foot and arrives at the alien craft’s landing site at the same time as “Him.” A punch-up ensues with Larry bopping “Him” on the head and walking away, leaving “Him” unconscious. “Him,” however soon gets up after Larry leaves.

Sandy meanwhile dashes out of the ranch house and calls out for Larry, but instead runs into “Him.” Sandy attempts to talk “Him” into going back to the house, but he grabs hold of her and carries her off. At that point Larry enters the house and informs Alan that “Him” has gone crazy. After noticing that Sandy is missing, Alan grabs a rifle, and he and Larry rush off to find her.

Him carries the unconvincingly unconscious Sandy into the desert until they arrive at the alien craft. Alan and Larry are following “Him’s” tracks until they hear the sound of Hitchcock birds. They think they can protect themselves from the birds by seeking the shelter of ankle-high rocks! It seems though that the birds have other more important business elsewhere. “Him” then drags Sandy to the alien craft just as Alan and Larry arrive. Alan can’t shoot, for fear of hitting Sandy. In response to Alan’s calls, “Him” who is now Carl begins taking Sandy to Alan. However, Carl suddenly writhes in agony and falls down dead.

During this time it turns out that Carol had been forced out of the house by the birds. Oddly enough Larry has now taken off to distract the birds. Some authority figure he turned out to be!

After Sandy wakes up Alan informs her about the alien presence that has been controlling minds, but that “its power is limited” and that it can be defeated if they stick together. This echoes Carol’s earlier statement, “that’s our strength….being together. Alone, we’re nothing.” Alan concludes that the alien presence preys on minds, especially weak minds.

A telepathic message from the alien confirms Alan’s conclusions and offers to exchange their lives for Sandy. It informs them that life on its world is dying out. Also as they possess no material form, they resort to using the physical forms of other creatures while feeding on their brains. The alien entity realizes it had somehow lost control of Carl. It wants to know the reason why.

Alan tells Carol that he and Carl had served together in the military. As Carl’s unit commander, Alan made a bad snap judgement-call in the field, with disastrous consequences for Carl. Alan has been looking out for him ever since. Carl’s mental weakness, as well as Carol's mental and emotional turmoil made them both easy prey for the entity.

The alien entity does not accept Alan’s explanations and intends to take Sandy back to its own world in order to determine why humans are so hard to control and dominate. “You have a secret…..some power I don’t understand.”

Alan tells it that their strength is ”the simplest thing in the world. It’s called love.” The entity recollects its own species once had love, but that they got rid of it. It then informs Alan and Carol that it will leave at first hour of light and demands that they "bring the girl.”

Alan believes that the alien’s race had over the course of time lost their souls and that “I think he remembered he lost his soul.”

Alan and Carol decide to walk into the crater with Sandy to confront the alien. Alan then informs it that they can't have the girl and that they're not afraid. Suddenly, a hatch opens, and an increasing superimposed eye-ball manifests itself. Alan tells Carol they can beat it together and they then proceed to have a face-off (staring contest?) with a very unconvincing looking alien monster. Alan and Carol (together of course) manage to out stare it and it falls over dead. The alien craft then takes off in what must have been a marvel of special effects with no expense spared! (Not!)

The incompetent lawman, Larry reappears. Alan who seems to know everything states that the alien entity was using the creature’s body to control the ship. Which begs the question: Where did the entity go? As if on cue, they spot a mouse and realize where the alien mind has taken up residence. 

As Alan takes aim with his rifle, an eagle, that symbol of everything American (truth, justice, freedom, democracy, one nation under one God, NRA, We The People, and so on and so on…) swoops down and carries off the mouse, (that symbol of everything……un-American & Commie.) Alan takes aim again, but Carol stops him. Carol wonders where the eagle came from as they don't often see eagles in these parts (probably driven to near extinction by gun-toting real Americans?) She also wonders what killed the creature in the ship. Now it really gets all mystical, spiritual and metaphysical. "Why do men have souls?....If I could answer that I’d be…….”

A lesson that could be taken from all of this is the importance of the power of people to recognize and reject internal and external forces that serve their own interests by seeking to manipulate, control and possess the consciousness of individuals and whole populations. Any government, any ideology, any doctrine, any theology, any media, corporate or military entity, and any extremist terrorist organisation that seeks to divide people and set people against each other must be rejected and resisted by each of us who make up the majority of the billions of people on this planet staying united and sharing our strength and who indeed have hearts and…..souls.

Points Of Interest

The Beast originally entitled The Unseen was the third of a three-picture deal Roger Corman had with the American Releasing Company. The other two being, The Fast and the Furious and Five Guns West. He was given the princely sum of roughly $30.000 to make the movie.

The music, credited to "John Bickford", consists of a collection of public-domain record cues by classical composers such as Richard Wagner, Dimitri Shostakovich, Giuseppe Verdi, Sergei Prokofiev.

Filming took place in Indio and the Coachella Valley, California.

Sam Arkoff of ARC was unhappy that the film did not initially feature a Beast, which was suggested by the title so with $200 Paul Blaisdell was hired to create a space ship and alien. His monster creations featured in such films as, She-Creature (1956), It Conquered the World (1956), From Hell it Came (1957). Invasion of the Saucermen (1957).

We can understand why a low budget B grade horror and science fiction film would opt for having an invisible monster and relying on long stretches of dialogue and character development.

The Kellys are everyday people that an audience can relate to instead of being conventional movie heroes. The actors who play the Kellys and other cast members give competent and credible performances in their portrayal of common country people. In fact they are often used effectively to convey to the audience what is not shown such as the death of Duke.

Paul Birch who plays Alan appeared in several other science fiction films such as The Day the World Ended (1956), Not of this Earth (1957) and The Queen of Outer Space (1958).

The film does contain some very confusing sequences that must raise a lot questions in the audience’s mind. For instance, Larry gets out of the car and runs off after Carl knocks him on the head and leaves. Why? Why doesn’t he drive? Also how did Larry know Carl was at the crater? Why did Sandy suddenly climb through the window and run off?

An even more interesting question is why would an alien entity bent on world domination pick on a date farm populated by four people in the middle of nowhere?

When the union found out about the production it threatened to shut it down unless everyone joined and were paid accordingly. Corman responded by dismissing most of his crew and finishing the film himself, except for one tiny detail as expressed by Joseph E. Levene;

“Where’s the monster?” 

Perhaps he didn't look hard enough or in the right places?

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

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