The poetry of the Beast of Yucca Flats

Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast.

There is about four hundred times as much narration as dialog in The Beast of Yucca Flats and yet there’s very little narration either, just lots of very slow action footage, with random atmospheric moments, all of it shot silently, with sound dubbed in later. Characters talk with their back to the camera so you won’t notice. Cars run. Sometimes you can hear them. Sometimes you don’t. A man runs. Someone shoots at him. The utter lack of continuity gives it the same sense of time as the aliens in The Arrival, a thought that actually occurred to me while watching The Beast of Yucca Flats, I am embarrassed to admit. I mentioned it to my wife and she just stared at me. As the narrator says, nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers (not that there are any flying saucers in The Beast of Yucca Flats). The result is that each dollop of narration stands out like a random snip of a 1950’s pulp murder mystery intoned like bad beat poetry, always on the prowl, looking for something or somebody to kill. Quench the killer’s thirst. Instead of bongos and saxophones we get Tor Johnson’s occasional growls and wails (he is the noted scientist turned into a beast by an unexpected atomic blast), plus a weirdly musical score (they must have spent the budget for sound on the score.) The words themselves become addicting. There is a theme: Yucca Flats. The A-bomb. Joseph Javorski, noted scientist. Progress. Especially Progress. It’s pops up at random times, like a cop trapped in the wheels of Progress, or as boys from the city, not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress, feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs. Or even metaphorically: flag on the moon. How did it get there? It’s what gives this film its intellectual cachet above and beyond, say, Attack of the Giant Leaches, with which this shares a DVD. It’s what turns this from being merely an incredibly bad science fiction movie into an appallingly bad use of the English language, those pseudo deep hard boiled snippets of narration full of meaning and heaviness. You have to resist dropping them into your own writing, it’s so easy. Find the Beast and kill him. Kill, or be killed. Man’s inhumanity to man. Reading this review it’s hard to tell what I wrote and what I copped from the script. I am ruined.

Sprouts

Today’s super market review, from an email written on the first rush of the morning’s caffeine and before the seizure meds kicked in:

Also, Sprouts. You ought to check one out sometime. Sort of a cross between Gelson’s and Trader Joes, sort of, and maybe of Whole Foods without all that asshole Wholefoodsiness and obnoxious prices. Our favorite is the one up on Foothill in La Cañada, but that’s probably because the 2 Freeway is kind of like a ride at Disneyland, you go up and up and there’s all these great views and it’s still kinda new and magically freewayish and you get on the 210 for a minute which is LA’s most exotic freeway skirting the mountains as it does (no mountain range in the world rises as dramatically as the San Berdoos, from just above sea level to over ten thousand feet in an instant, rising almost like The Monolith Monsters, forced skyward by the fearsome pushing and scraping of two continental plates trying to pass by each other like two big men in a small hallway) and La Cañada has pine trees and is cooler temperaturistically than us (and drier) and almost looks not real it’s so new and clean. It’s the altitude, just enough to put it in a whole other ecosystem. Different flowers, different trees, different birdsongs. Plus the people are nice and there’s an unusually high babe content for a fucking grocery store.

Eddie Cochran

Never saw this before, a fantastic C’mon Everybody by the great Eddie Cochran. This was 1959, and white boy rock’n’roll had morphed from raw and visceral rockabilly into something heavier, tougher, meaner. Alas Eddie was not going to be around to see what he helped bring about, which is a shame, but in another five or six years, after all the yeah yeah yeahs and pretty boy acts were dispensed with, rock’n’roll would finally get to the point where Eddie Cochran left it, and it would explode in all directions.

