I suspect some people believe I am too hard on most of the movies I write about here. From my perspective, I think I am more lenient on some pictures than the majority of critics. At least, I try to find something, anything I can say I liked in each film I see.
1955’s The Beast with a Million Eyes, in my opinion, has been subjected to excessively harsh reviews. That was the case on its original release, and I haven’t found evidence of a subsequent critical reappraisal. As I write this, the consensus for this picture on IMDB is at 3.7 out of ten. I would kick that up at least a whole number.
Typical of sci-fi movies of that era, it is set in the desert. In opening narration, Paul Birch gives the audience a bleak assessment of his life. His farm has failed each of the past three years. He tells us he’s a failure—at least, that’s what his wife tells him. Using language that is more poetic than I expected in such fare, he describes the desolation surrounding his property, and how death awaits a short distance in any direction.
Once we meet his wife (Lorna Thayer), I have no doubt she has told him he is a loser. She is so filled with angst and unfocused hatred that she might even tell him that every hour, on the hour. She even shrieks openly about how much she hates their daughter (Dona Cole) for being young, pretty and having her life ahead of her.
In keeping with some weird unspoked rule of films of any vintage, Cole does not look as young as I believe the picture wants us to think she is. I’m guessing she’s supposed to be a teenager. She looks somewhere between 25 and 30, depending on the lighting. At least, there doesn’t seem to be a wide enough gap in ages for Thayer (36 at the time) to be her mother.
The other resident on the farm is Leonard Tarver as a mute man who does work for them in exchange for a trailer and food. Supposedly, nobody can find out his name, so they just call him “Him”. I noticed Birch calls him Carl when talking to him directly, and I’m not sure why the others don’t do the same. Something seems cold about depriving a man of any moniker. This will seem especially odd given a revelation near the end.
Rounding out this small cast is Duke, Cole’s dog and another object of her mother’s hatred. Dick Sargent plays Cole’s boyfriend, Bewitched still about a decade in his future. Chester Conklin will play a funny, nice old man who just wants to get his itchy back scratched and possibly get some milk out of his stubborn cow. Alas, that cow will eventually stomp him to death.
You see, something passed over the area earlier in the day and now the animals have started attacking people and power transformers. It isn’t much of a coordinated attack—the flocks of attacking birds are largely just shots of somebody out of frame throwing the birds towards the camera. Still, you don’t even have to see this feature to know it is about, I don’t know, one million times better than Birdemic.
Alas, Duke seems to go rabid, finally giving mom an excuse to off him—with an axe! You really don’t want to mess with this lady.
Anywho, all those animals make up the “one million eyes” of the title, though I’m betting the end tally is a few hundreds of thousands off. I can’t recall an “animals attack” movie older than this one, though that isn’t one of my favorite sub-genres. The bird attacks seem to foretell Hitchcock’s The Birds nearly a decade later.
I like the scene where the craft causing this mayhem passes over the house. We see it from indoors, as the image darkens considerably. A high-pitched squeal accompanies it, shattering the glass coffee pot Thayer is holding. We learn later it broke all the glass inside the house and even the windows. There’s a moment I like where Thayer goes to a shattered display cabinet and takes out a particular vase that’s broken. Her expression tells us this was important to her, and I felt some sympathy towards her.
Alas, one of the many minor gaffes in the feature occurs a couple of minutes later, with the inexplicable restoration of the cabinet’s front glass. There’s even new items in it. But I can dismiss such flaws in a film that obviously had next-to-no budget. Kicking this movie would be like kicking a puppy (or, depending upon who you are, buying an axe in its skull).
Overall, I found the movie to be competently made, with a few artistic flourishes. I shouldn’t have been too surprised, as Roger Corman was involved in the production.
Particularly noteworthy are the shots where we see front-on people approaching the alien craft. Descending into a pit, a person is bathed in quickly flashing reflected light.
My favorite shot of the film has Him approaching it and there just happened to be a jet contrail arcing into the sky away from him at 45 degrees, starting at his feet. It is a nice combination of simple but solid design combined with serendipity.
The movie even starts out with a solid opening credit sequence. The first thing we see is artwork of what appears to a dead tree, only to crossfade into the same image but with eyes filling every knothole of the tree. Similar artworks with the same transition follow.
Unfortunately, we will eventually see that spaceship and, alas, it gives proof to my conviction you should always show the audience less and leave them wanting more. Compounding his offense is when we get to see the alien itself.
More than that, I struggled with Him becoming possessed by the alien in the same manner as the animals. I felt there was a suggestion this man isn’t just undeserving of a real name, he is actually sub-human.
All that said, I actually like The Beast with One Million Eyes. At least, I apparently found more of merit here than the authors of any of the reviews I have read. Besides, where else could I see people using a blowtorch to fend off attacking chickens? No wonder this guy’s business is failing—there has to be an easier way to fry chicken.
Dir: David Kramarsky (with an uncredited Roger Corman)
Starring Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent
Watched on Scorpion Releasing blu-ray (Ronin Flix exclusive)