The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Written and Directed by Coleman Francis
Tagline: "Commies made him an atomic mutant!"
Run Time: 54 min
Other titles: "The Violent Sun "
Coleman Francis's "The Beast of Yucca Flats" is a stunning achievement in cinematic incoherency. It causes me to stop and ask myself: "What are the absolute minimum requirements in order to call a series of shots a 'movie'?" This film, and I use the term as loosely as possible, is a jumble of scenes, some underexposed while others are overexposed, a jumble of characters, often performing actions for no apparent reason, all thrown pell-mell over the palest phantom of a plot that can be conceived.
"The Beast of Yucca Flats" revolves around, well, maybe I shouldn't say 'revolves', for that implies some sort of order and logic. "The Beast of Yucca Flats" is a sequence of scenes based on the main character, Joseph Javorsky, a Russian nuclear scientist. Javorsky has escaped from Russia (or somewhere) and has fled to America, carrying stolen Russian secrets from the first Russian moon landing (!). He is chased into the desert by KGB agents where he is exposed to an atomic bomb blast from a test detonation. The blast, for some unexplained reason, transforms Javorsky into, you guessed it: The Beast. The beast runs around the desert, keeping to the, er, 'Yucca Flats' region, killing people, chasing kids with a stick, throwing rocks, but mostly killing people. The Beast is tracked down and killed by two gun-slinging cops from the "Desert Patrol". Job completed, the cops turn around and go back to town, leaving his body out in the desert for the coyotes. The End.
The director, Coleman Francis, was a somewhat active actor, taking bit parts here and there in the 50's and 60's. Never heard of him? Most haven't. It is with his directorial efforts that Coleman rises into the sky, hangs for a second, and then plunges into the muck, poisoning everything around him. His reputation as one of the worst writer/directors of all time was brought into the public's eye by the distinct 'honor' of having all three of his films as episodes on Mystery Science Theater 3000. (The only films he ever directed were "Red Zone Cuba" (1966), "The Skydivers" (1963), and "The Beast of Yucca Flats" (1961) all of which have been skewered by Joel and the robots.)
I found an interview with the film's producer, Anthony Cardoza (who also had a bit role as the KGB agent driving the car in the opening scene), where he gives some interesting insight into the film. Anthony was working as a welder in Hollywood before he got into the movie business. Through a friend, Anthony get involved with some Ed Wood projects (mostly investing and losing money) and eventually met and became friends with Tor Johnson. Out of the blue, Coleman Francis called him up and asked if he could get Tor to play the part of a monster in a film he was working on. (At the time, Anthony did not know who Coleman was, nor how Coleman got his number. He never found out.) Anthony contacted Tor, told him about the part, and Tor agreed to take it. Anthony, his welding buddies, and "other people" managed to scrape together $34,000 in order to make the film (an unimaginably small amount of money for a film), and after a year of filming, working just on weekends because of Anthony's welding job, Coleman managed to create what you are about to see.
The Beast himself, played by Tor Johnson, is typical Tor: Growling and roaring, lumbering about chasing people. He has no speaking lines, and in fact, even his roars and yells were dubbed by Coleman. At the time of the filming, Tor weighed nearly 400 pounds and couldn't even walk up the hills to the shooting locations. This required a group of crew members to pull him up with ropes while other members stood behind him and pushed. It is almost sad to see the gigantic Tor slowly and awkwardly stomping around, chasing his victims that could have easily hopped away from him on one foot if they had wanted to.
The movie itself was filmed with no sound. Coleman had the actors and actresses (those with speaking roles, at least) dub in the dialog afterwards. In an astoundingly low-budget effort to save money dialog is dubbed in while the actors are facing away from the camera! (So they wouldn't have to bother trying to synchronize the dialog with the actor's lips!) Other 'tricks' used to avoid spending time on sound synchronization includes having the actors hold their hands over their mouths when they yell, and so on. There are also other scenes where you can see people talking, but no lines are dubbed in at all. Another odd touch is the way that the dubbed dialog is always at the same volume level no matter how far away the character is from the camera; It all adds to the bizarre, surrealist atmosphere of this movie.
To compensate for the sparse dialog, Coleman Francis dubbed in one of the strangest narrations in the history of film. He speaks in halting, fragmented, and redundant sentences, describing scenes and characters, usually after the scene is already over. In fact, the narration reminds me of a bizarre Haiku, at times nearly poetic, yet always puzzling and out of the reach of common sense. I have included all narration from the movie in this review so you can appreciate the confusing, incoherent narration for yourself. Make sure to read it slowly and in monotone, with dramatic pauses after each sentence, no matter how illogical it seems.
