Friday, March 10, 2017

A Quick Look: THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1959/62)

   In the realm of obscure movies, Coleman Francis claims an interesting place. A (good) character actor who decided to become a (bad) director, Francis helmed a total of three miserable pictures. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS was the first, and it defies description. Story-wise, it's the tale of Joseph Javorsky, defecting Russian scientist. Minutes after touching down in the States, enemy agents surround his security detail and open fire at a deserted airport outside the Yucca Flats testing grounds. Javorsky manages to escape into the desert, but an atomic bomb goes off and fries him. Being a shockingly resilient sort, Javorsky doesn't die! He only mutates into a rambling murderer who strangles anyone he can get his hands on while lumbering about the badlands. Filmed in 1959 and released in 1962, the film was notable mostly for the fact that wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson was cast as the atomic caveman. In an effort to keep production costs down, the film was shot silent -and in such a way that looped in dialog wouldn't have to be synchronized! We're constantly watching characters listen to other characters speak, and the camera immediately cuts back to the other person as they begin listening to the reply! (The foley work, however, is flawless... whatever you feel that distinction is worth.) In addition to the cheapjack production techniques, the film is also nearly plotless. After Javorsky's mutation, he strangles some people. A couple of cops think the killer is in the badlands and search for him aimlessly. A family drives through the area and the kids wander off. The parents look for them. The cops mistake the father for the killer and try to shoot him down. The kids run across Javorsky. They get away. They run across him again. The cops look for the kids. And so on, none of it nearly as exciting or interesting as it sounds. The only distraction from this lack of cinematic action is some of the most baffling narration ever committed to film. Supposedly there to explain things and comment on the situation, it's as incoherent as anything Ed Wood ever scribbled. "Push a button, things happen. A man becomes a monster." is a typical -if more lucid- example. Though it clocks in at under an hour, THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS remains something of an endurance test! Oh, I guess I should mention the other little thing the film is noted for, which is an unexpected nude scene in the beginning. A young girl gets out of the shower, is strangled, and we never see her again. On top of that, the scene in question nowhere fits into the film's narrative!

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