Phantom Planet

Still mining the Mill Creek 50 flick SciFi Classsics collection while waiting for the cable box to arrive so I can watch news 24/7 like everyone else. But in the meantime I’m finding occasional gems like the obscure Phantom Planet (1961). It was either written or directed or produced by a guy that used to write arrangements for Fred Waring but something must have happened, some bad booze, maybe, or some early LSD, as this flick is about as far removed from Fred Waring as Sun Ra. It’s not art, sure, but it’s wildly imaginative with some very striking effects–and concepts–for 1961. Surely Kubrick and Roddenberry loved it, as they both copped ideas, and not just sorta copped them either but flat out lifted whole scenes. The flick is sort of a cross between a very low budget Forbidden Planet, space opera Outer Limits, and any number of 1950’s science fiction radio shows (such as Dimension X or X Minus One), as radio allowed for just about anything, as long as listeners could imagine it. Here they tried to apply that to the silver screen (or a drive in screen anyway) and the result is no Zontar the Thing From Venus but some occasionally dumb but very entertaining science fiction. I suppose that stoned out of your mind it’s even better, but I was high on life. Well, life and coffee. Oh–that’s Richard Kiel in the solar monster suit, his first role, I think, and Francis X Bushman is the wise old alien. Plus enough alien babes to satisfy your inner Kirk.

They Came From Beyond Space

So They Came From Beyond Space (which they didn’t, they came from the moon) is not 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor is it Five Million Years to Earth or Day of the Triffids. But it’s not an English Zontar the Thing From Venus either. It’s fast moving, bizarre, at times idiotic, even utterly idiotic, yet at times sort of inspired too and the plot twists about enough to keep you wondering and not wandering. The hint of a romantic subplot is mercifully quashed and all in all it’s more like a rejected Avengers pilot meets early Dr. Who meets a 1960’s Flash Gordon had there been one with scattered momentary pretensions to James Bondishness. It’s an Amicus production and, though no Hammer, they had their moments. So this wasn’t one of those moments. Still, in the context of the wasteland of this Mill Creek SciFi Classics fifty flick box set, it was thoroughly entertaining. Then again, you’re talking to a man who just wrote an essay on The Wasp Woman.

They Came From Beyond Space

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Never have understood why this album stubbornly resists a revival. I suppose it’s not pretty enough, and too edgy, and her American Indian vibrato bothers people. I can’t think of a single other folk album that has anywhere near this kind of ferocity. Uncompromising. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself. It might even make you feel just plain lousy. Now That The Buffalo’s Gone is not aimed at the Man, it’s aimed at everyone who’s not a tribal member. Even you there with the feathers and the Cherokee great great grandmother. That song is aimed right at you. As such, it’s gospel among American Indians. They all came up on this record. We have Dylan or whoever. They have this. Somewhere I have a YouTube video of a seventy-something Buffy Sainte-Marie performing Cod’ine in a casino on a reservation deep in the American northwest. The room is packed with tribals and hippies, and her performance is bone chilling and as the last quavering note fades the air is rent by war cries and ululations.

The Wasp Woman

Not only is The Wasp Woman the greatest guinea pig morphing into white rat and we’re not supposed to notice movie ever (apparently the pet store didn’t have any baby guinea pigs), but Fred Katz’s score is brilliant. It’s so strange how these American International flicks have some of the finest jazz soundtracks in all of filmdom. Like who’s playing this alto saxophone solo underneath the meathead delivery men trying to pick up on the secretaries? Though I think I heard this same alto solo in Bucket of Blood when a crazed beatnik was covering a dead cat (as in kitty cat, not hepcat) in modeling clay. It was probably the exact same solo in The Haunted Sea that I heard between fits of giggling at a profoundly dumb sea monster. I remember reading that Katz sold Roger Corman the same score over and over and Corman never noticed. Serves him right for not being musical. Meanwhile, Wasp Woman is having a bad morph day. The music suddenly swells into a cacophony like Sun Ra and crashes to a halt, Wasp Woman dead, though the kids in the back seats never noticed. It was a drive in double feature anyway and who knows, they might be humping their way through the exact same alto saxophone solo in the next flick. Popcorn anyone?