Why can't I just leave the review at that? True enough, there is nothing else that happens, but to fully appreciate the scale of this film's sheer awfulness, a scene-by-scene walk-through is in order. Everything is done wrong in this movie: acting, editing, sound, lighting, plot...everything...and not done wrong in the 'charming' way that everything was done wrong in "Plan 9 From Outer Space". No, everything that is done wrong here seems to have been done with a total disregard for the viewer, almost as a personal affront to the viewer's senses. Bill Warren (author of "Keep Watching the Skies") sums it up, "It may very well be the worst nonporno science fiction movie ever made." This leads one to wonder why it was ever made in the first place. We will never know.
I thought I would use bits of the film's narration in order to introduce the characters to you (so you can appreciate Coleman's narrations for yourself):
The film begins not with credits, but with a woman standing in front of a mirror drying herself with a towel. A loud ticking sound reminds us that we are about to waste 54 minutes of our life watching this film. The woman moves into the bedroom, sits on the bed, the ticking gets louder, louder, louder, and "the beast" walks in and strangles her. (Note: You only see the Beast's hands, as the actor in this scene was not Tor Johnson.)
We can only assume that this scene is a foreshadowing of events to come, but after watching the film, you have to wonder what the whole point of this murder scene was because we never refer to this scene again. Even more puzzling, the Beast never leaves the desert so how the hell could he have murdered her?
Producer Anthony Cardoza said that the only reason that this scene is in the film was because Coleman wanted to have a little nudity in the movie. Although the woman is not nude, we do get a little flash of a breast under the towel. There you have it. That pretty much sums up the quality of this film we're about to see.
As the credits roll, we see a small plane landing on what must be Yucca Flats international airport, i.e., a dirt strip. Out of the single-engine plane lumbers the 400-pound Joe Javorsky, and the narration begins:
You remember the "A-Bomb" testing grounds in Yucca Flats, don't you?
As Joe gets out of the plane a car drives up to the, *ahem*, airport. An exciting blast of trumpet music tells us that these are 'bad guys'. The two men in the car turn out to be KGB agents as the narration informs us:
These men are also from behind the Iron Curtain.
An interesting note: The agent driving the car is none other than Anthony Cardoza. He admitted that he did a pretty bad job playing the part. I have to agree.
The two agents get out of the car, pistols drawn, and sneak up on the unsuspecting Javorsky. They open fire as Javorsky and his entourage run to their waiting car. An off screen voice tells Jovorsky to get in the car, which he does with as much finesse as Tor could muster.
With a blast of music, the cars take off and begin what can only be one of the most boring car chases in film history. The cars drive over dirt roads, twisting and turning (with what looks to be speeds of up to 20 miles per hour! Exciting! Do I have to mention that the tires squeal on the dirt roads?). We also hear the continuous sound of gunfire even though nobody is pointing a gun out the window!
The narrator breaks in again:
Flag on the moon.
I assume we are hearing about what is in the Javorsky's briefcase. Who knows. The narration is often mesmerizing ...I often feel like I'm falling down the rabbit hole in "Alice In Wonderland".
Did I mention that the car chase is still going on? It helps when you patch together the same scenes over and over. Really, it helps ooohhh so much. Lets just pad out these 54 minutes as much as we can.
Oh! There was a neat trick. The KGB agents somehow get in front of Javorsky's car, pull over to the side, let Javorsky drive past them, and then pull out and chase them again. Wow! They must have learned that in spy school on their way to becoming Russia's two most ruthless agents! James Bond eat your heart out!
The cars pull off one dirt road onto another dirt road. This road, however, is marked with a sign that reads "Yucca Flats". (I bet this prop cost a whopping $2 to make). I have to think that an atomic testing ground would have been better marked, but what do I know?
Pistols fire, dust flies, cars swerve, tires squeal on dirt roads...how long is this movie? 54 minutes? Well, we've chewed up nearly 5 of them in this ridiculous chase scene.
Sensing that the scene is nearly over, Javorsky's driver decides to pull over so he can be shot and killed. The KGB agents pull up about 20 feet behind them and start opening fire with their pistols.
