Beginning of the End (1957)
Hello, everybody, Pam here, time for another review. Today's movie is Beginning of the End, a science-fiction movie made in 1957. Its director, Bert I. Gordon, had a reputation for turning out bad movies with cheap special effects, just the sort of movie MMT likes to tear apart. Nate and I are a little burned out on kaiju movies, and since Beginning of the End is available for free on Youtube in both the original and an MST3K-ified version, we decided that this is going to be the next movie to receive the attention of MMT.
The movie opens in a heavily-wooded area. The camera pans past a sign that indicates that Rantoul is five miles away and Champaign is 25 miles away, suggesting that the location is in Illinois somewhere south of Chicago. The camera moves to a convertible in which a boy and a girl are necking. A sweet scene, which is interrupted when the girl looks away from the boy and screams. What scared her? We'll have to wait to find out. The credits are rolling, and for now we find out that Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, and Morris Ankrum are the stars of this movie. You all know who Peter Graves, is, of course. During his career he acted in some good movies but also plenty of bad ones, including Killers from Space. Peggie Castle was a blonde actress whose none-too-impressive career in movies was nearly at an end by the time she made this one. She made one more movie after this, then did some acting in television, and finally died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1973. You probably know Morris Ankrum, too, a supporting actor famous for playing authority figures in a few good movies and many bad ones.
Look at all these other actors in supporting roles, that's quite the collection of manly-man names.
Your mom was right, kissing boys will kill you.
The movie picks up again with two state troopers patrolling a narrow road outside of Ludlow. Something catches their eye, and they stop to find the mangled, twisted remains of the couple's convertible. There's no sign of the couple themselves, except for remnants of the girl's sweater. Not too surprisingly, the police assume that foul play is involved, although I think they should be asking themselves how a car got in such a condition off a dirt road in the middle of the woods. It looks as though it was stomped on by something big. However, very shortly the police find they have a more serious problem, when they discover the nearby town of Ludlow has also been destroyed and there's no sign of the townspeople.
Babyfaced cops on patrol.
The police officer who reported the situation to headquarters in Urbana requested "lots of help," and it looks as though some of the help he's getting is Peggie Castle, who pulls up to a barricade manned by soldiers. She's told she has to turn back, and she does, although she looks severely bummed. What's she doing here, anyway? She doesn't look as though she lives around this rural backwater, since she's stylishly dressed and driving a snazzy convertible. It's unlikely she's a police detective come to investigate, since this is 1957. What could she be? Is it possible she's that stock figure in so many B-movies, the intrepid girl reporter? Yep, that's it! We find this out when she gets out of her car, carrying a camera with her, and announces to the sentry that she's Audrey Aimes and is with the National Wire Service. Peggie Castle was about 29 when she made this movie, and although she was still good-looking, she had a hard look about her, and she looked quite a bit older than 29 (she was 45 when she died). However she herself may have felt about looking older than her age, it fits in well with the character she's playing, who's supposed to be a famous reporter who has covered many world-shaking events, including the Korean War.
Seen better days, indeed, but still pretty (though that outfit screams for some 1980's style shoulder pads...)
A reporter who's been in a war isn't easily discouraged, and Audrey tries to sneak in by a back road. The Army was ahead of her, though, and sentries have already been posted there. She gets her camera confiscated for her pains, although the sergeant who takes it promises to leave it for her at the roadblock. She demands to see the commanding officer and is directed to the temporary headquarters. She gets in without any trouble and finds a large room full of soldiers, but there are also a few civilians sitting in the background. The colonel is busy, but a captain talks to her. To those who are familiar with the general adversarial relations between the military and the media, their conversation will be rather startling. The captain tells her that the town of Ludlow was demolished and all of its 150 inhabitants have vanished without a trace, but he asks her not to release the information until the army permits her to, and she agrees! Was this realistic, even in 1957?
