Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Laughably Bad Movie of Yucca Flats

There are good horror movies and bad horror movies, and then there are laughably bad horror movies. The laughably bad ones are so bad they make you laugh at their ineptness, and this in itself is entertaining. Paradoxically, then, they are so bad they're good. A time-honored example is The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961).

Running an excruciatingly long fifty-four minutes (but excruciating in a good way), Beast stars Swedish former wrestler Tor Johnson--a big, bald, corpulent mass of a man--as a defecting Soviet scientist who is accidentally transformed into a "beast" by a nuclear explosion at the testing grounds at Yucca Flats. His beastly makeup appears to consist of gravy poured over his face and dried. So much for his deformity; his destructiveness consists of strangling innocent people. This he does with curious infrequentness, as if the filmmakers periodically forgot this was supposed to be a horror movie.

It is essential to a good horror movie that everything in the film support the presentation of the deformed destructive being, in this case Tor. But in this movie, everything lets Tor down. The production values are not just poor--they seem to be aggressively attacking the film. For example, the film seems to have been made without a soundtrack, so that there is little dialogue and what there is is dubbed in offscreen or while people have their faces turned away. In place of dialogue, an annoying narrator keeps prattling in serious tones about "progress." An inexplicable scene of a woman's murder after a shower is inserted at the beginning, with no apparent connection to the rest of the story; it seems to exist just to echo Psycho and provide a brief glimpse of nudity. In a bizarre subplot, a law officer shoots from an airplane at a running innocent normal whom he has mistaken for the monster. At the end, a rabbit nibbles at the dead or dying body of the Beast. Why? Nobody knows.

A confession: I was dozing during parts of The Beast from Yucca Flats--the parts when my laughter turned to insurmountable boredom at yet more shots of the same drably filmed desert country. So I may have missed something that would have redeemed the movie. But I doubt it. In any case, it is partially redeemed by being so bad it's (inadvertently) good.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films


Jon T said...

Fascinating stuff. Would be interested to read your ideas on Tod Browning's 'Freaks'. Jon

George Ochoa said...

Thank you. I will try to write something about FREAKS this weekend. George