Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 15 - Beginning of the End

Wow, that poster is colorful, exciting, frightening, and eye-catching.  The movie "Beginning of the End" is not any of those things.  I have to review this one quickly, or else its going to rapidly disappear from my brain.

Bert I. Gordon is one of the most prolific giant monster movie directors of the 1950s and 1960s, which is fitting considering that his initials add up to "B.I.G".  Unfortunately, the Notorious B.I.G. is not a good director, in fact, in the Fifties, he probably ranked amongst the worst directors of his time, not an easy feat considering how many terrible B-movie SciFi and horror films were flooding the market.  "Beginning of the End", to be fair, is easily B.I.G.'s worst movie, though his other credits aren't exactly glorious.  He's made "Earth vs. The Spider", "The Amazing Colossal Man", "Village of the Giants", all which are effectively unwatchable without the boys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffing them.  Most of his movies are plodding and practically pace-less, they're almost surreal in how crushingly boring they can be.

Gordon's special effects never grew beyond a minimal level of sophistication, B.I.G. simply filmed real-life animals or insects and rear-projected them with normal-sized human actors to appear massive.  This method of splicing often failed for even Ray Harryhausen, with deep dark lines and layers bleeding through each other.  B.I.G. managed to get it to fail nearly every time.  "Beginning of the End" is notorious within the already pretty cheesy quality of Fifties B-movies for having laughably awful special effects.  This is a film about giant locusts attacking Chicago.  B.I.G. didn't have the budget to build props or miniatures like a Toho production, he didn't have the talent of Harryhausen to animate this creatures, and he didn't have the creativity of Roger Corman to make the most of his mediocre effects with mood, atmosphere, and wild storylines.  What do you get when you have no resources, no ideas, and no talent?  Locusts being dropped onto a flat picture of Chicago and "climbing up" buildings and often enough, the sky.

If you're going to watch "Beginning of the End", make sure its the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.  And even then, B.I.G.'s complete inability to build tension or even move his movie along at any pace will make the seventy-six minutes of this film feel like seventy-six hours.  When even Mike, Tom, and Crow can't make your movie entertaining, you've done something that only true masters of ultimate incompetence like Colman Francis have accomplished.  This is what we call a craptastic turd, worth watching only to see what may be the worst giant monster effects ever.

Its unknown just what "Beginning of the End"'s budget was like, but what is known is how B.I.G. got his effects made.  He had a box of twelve grasshoppers that he would film, typically in front of facades of Chicago buildings.  He had blown-up pictures of a Chiciago skyscraper and would lay them down on the ground flat and let them walk around the picture.  Other times it appears that he used a cardboard cut out and had the bugs stand on them, and film them falling or standing on the boarders, as if they were on a real 3D object.  For the rest of the movie, at least with the monsters standing around, they are cropped into shots of human actors, usually rather poorly with massive borders around them.  There couldn't be too many grasshoppers in a single shot though, because during the course of B.I.G.'s shooting, most of the locusts ate each other.  Let's be honest, most of the Fifties giant monster movies had effects that look more or less pathetic of a modern eye, but "Beginning of the End" is something else.

I really can't explain how weird and jarring the effects are in this movie.  Here's three pictures of the same subject, bugs standing on a skyscraper, and their quality varies wildly:

Standing on the sky.  The editor has no excuse for this humdinger.

Way better effects here, B.I.G. even gives the illusion that one is standing on the roof.
This actually works, too bad this sequence is amazingly inconsistent.

The bugs could not contrast more with the faded picture they're standing on.  
This is the worst shot of them all.

By the way, don't be afraid to laugh.

Terrible effects notwithstanding, "Beginning of the End" is a... unique kind of movie.  It has a dreamlike quality, in that you're most likely on the verge of falling asleep during the entire running time.  In most movies you've seen, they're usually made with some element of pacing, a concept that ultimately every scene should have meaning and should move the plot along.  The goal is ultimately that there should not be a single second of the audience's time wasted by pointless padding and empty flat time.  Bert I. Gordon either did not understand this concept or was so desperate to fill his movie up to theatrical length that I'm guessing just around 10% of this movie is filled with people driving someplace.  This is the kind of movie that if it wants to establish the fact that a car is driving down a road, it will start filming that car half a mile away and let it drive all the way to the camera, not sparing us a second of the leisurely fifty-mile-per-hour automobile action.  Maybe Gordon simply liked cars as much as he liked giant monsters, I dunno.  Also, its always the same stretch of road, this one mountainous* little country road that apparently connects every single town in the entire state of Illinois.

