Welcome to our ongoing field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: alien invaders take a long hard look at Switzerland in The Crawling Eye.
The Crawling EyeDirector: Quentin Lawrence
Cast: Janet Munro, Forrest Tucker, Jennifer Jayne, Warren Mitchell
US Release Date: 1958-12-31
Alternate titles: The Eyes Have It; The Creeping Cleavage
* Well acted, with good scenery in the Swiss Alps.
* Great first scene involving three mountain climbers (who soon become two mountain climbers).
* “Hero” Forrest Tucker isn’t a studly 20-something but a fortyish accountant type with a receding hairline.
* Spacey Janet Munro looks like she’s lost her contact lenses.
* Good climactic scenes with icky-looking plastic eyeball monsters doused in kerosene and set on fire.
* Dialogue not quite cheesy enough to be funny; not quite engaging enough to be suspenseful.
* After that first scene, nothing much happens for the next hour.
* Special effects look like they were done by my mom.
SYNOPSIS: When “United Nations science investigator” (um, yeah, okay) Alan Brooks comes to the Swiss Alps at the behest of his old teacher, Professor Crevett, he knows he’s in for more than a vacation. Climbers in the mountains have been disappearing, and the local villagers are spreading wild tales of something evil up in the hills. (Gotta hand it to those local villagers—they don’t miss much.) Brooks has come to investigate (because, you know, the UN does this kind of thing a lot), accompanied unexpectedly by the “mind-reading” duo of Ann and Sarah Pilgrim. Happily, the village of Trollenberg seems to harbor exactly one hotel, where our principal characters can mingle, furrow their brows and discuss the mysterious incidents over many drinks and cigarettes.
Predictably enough, climbers continue to disappear—but unpredictably, one of the missing (presumed dead) shows up again, with his coordination shot to hell and an insatiable urge to throttle psychic Anne. This is when the movie starts to gain momentum, as the radioactive cloud begins moving down the mountain (um, I did mention the freezing, radioactive cloud, didn’t I? Oh, damn) toward the hotel and village. The only option, naturally, is to flee the hotel and ride the cable car for thousands of feet across a yawning chasm. But oh dear, that little girl has gone back to the hotel for her ball.
The monsters (from outer space, so the theory goes) make their slithery appearance from inside the cloud in the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. They’re not as lame as they could be—this isn’t a Roger Corman film after all—but they’re pretty weak. There is however an abundance of veins and tentacles, which is nice, and as my wife pointed out, they are pleasantly slimy. Fortunately, our friend Brooks has the authority to order UN military action in Switzerland (apparently, he’s very well connected). Will the UN save the day? Will the hideous space creatures suffer a lethal dose of pinkeye? Will Anne ever stop staring out the window? Earth awaits its fate…
Party game: Play “Logic” and see who can come up with the best answer to this question: “Why did the monsters go to all the trouble of luring Anne Pilgrim to Trollenberg, only to spend the rest of the film trying to kill her off? Wouldn’t it have been easier to let her go to Geneva, like she'd been doing?” Alternative: Play “What Does the UN Pay You For, Exactly?” and count how many times Brooks says, “I don’t know.”
Don’t get hysterical, kid: Watch the little girl’s reaction as she’s being groped and tentacled by the hideous eyeball-monster from space. She appears heavily sedated, possibly comatose. Do you think it’s the shock, Doctor?
Best line: “I’m gonna throw a bomb at that one! You watch the screen and see what happens.”
Did you know: The movie is based on a British TV serial called The Trollenberg Terror. Hard to imagine how they could’ve worked this into an ongoing TV series, but there you go. It’s the Brits, after all, who have milked Doctor Who for God knows how many seasons.
Somehow their careers survived: Janet Munro (Anne) went on to star in the 1961 classic (no irony) The Day the Earth Caught Fire. No monsters, but well worth a look. 1958 was a busy year for Forrest Tucker (Brooks), who also starred in that year’s The Cosmic Monsters. In 1949 he had appeared in The Sands of Iwo Jima with John Wayne; he would rejoin the Duke in 1970’s Chisum. He also played Sergeant O’Rourke in TV’s F Troop. Jennifer Jayne (Sarah) hit a trifecta of promisingly-titled movies in 1965: The Liquidator; Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors; and Hysteria. Warren Mitchell (Prof Crevett)’s career would span nearly 50 years, starting with 1954’s Passing Stranger and continuing to 2003’s TV drama The Shark Net. In 1977 he would appear as Mr. Fishfingers in Jabberwocky, an early effort from Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame.
BOTTOM LINE: More atmospheric than action-packed, it’s a good time on a rainy weekend.
NEXT TIME: The Aztec Mummy aka La Momia Azteca (1957)