Audrey's shiny new Chrysler New Yorker gets so much screentime that you wonder if it was Bert Gordon's wife's car.
Even with the heels, she's crazy tall.
The captain also invites her to sit in on the questioning of one of the local inhabitants, who visited his children in Ludlow but left before midnight and didn't notice anything strange except that a plane flew overhead around midnight. A telephone operator is also questioned, and she says that she put through a call to Ludlow at 11:59 PM, then was told at 4:45 AM that the lines to Ludlow were down. Once the colonel finishes questioning the civilians, he straps on a sidearm and goes to Ludlow to see the ruins for himself. Audrey asks if she can come, but he won't let her.
Is that a "pencil"? Her iPad must be broken.
I thought that Audrey was taking the stonewalling a little too quietly, and it turns out I was right. After the colonel tells her she can't come, she goes out to her car, but instead of driving away, she lifts a telephone receiver off the dashboard and places a call to the editor-in-chief of National Wire Services. A car phone in 1957, Audrey must be hot stuff indeed! (Wikipedia says that car phones were first available in 1946. I have no idea how much they cost or how much it cost to make a call on them, and as was the case with long-distance calls in 1957, she has to go through an operator.) She tells her editor that she's going to investigate the story, but says she can't release it, because she promised she wouldn't. Her editor doesn't argue, which surprises me even more than Audrey's willingness to cooperate with the military. Things sure were different in the 1950s. She asks him to check out the airplane, and also to see if there are any "atomic installations" near Ludlow.
Yes, but can she update her Facebook profile from that phone? I think not.
After this, she returns to the roadblock and asks for her camera. Her editor calls and says that 1) the plane was a commercial airliner on a regularly scheduled flight, and 2) there are no atomic installations within 75 miles of Ludlow. However, he found out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been using radioactive materials not far from Ludlow. Neither Audrey nor her editor seem to find anything odd about the USDA using radioactive materials, but then, during the years just after World War II, radiation was used for some pretty oddball purposes. Women had their legs exposed to gamma radiation to make the hair fall out so they wouldn't have to shave, and older readers may remember that some shoe stores had X-ray machines you could put your feet into to see if your shoes fit properly.
Even this gargantuan shortwave radio set put out enough static electricity to permanent press your trousers.
But enough of the good old days and back to the movie. Once Audrey gets her camera back, she's off to the experimental station. When she walks into the greenhouse, everything looks normal at first. That is, until you notice the gigantic tomatoes (?) growing in there (the movie's black and white, so I'm not 100% sure that's what they are, but they look like tomatoes except they're about two feet across). She tries but fails to get the attention of the scientist who's working in there, but somebody else shows up: Peter Graves, playing the project director, Ed Wainwright. Peter Graves gives us a sign that this really is a B-movie, when he tells Audrey that the scientist is a deaf-mute (he doesn't have a hunchback, though, if you were wondering). It seems the poor man got this way due to an accident with radioactive materials (not possible unless he stuffed them in his ears). In addition to the problem of figuring out how to dispose of 15-pound tomatoes before they rot, Ed confesses that they have a problem with local fauna, such as snails and beetles, invading the greenhouse.
A tray full of slimy bugs and snails? Looks like the last in-flight meal I got on Southwest! rimshot
A nicely framed shot, one of the many in this movie (surprisingly).
Audrey doesn't beat around the bush: she tells Ed straight out that she thinks radiation was responsible for what happened to Ludlow. He's already heard about what happened, which makes me wonder why the military swore her to secrecy. Ed politely disagrees with her, and he shows her that their only radioactive materials are stored in a safe (which, however, is unlocked), and are in two half-gallon-sized possibly-lead containers labeled "Caution -- Formula Contains Radioactive Material -- Dangerous." As somebody who's been responsible for ensuring radioactive materials are properly labeled, I'm rolling on the floor laughing at this, but maybe this was acceptable in 1957. I also note that that sure is a small amount of material to destroy even a small town.