The plot, if you dare call the events of this story "a plot", is the invasion of a swam of giant locusts into Southern California Illinois.  The dashing handsome scientist is played by Peter Graves, one of the more famous actors we've come across, best known for his work on the original "Mission: Impossible" and satirizing his typically straight-faced leading man roles in the "Airplane!" movies.  Peter Graves, following in the footsteps of the poor scientists from "Tarantula", has decided to solve the world's food problems with atomic power.  And this time, instead of making people larger, he's decided on the more sensible solution of making huge - though most likely radioactive - vegetables.  As we all know, anything radioactive immediately must spawn a giant monster of some kind, so a few locusts eat the vegetables and then grow massively huge.  Then then destroy an entire town (off-camera) and begin a very poorly-paced and crushingly boring reign of terror.

On the surface scenes of the US military battling an army of locusts, bugs beating through all defensive lines and capturing America's Second City, all sound like great fun and possibly massive entertainment.  However, those battle scenes look like this:

I wasn't aware that you could screw up light temperature when filming in
Black and White, but Bert I. Gordon found a way.

Also, the bug business really doesn't get started until a full halfway through the movie.  Before that, "Beginning of the End" mainly deals with... absolutely nothing happening.  I'm seriously, there is nothing to say about the first half of this movie.  There's this reported lady who... just kinda drives around a lot and meets up with Peter Graves and the movie really can start.  Their romance is about as compelling as you'd expect from a movie called "Beginning of the End".  I'd like to point out that Peter Graves never once takes any responsibility for unleashing this Biblical plague of locusts, probably because his character was written so blandly that guilt would have been too strong of an emotion.

Ultimately, the locusts attack Chicago, but the city has already been evacuated and as far as I can tell, only one person actually gets eaten by the bugs.  Actually no, sorry, he didn't get eaten, Peter Graves shot him from behind with a machine gun while killing a locust they had captured.  This follows a ten minute sequence where Peter Graves puts a locust under a lie detector test (really) to uncover the bugs' secret code and lead them into Lake Michigan where they'll all drown.  Chicago itself is completely deserted, the bugs wreck no havoc of any kind.  The movie opens with two teenagers getting attacked by something off-camera, but as far as I know it could have just as easily been Jason Vorhees as much as a giant locust.

Anyway, the locust radio plan works, meaning that Chicago is saved... not from the locusts, they really weren't causing any trouble.  But from the US military.  Our brilliant plan to stop them would have been to nuke Chicago.  Or as Tom Servo points out "great, now they can grow larger!"  But that crisis is averted, the locusts are dead, the Earth is saved, and I have one less terrible to movie to watch.  But before I conclude, feast your eyes on this shot:

It takes real talent to film giant monsters.  You see here, Bert. I. Gordon
has perfectly captured how his grasshoppers are only an inch tall.

In conclusion, "Beginning of the End" is not a good movie.  In fact, it probably ranks amongst the very worst movies I've ever brought to this blog.  But I'm not angry at it, and neither should anybody else.  This was Z-grade filmmaking, in the Fifties.  If you want to laugh at something just completely and utterly horrible, "Beginning of the End" is your movie.  If you wanted suspense, action, excitement, horror, titillation, or even just the basic joys of watching a nice story, you're not going to get it.  This is the ultimate in incompetence.  And really, I could have picked any one of a dozen movies to showcase how bad giant monster films in the Fifites could be.  I could be watching "The Deadly Mantis", "The Giant Gila Monster", "The Killer Shrews", any of them would all get the point across perfectly.  There really was no choice, I had to write about one of these abominations one day, and I think I picked an especially hilariously bad one.

On the next episode of All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - Some pink goo from outer space lands in Anytown USA and picks a fight with the wrong man, Steve McQueen, in "The Blob"!


* Yeah, mountains in Illinois.  By the way, Illinois, being a state in the Central Plains, doesn't have those.  Southern California does.

1 comment:

  1. "When even Mike, Tom, and Crow can't make your movie entertaining..."


    Don't you know what kind of fandom war you've unleashed by revealing which MST3K human host you prefer? Duck and cover, the flames are coming!