Off-Season Reviews: the Crawling Eye (1958)

Okay, and I thought the matte paintings in Jessie James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter were bad! The opening Swiss Alps scene from the Crawling Eye makes one long for the “brilliance” of Paul Sylos’ work there.

Why begin your film with a close-up of a shot that in no way could be considered: ideal, good, or competent? Well, the Crawling Eye began life as the Trollenberg Terror: originally a six part story on British television’s Saturday Serial. The terror arising from all the headless corpses being found.

So when the Trollenberg Terror made the jump to the big screen, it was only natural to start off with a err… chop.

One thing I love about this film is the speed at which it moves. Its series pedigree left director Quentin Lawrence with no choice but to cram hours worth of mystery material into 84 short (by comparison) minutes. Enter Anne (Janet Munro) and Sarah (Jennifer Jayne) Pilgrim; two sisters traveling to Geneva, sharing a train compartment with Allen Brooks (Forrest Tucker).

Two sisters with a distinct advantage in getting through pages worth of exposition; Ann is psychic. She sees the opening murders while traveling, get sick, and forces her sister to stop the(ir) trip early. A stop that’s naturally also shared by Alan Brooks.

See? 10 minutes in, and we’ve probably already shifted through one or two episodes worth of movement and backstory!

It should also be noted that at no point do the “special effects” ever get any better. Though they do eventually give up on matte paintings and switch to canvas painted backdrops. Which, given the perspectives used, give the impression that our heros are always standing on a ledge.

Not to mention the science lab/”observatory.” It’s an “observatory” located atop a mountain to measure cosmic rays. Which is a clever way of saying we had a one window set we wanted to use, and couldn’t be bothered to change it. So they put two amateur-grade telescopes out, and have the professor talk about how great his radiation radar machine is.

I don’t want to seem too hard on the film though, as there’s still a lot to love. For one thing, its already mentioned pace moves so fast you ca’t get bored. Another nice touch is that the Pilgrim sisters are eventually recognized as a mind-reading act. Adding a nice touch of tension to Ann’s revelations, as both she and her sister had trouble believing in them prior.

Another neat touch is how the Trollenberg Terror is housed in a radioactive cloud on the mountain. People climb up the mountain, the cloud follows and decapitates them. Then slowly slides back up the mountain.

Professor Crevett (Warren Mitchell) theorizes that the cloud is housing aliens, who need the thin mountain atmosphere to survive. Noting that their forays down the mountain keep getting lower; as they become better acclimated. The victims either lose their heads or have the blood drained from them and become zombies. Alien zombies of science; hell bent on murdering psychics!

In keeping with this month’s theme, winter, the alien clouds are icy cold. Even the zombies give themselves away by constantly complaining about the heat. It’s the little touches like that, that are still thematically connected to the movie, that makes this great.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Crawling Eyes (yes, there’s multiple) is how awesome they sound. Forget their Muppet Babies-esque rear projection origins. Just listen to that racket! Sounding like someone using an echo chamber to add some extra heft to the “woo-woo-woo’s” they’re talking into a microphone.

Unfortunately the last thing you’ll notice is the Eyes’ attack on the lab. Which would, theoretically, be a great ending, had they the resources to pull it off correctly. They didn’t, meaning it’s clearly miniatures standing upon (slightly larger) miniatures, surrounded by fake smoke.

Not exactly the way you want a film to end.

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