When did the hazmat symbols become standard?
Is it love at first vegetable? I think so.
Audrey hasn't even remarked on the giant tomatoes, but Ed enlightens her anyway. We learn that they really are tomatoes when Ed calls them that. For some reason they aren't actually edible, although he hopes to correct that soon. Let's hope so, because he thinks that giant fruits and vegetables are what farmers all over the world will be growing soon. Why do they need radioactive materials to grow them? Because, according to Ed, they act as artificial suns to stimulate photosynthesis, causing the plants to grow enormously. In fact, Frank, the deaf-mute scientist who looks suspiciously like an Igor, has to feed the plants minerals frequently to "keep them from burning themselves out." According to Ed, the plants would grow much larger if they didn't limit their stimulation. I just have to state here, and probably none of you will be surprised to hear this, that many experiments have been conducted in which plants were exposed to radiation, and not one of them ever grew to giant size.
Poor Frank, he's not going to get many SAG credits for this non-speaking role.
Ed offers to discuss the plants in more detail, but Audrey says she has to keep investigating the occurrence at Ludlow. Audrey is clearly not the sort of girl who gives up easily, and after her excursion to the experimental lab, she returns to army headquarters and has another go at wheedling the colonel to let her go to Ludlow. He grudgingly agrees, but insists that the captain she talked to earlier accompany her, and as they climb in the jeep, the colonel says ominously, "And I hope you have a strong stomach!" Ooh, do I need to warn squeamish readers not to watch this part of the movie? Well, no. Ludlow's an awful mess, with almost nothing left standing, but there's no sign of gore. The captain wasn't kidding when he said the inhabitants had vanished without a trace. Audrey gives up pretty soon, and there's really not a lot to see, but on the way back to headquarters, she reminisces sadly about the ruined cities she's seen during her career as a reporter. I who have watched many scenes of cities stomped flat by giant monsters am not too impressed by the sight of Ludlow, but in 1957 there must have been many people watching this movie who had been in real cities that had been bombed and shelled till nothing was left, and this scene probably did bring back bad memories.
Superimposed images, a nicely done optical trick.
Back at headquarters, the captain hits on Audrey, but he also reveals an interesting tidbit of information: a few months ago, a warehouse in the area was found similarly flattened. Audrey declines the captain's offer of a drink but decides to investigate the warehouse further. Either she's a little suspicious of Ed, or she really wants to see him again (he's much better-looking than any of the soldiers), because she goes back to his lab, where he and Frank are yet again bent over the plants. She asks him to take her to see the warehouse, and he may have a guilty conscience, because instead of saying huffily, "Hey, I'm not your tour guide, go there by yourself," he looks shifty and says he'd love to, but he's too busy right now. Audrey's not taking "no" for an answer, and Ed finally caves in when Frank chimes in with some sign language Ed says means that Frank thinks it's a good idea and he'd like to go along. They drive off in Audrey's car, leaving us with some unanswered questions. How can normal-sized vines possibly support such large tomatoes? Is Frank an Igor? How could tomatoes destroy a town?
The captain gets frisky, in violation of several clauses of the Army Officer's Handbook.
This girl does a lot of driving. I'm actually surprised that Ed didn't just barge over and take the wheel just because he's a man, this is the 1950s, after all.
They make it to the warehouse all right, and it's in about the same shape as the town of Ludlow. It seems that the wreckage has been left undisturbed since the incident, although if this was done to preserve any evidence, it seems pointless since the area hasn't been secured in any way. The warehouse seems to be in an isolated area, too, which makes me wonder what a warehouse was doing there in the first place, but oh well. The three investigators poke around the ruins a little, which is risky since you never know when the debris might collapse on you, but that's their business. To be sure, falling debris will shortly prove to be the least of their worries, because they hear a peculiar sound (well, Ed and Audrey do), and they turn around to see...What do they see, Nate?
"My once-promising career! No!"