After Javorsky's driver gets his wish and is killed, (why else would he pull over?) Javorsky's aide hands him the briefcase of "secret data" and tells Javorsky to run away. (Where to?) The overweight Javorsky staggers off into the desert while the gunfight continues. I have to wonder how the Kremlin's 2 most ruthless agents could miss a refrigerator-sized Tor Johnson from a distance of 20 feet. Oh well.
Javorsky walks off into the desert (I don't think the 400-pound Tor Johnson was so eager to run in the desert sun while wearing a black suit) while his aide stays behind at the car, firing away at the KGB agents. Amazingly, the aide runs out of bullets and the KGB agents stop firing so he can load his gun, after which all 3 resume shooting at each other again. Gee, that was nice of them. After about 30 shots, the ruthless KGB agents manage to kill the aide, while Javorsky trudges through the brush, taking off his tie and jacket in the process. Oh goodie. After nearly 5 minutes of no dialog, we are treated to some more narration:
With that ominous warning, a bright light flashes in Javorsky's face and we see some stock footage of an atomic bomb blast. Javorsky, injured and laying on the ground, reaches out for the burning briefcase laying beside him...fade to black.
Fade back in to a nighttime shot. A car pulls over to the side of the road with some sort of engine trouble. A man gets out of the car to look at the motor, oh wait, now it's daytime. Hope you didn't notice that.
While the man looks at the engine (located in the rear of the car), the women sits in the front seat and smokes a cigarette. Suddenly we see that the Beast has strangled the man and thrown him to the ground. The woman remains oblivious to all this and continues to smoke.
As she relaxes, the Beast suddenly grabs the woman's throat from the backseat! How the hell did a monster that weighs a third of the car's weight get into the back seat without her noticing?! (That's movie magic for you!) Apparently, he doesn't kill her, but rather strangles her into unconsciousness, takes her out of the car, and carries her off into the desert.
As the women is carried off to who knows where (and who knows why), a passing motorist finds the murdered husband laying beside his car and hurries off to warn the police. More driving on dirt roads. Ok, now we see patrolman Joe Dobson, of the "Desert Patrol" (?), pulling up to a cafe where the motorist informs him of the murder.
Young Joe Dobson. Desert Patrolman.
Joe drives out to the murder site (using the same driving scenes from earlier in the film) and investigates the crime scene.
During his thorough 10 second investigation, Joe comes across the "footprints on the wasteland", runs back to his car and drives off.
Touch a button.
I would like to point out that if it seems that this walk-through jumps around a lot, it is not because I'm skipping over scenes or dialog. I am merely relaying to you the incredible incoherency and horrible editing of this film. It is a phenomenally, awesomely bad movie.
Yes, as you can see, the Beast is dragging the still unconscious's woman through the wastelands of Yucca Flats. He stops occasionally to smell her hair, and shift her position (it must have been incredibly uncomfortable for the actress to be carried like that).
A totally necessary shot.
Cut to Joe driving up to a ramshackle house out in the middle of nowhere. Inside the house is Joe's partner, Jim Archer, along with a busty woman who is lounging around in bed in a nightgown (even though it's the middle of the day). In a wonderfully gratuitous cleavage shot, and this shot serves no other purpose what-so-ever, she gets out of bed, bends over to put her shoes on (or something), of course exposing her ample cleavage, stands up, gets back into bed, and pulls the covers on. (Thank you Coleman. We needed that.)
Jim gets dressed, goes outside, and gets into Joe's waiting car. Time for some more narration:
The two patrolmen drive off into the desert while we see the Beast carry the limp woman into his cave. He lays her down on some rocks and then lays beside her to chew her hair (!)
Shock waves of an A-bomb.
While the Beast chews on her hair, Jim and Joe climb some rocks, look around a bit, and point up to the Beast's cave. (How in the world they know he's there? God knows.)
Yes, well, ok. So far he's killed one person, so I can't really say he's on a rampage or anything. In fact, throughout the entire film he kills only 2 people, which is just as many as the KGB agents killed.
The mouth of the cave.
The previous narration accompanies scenes of Jim and Joe walking over rocks, pointing up in the sky, scrambling up hills (hardly what I would call "1000 feet over jagged cliffs", but close enough I guess).
Jim and Joe pick their way up to the mouth of the cave.
As I mentioned before, Jim and Joe appear to be more like 5 to 7 feet above the ground, but maybe after awhile they will "pick" their way up higher.