Thanks, Pam. Well, would you believe that a giant, elephant-sized, radiation-mutated grasshopper done just leapt up and chomped up poor Frank? Of course you would, because you've seen Them!, and Tarantula, and Earth vs. The Spider, and The Deadly Mantis, and Attack of the Crab Monster, and a dozen other 1950s movies where the mysterious and misunderstood power of radiation has turned some normally benign creature into a monstrous, city-munching beastie, fueling all our collective nightmares of the dangers of splitting the atom. The actual animal doesn't matter, it could be fluffy bunnies or clams, the basic underlying point of these types of movies is always the same, that mankind is messing with something that should really be left to the gods (and the ancient Indus Valley civilizations...).
Grasshopper do look pretty ugly.
Basic primal fear drives the plots of these Atomic Beast movies, fear of scientists unlocking a doorway to something so unimaginably horrifying that it means the death of us all. And from a 1950s perspective, in an era when the A-Bomb and the invisible Gamma Ray were still mostly the instruments of pulp science fiction novels and exploitative b-movies, that fear was very real and very justified. People just didn't know what radiation could and could not do and with every test and experiment it seemed that even more questions needed answered about the long term effects on living things. And so the monstrous grasshoppers of Beginning of the End are just placeholders for our own unspeakable fear of the unknown, huge and tangible reminders that there are things in this world that we have no control over, no matter how "advanced" our science is and how imposing our military might may be. The thought that something as completely invisible as radiation could cause so much ruin and death flies in the face of our hubris that we can mold, kill, and control anything in the physical world with our brains and our opposable thumbs.
Never forget that atomic radiation caused this...
Anyway, giant locusts! Run, white people, run! Let's just get it out of the way, the special effects are terrible. Like what my three-year old could do with an ant farm and a rainy afternoon, that kind of terrible. Grasshoppers filmed crawling around on photographs looks exactly like grasshoppers filmed crawling around on photographs, but that's ok, because we're watching a slapped-together b-movie with a 14-day shooting schedule and a non-union editing crew. It's screamingly fake, indeed, but it's endearingly fake in a way that makes you laugh knowingly along with the movie and not at it, if you know what I mean. If this were a "modern b-movie" the bugs would be shitty Korean animation and everyone would be stumbling around in front of a green screen, and I for one would rather watch grasshoppers dancing on the negatives.
My money is always on suitmation, though that probably wouldn't work for grasshoppers.
Much stink has been made about how this film was so atrocious that theaters refused to even run it after a week or so. True, it's a weaksauce excuse for a movie, but it's not a movie that killed anyone's career, despite how bad it faired critically and commercially in 1957. This isn't Heaven's Gate or Showgirls, I can't imagine Beginning of the End's total budget would cover Elizabeth Berkley's g-string dry cleaning bill, so it's hard to really bash it too hard. Also, remember that everyone involved had already moved on to other projects long before this movie was even released in theaters. Peter Graves had two other movies come out the very same year, Peggy Castle three, and Morris Ankrum had a whopping eight credits in 1957 alone, so it's not like the leads were sitting around wringing their hands, worried sick that no one would like that giant bug b-movie they phone-it-in over a couple of weeks during the summer. Heck, even the director Bert Gordon had four other movies in production at the same time he was cutting this one, his career had already moved on long before he dumped a bucket of sleepy crickets on a photograph of the Chicago skyline and rolled camera.
Peter Grave's career was transcendent. And amusing.
Anyway, I'm wandering a lot from the movie, sorry. So, being a take-charge kinda scientist, Ed personally leads a squad of National Guardsmen out to the woods after the local area commander refuses to believe his story. They make contact with the bugs soon after dismounting from their truck and the lead starts to fly. The soliders are routed and they flee in the truck after firing a zillion bullets at the beasts. A normal-sized grasshopper's carapace is pretty tough, and if you take into account the exponential increase in size and mass, it's actually not hard to believe that it would be able turn away .30 caliber rifle rounds without injury. Notable in this scene is that Ed himself takes up a gun and starts shooting. Rarely do you see the "scientist character" in b-movies doing this, they are usually philosophically opposed to the heavy-handed violent methods of the military, preferring to study and reason with the beasties instead of attack them with primitive weapons. But Marge was right, it's trying to reason with Grasshopperus that got Chad Everett killed...
Curious about the Army colonel's onyx pinkie ring, seems a bit unprofessional.
Take that, liberal arts major!
You know, Peter Graves is a fine actor and quite a handsome, square-jawed leading man type, and he seems to be having fun on this film. You really should force yourself to look beyond the fake bug effects and the blithering technobabble and all the garage-band quality music cues and just watch a handful of rather good actors and one unsurprisingly underused actress do a fantastic job with the hokey material they've been saddled with. While no one is this movie is really trying that hard (they were all aware of the genre) most of them do well enough to make you believe that these are real people and not just cardboard cut-outs in suits and pearls. There's also some nice directorial touches to be seen, especially in the way conversations are filmed from multiple camera angles and edited nicely together. And I absolutely love all the outdoor local shoots, in bright, black/white film-friendly daylight. I can't tell you how many b-movies have been ruined by the questionable decision to film every scene in the dark (I get "mood" and "atmosphere", but sometimes it's nice to actually be able to see facial expressions and background props).
Look at all that natural light! Can't pay enough for that.
So, the world is now aware of the presence of giant, radioactive mutant bugs, but outside of Nebraska corn farmers and biblical scholars, who really knows what locusts are and what they are capable of in great numbers? Well, thankfully Beginning of the End tells us! The movie grounds to a complete halt now for a science lesson as Ed goes to Stock Footage Washington DC and has a meeting with a table of politicians and generals. He tells them about locusts and their history and dangers and such, complete with visual aids and slide cards. All very interesting to be sure, but a b-movie is not really the right venue for a 100-level Introduction to Orthopterology class, I'd rather just focus on the results and not the cause. And Ed was a much more likable character when he was hosing down charging bugs with a Tommy gun, in my opinion.
You'd think a meeting about the end of the world would have better attendance.
Back on the ground, we hear that the thousands-strong swarm of giant locusts has easily broken through the Illinois National Guard's lines and is inexorably advancing on Chicago from the south. Ed flies back to central Illinois with some four-star general, but they have to divert to Chicago as the bugs are on the move. The rush is now to defend Chicagoland from the approaching hoarde of bugs, who have decided to bypass Peoria and Springfield and go right for Chicago (why?). Regular army units are called up, tanks rumble about, and terrified refugees are streaming into city. It's never really explained well why the locusts would enter the city versus staying in the open farmlands where their food supply is, but no one wants to watch a movie where the mutant locusts only attack redneck cowtowns and Amish farmsteads.
The cool helicopters look like bugs, a nice unintentional touch.
Final battle for Chicago now! The bugs and the US military meet in the southern outskirts of the city in an epic showdown of stock footage Army training films and superimposed bugs. The director shows some remarkable restraint here, surely knowing that his rapidly dwindling budget couldn't support showing much in the way of actual monster-on-human action, and doesn't really even try to do so. But the careful editing of stock footage and the occasional live-action insert shot, along with the liberal use of split-screen back-projection grasshoppers, makes this scene seem a lot more impressive than it really is. Anyway, the bugs win and storm the city. Kinda scary as the bugs chase helpless old women down the streets, but that's what you get for being old.
A soldier dies by locust smash, give than man a Silver Star!
Bugs invade the park, run!
I have to mention one thing here. While this movie has definitely been on the cheesy side of the Cheesy B-Movie Line, it hasn't really crossed over into purely exploitative for exploitations sake alone. Until now, when (yawn) we see a pretty girl in a towel, her sexy shoulders bare, as a giant bug sneaks up on her for some unwanted physical contact. This came smack in the middle of a fifteen-minute long sequence of tense terror and action as the bugs overrun the military and sack the city, and it just seemed so out-of-place that I have to wonder if someone in the studio didn't insist that there be a half-naked girl in this movie, regardless of the script. Things like that happened all the time in the 1950s studio system.