These exciting scenes of the patrolmen "picking" their way upwards goes on and on and on. Who would ever have thought that a 54 minute movie could seem so long?
They finally get to the cave and see the woman laying on the ground. She's alive, but barely, and they carry her back down. I'm not sure how they plan on bringing her down this so called "1000 foot" cliff, but it turns out they don't have to do it after all; they take a few steps and she dies, with the Jim's touching eulogy, "Well, doctors can't help her now...maybe angels...but not doctors."
We fade to a scene showing a boy selling a newspaper in front of a cafe. A man buys the paper (a cameo appearance by none other than Coleman Francis) and reads the headline:
"Beast Kills Man And Wife"
You really have to hand it to the Yucca Flats news reporters: They managed to get the report, write the story, and print the paper all before Joe and Jim get the woman's body down from the cliff. Now that's investigative reporting, I tell ya!
Cut to more scenes of a car driving down the road. We find out, through bizarre narration, that some people are traveling East on vacation:
The previous narration is made even more incomprehensible when you realize that there is not a single flying saucer in the film.
Anyway, the father, Hank, pulls into a service station for directions. The attendant (another cameo by Coleman Francis...is this guy talented or what!?) comes over and talks to the father while the boys run off to look around.
The multi-talented Coleman Francis
Boys from the city.
The boys run behind the service station where some animals are penned up. As stated, the boys, er, "feed soda pop" to some pigs and then take a look at a scrawny coyote that's chained to a tree. The father pays his bill of $3 (for what? The attendant never pumped any gas...) and the Radcliffes are back on the road again.
Cut scenes to Jim and Joe "picking" their way back up the cliff face (now without the woman's body. Maybe they dumped it at the bottom). You can just feel the desert sun burning your skin as you hear the next narration:
A hundred and ten in the shade.
More shots of Jim and Joe climbing up the cliff face to the Beast's plateau.
Jim and Joe try to make their way up to the plateau.
Do you feel confused yet? Dizzy?
We see the Beast lurking in some scrub brush while the patrolmen make their way back to the car. Presumably they have decided to parachute onto the plateau instead of climbing. Since the killer isn't on the plateau, I don't see the point of it. Oh wait, they don't know that...but then why do they suspect it in the first place?
Hours in the broiling hot desert sun.
Yes, ok. As I suspected, they have decided not to "pick" their way to the top, but parachute instead. I bet there's going to be a realllly cool parachute scene! I can't wait!
Well, wouldn't you know it, the Radcliffes get a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere. Hank pulls over to assess the damage, while we change scenes to Jim and Joe getting into a single-engine plane, readying for take off. (Do I have to mention that this is the exact same plane that Javorsky flew in with during the opening scenes?)
While Hank is changing the tire, the two boys have run off into the desert (!). (Note the way that the actors never talk when they are on screen: Louis talks only when Hank is on scene, and when Hank answers her, the scene quickly shifts to Louis...this is art! Auteur! Auteur!) Jim gets into the plane, while Joe gives him some good professional police advice: "...Shoot first. Ask questions later." (Wow! Those Desert Patrol guys are some mean hombres!) The plane takes off with Jim while Joe gets in his car and drives off. (Where to?)
Back at the car with the flat tire, Hank goes out into the desert to look for the boys. (The narration did tell us that they are "adventurous" boys, didn't it?) Leaving Louis behind, he lights a cigarette and stomps off into the brush.
Meanwhile, Jim is circling in the plane overhead, just waiting to use his itchy trigger finger! Ok, cut scenes, the boys are wondering around, lost. Cut. Joe is driving around searching for the Beast is his car. Cut. Hank is looking around. Cut. Jim is still in the plane. Ok, you get the point.
Finally, oh boy, do I mean finally, Hank climbs over a barbed wire fence. On the fence is a sign that reads "Keep Out. Government Property. Missile Range." Of course, the sign is facing inwards, so you can't see what it says unless you are actually inside the missile range! Hank, undaunted by the bizarre orientation of the sign, continues his search.
Wow, it's been a while since the last narration. Oh good, here comes some:
Always on the prowl.
The Beast has seen the boys and begins stalking them as Jim spots what he believes to be the Beast. Oh! Cruel fate! It is not the Beast that Jim starts shooting at...it is Hank! Even though Joe did say to "Shoot first...Ask questions later", I still have to question Jim's decision to simply open fire on the first person you see that happens to be walking around.