Did no one tell her giant bugs were invading Chicago?!?
Did I mention that Ed is the only scientist in the world? Apparently he is, because this guy, who just a few days ago was slumming it on a nearly-forgotten, under-funded, one-shack experimental farm in the sticks, is now the US government's primary (only?) source of information and exposition on the giant grasshoppers. Only he can tell you that the bugs are slowed in the cold night and that when the sun rises the next morning they will start chewing on everything and everyone. The general in charge is authorized to nuke the city at dawn in an overkill attempt to stop the bug swarm from spreading. It's up to Ed alone to come up with a plan and he thinks the last hope is to find a way to make a grasshopper mating sound effect to lure the bugs away from the city.
Ed's a bit uncomfortable with Ike looking over his shoulder.
He needs to test it on a live giant grasshopper so they find one that's just loafing around in an alley behind a bar, probably just trying to sleep it off. They capture it (off-screen, of course), bring it back to the lab (uh, how?) and shove it in a flimsy, weakly barred cage (sure). The optical effects here are truly terrible, but by this point we've seen far worse in this movie so you really don't even notice the blurry cut lines in the negatives or the drastic difference in film grain contrast. Why they felt the need to have this huge monster in the room with them is questionable, but I'm guessing the scriptwriter and the "special effects" guy were not on the same page, perhaps the scene was written with a much smaller bug in mind?
A few Sharpie strokes on that negative would make those bars look better.
Ed slips on his white lab coat, adjusts his slide rule, and gets to work McGuyver-ing up a Insect-o-sound-o-machine out of two coffeemakers from the craft services department and a prop polygraph machine (huh?) from the set of Dragnet. Ed randomly pushes random buttons and fiddles with fiddly knobs and the bug screeches like a banshee just across the office (deliberately enraging a 10-foot tall, 5-ton killing machine bug that's in the same small room as you doesn't exactly seem like a smart idea...).
Not all scientific machines are interchangeable, mister director.
While the worried general, who is still quite understandably doubtful that Ed's plan will work, makes an operator-assisted collect call to the airbase to talk to the nuclear bomber crew (what, seriously?), our female lead Audrey steps up to help Ed in his moment of need, volunteering to stand around and point at stuff while Ed does all the work. But still, she's here, risking her life to help out this guy that she just met a few days ago. Is she in love? Nothing so far would even suggest that. Does she have some patriotic feelings for Chicago? She's already said several times that she's from New York City, so probably not. Just sticking it out for the sake of getting the scoop? Maybe, if she survives and Ed's plan works out then she's going to be able to write one Pulitizer-worthy front pager about this day. The movie has just moved too fast for the Audrey character to get enough lines to make us understand her motivations.
Always looking sharp, these two.
And I seem to say this about all these sorts of b-movies, but when Ed and Audrey risk certain death for the cause, you never once hear them say that there's anyone in their personal lives who would mind if they were dead. All b-movie scientist are bachelors without families, all b-movie female love-interests are childless and alone, no one ever has any responsibilities to anyone but themselves or qualms about possibly dying in a few hours at all. Just seems strange to me that all these people exist in such a interpersonal vacuum.
Maybe they just like bugs.