Jim decides to ask questions later.
We now are treated to a long, long, long sequence of shots (the same shots over and over again), showing Jim shooting at Hank from the plane. It's kind of odd how you hear rifle shots even when he doesn't pull the trigger, but oh well. Yeah, and sometimes Hank is running through the hills and other times he is running in an open field. Don't ask me what's going on. I'm just reviewing this for you.
Hank, running in an open field, is shot in the arm with such force that he teleports to a cliff and tumbles down into a ravine. Jim parachutes out of the plane and lands in the vicinity of the wounded Hank. About time for some narration, wouldn't you agree:
I probably would have changed the narration to say, "Trained to shoot at the first person he sees..." I also don't see how Hank can be considered the enemy, I mean, he was just out changing his tire for God's sake. Well, this gives us a few minutes of watching Hank stumble around with Jim in hot pursuit. Oh yeah, every now and then we cut away to Louis staring blankly into space, waiting for her kids, or something. Really, who knows anymore.
Incredibly, Hank makes it back to the car, tells Louis to stay where she is in case the boys come back, and then he drives off to get help, leaving Louis alone in the desert!
Joe Dobson headed North and met Jim.
As stated above, Joe somehow finds Jim and pulls over to the side of the road. They drink some water while they "plan another attack." If this place was only accessible by parachuting, then how the hell did Joe meet him there with the car?
Meanwhile, after leaving Louis alone in the desert, Hank has driven his car...somewhere and opens a gate. We see scenes of the the boys wandering around alone interspersed with scenes of Louis standing alone by the side of the highway, looking sad, or bored...hard to tell.
The boys finally reach a water hole and bend down to drink while the Beast closes in. By this time the Beast has found a old tree limb or something in order to appear more threatening. Who knows what evil thoughts lurk in the mind of a Russian nuclear scientist turned mutant?
Suddenly a coyote howls...wait, back with mom, looking sad. Cut. Back to the kids. The kids have fallen asleep in some shade under a tree. The Beast growls at them and the two boys run off, leaving the Beast waving his stick in the air in frustration.
Somehow, the 2 boys end up hiding in the Beast's cave. Yes, this is the cave that is 1000 feet above the desert floor, the one that Jim and Joe had to "pick" their way up to, now easily in reach of 2 pre-adolescent boys.
The beast finding his victim gone, unleashes his fury.
The "fury" mentioned above is limited to Tor picking up and throwing a bowling-ball sized rock, then laying down and taking a nap. Wow! That was really raw animal rage!!! I'm telling you!
While the horrible Beast is sleeping, the boys sneak past him and once again "pick" their way down the cliff face, I guess. Meanwhile, Hank has been busy rounding up help, as we soon find out:
Hank and some help from neighbors.
A funny bit of trivia here: The fat person that Hank has gotten to help him is none other than Anthony Cardova again (remember he played the skinny KGB agent in the beginning). During the year it took to film the movie, he gained over 100 pounds from hanging out with Tor Johnson and eating all the time!
Well, as luck would have it, the Beast wakes up, throws a rock, and chases the boys some more. Back on the desert floor, the beast is running around with his stick again, but this time he is spotted by Jim and Joe who open fire on him.
Struck by a bullet, the Beast falls to the ground, seemingly dead. However, being the clever creature that he is, and to add another minute to the run time, he lashes out, knocks Joe to the ground and attacks Jim. Using some moves that he probably learned during his wrestling days as the Super-Swedish Angel, Tor tosses the patrolmen around a bit, before finally putting Jim into a choke hold. Just as it looks like lights out for Jim, Joe regains consciousness and unloads his pistol into the Beast, mortally wounding him.
Joe and Jim holster their weapons and leave the Beast's body lying out on the desert to be eaten by coyotes. One final burst of insane narration and we're almost done with this movie:
Jim and Joe lead the boys back to their mother and we cut to a scene showing the Beast, still laying on the ground. A baby rabbit runs up and starts licking his face. The Beast, instead of killing it, pets it, caresses it, then dies. Oh! The pathos!
(The rabbit running into the scene was unplanned. Coleman liked it so much that he stopped filming, moved the camera to get better light, and started filming again, all in the same scene of course, leading to a jarring shift in camera angle.)
Fade to black.
I would just like to add a little narration of my own:
A button is pushed.
Dennis Grisbeck (Mar 2005)