So, crunch time now as it's a race between Ed's unproven and borderline crazy idea and the unstoppable hands of time, with the ultimate fate of the Windy City in the balance. Hey, where are all the other scientists and soldiers and patriots in America as our Second City is in mortal peril? Just hanging out at home, watching the news and eating burgers? Is there no one else who can help turn the tide, or who might have a better scientific idea, or maybe just be willing to try something else other than nuke the joint into glass? Is it because we, and by we I of course mean audiences of 1957, truly believe that one man, one lone scientist with a noble cause and a biology undergraduate degree who can't even afford a car of his own, can save humanity from its own folly? A folly that he himself is responsible for, by the way. Was the idolization of the super-smart scientist archetype so strong back in the 1950s that it was acceptable to believe that one guy alone could both create giant tomatoes and bugs and save us from them without the help of a couple dozen grad students and six years of grant funding applications? Is that why people still believe in the loner scientist guy who makes the 100-mpg carburetor in his basement or the one-man-band geneticist who has totally (totally!) cured cancer on his day off from Taco Bell? I'll turn the review over to Pam for the climax, but I'll also ask her, as someone who is a working scientist herself, what does she think of the role of the lone scientist in b-movies? Is it really that hard to believe that one man alone can save the world from Grasshopperus?
Science better win out, otherwise General McBaggyeyes here is going to nuke Chicago to the bedrock.
Nate, as far as the real world of today is concerned, I doubt a lone scientist could ever get the funding and the resources to accomplish a large project on his own. Everything from equipment to chemicals to Igors is just too expensive these days, plus you're not allowed to keep containers of radioactive material in your garage anymore. But this movie took place in 1957, so yeah, a lone scientist could save us from giant grasshoppers back then. Totally. Ok, not really. Well, actually, there were cases of lone researchers accomplishing some pretty impressive research on their own in improvised laboratories. Take Jack Parsons, for instance. Working on his own in the 1940s, he developed a solid rocket fuel that helped the United States enter the space age. Maybe I shouldn't have said "on his own," though. In addition to doing significant research without so much as a B.S., he was also a disciple of Aleister Crowley and, according to Wikipedia, chanted Crowley's Hymn to the Great God Pan before each rocket test launch. So you see the gods were helping him, too. His research ended with a literal bang when he blew himself up with mercury fulminate in his home laboratory. This is another reason why basement research is currently heavily discouraged, the neighbors don't like it. I have no idea if it's possible to develop an anti-giant-grasshopper formula on your own, though, this subject was never covered in any of my classes.
You should check out the size of Einstein's support staff and "research fellows", man had a lot of back-up.
However, Ed Wainwright is no doubt a lot smarter than I am, or maybe Pan likes him better than me. Ed pushes enough unmarked buttons and fiddles with enough anonymous knobs to come up with a sound Grasshopperus just can't resist. The general calls off the A-bomb strike, and Ed and Audrey, who's still hanging around, get down to business. Transmitters are set up at strategic locations in downtown Chicago, and the sound Grasshopperus likes best is broadcast throughout the metropolitan area to lure the grasshoppers downtown. Once they're concentrated there, the general, who's now out on Lake Michigan in a very small boat, will start up a transmitter and lure them all into the lake. The grasshoppers duly head downtown, and Ed gets to display his manliness by shooting several grasshoppers that try to climb the building he's in. Weren't these the grasshoppers the National Guard couldn't stop? The ones who were impervious to machine guns, heavy artillery, and tanks? And as many other reviewers have pointed out, the "special effects" here were too-obviously obtained by letting grasshoppers walk around on photographs of skyscrapers. I'm wondering why the grasshoppers devastated Ludlow but don't seem to be doing any damage to buildings in Chicago.
Hey, hey, hey, come back here! You did not use correct change at the bridge toll booth!
Once the grasshoppers are all downtown (and there don't seem to be more than about 20 of them -- I guess the budget was too limited to show swarms of them in Chicago), the general turns on his transmitter, and the grasshoppers enter the lake and drown. Problem solved. Back in the lab, Ed and Audrey hug. And the movie is over.
You'd think they could get a bigger boat, what with the end of humanity at stake and all.
My god, Peter Graves' hands are gigantic! Someone should check him for radiation mutations.
There were some good things about this movie. For one thing, the acting was decent. For another, the movie didn't give away the whole plot in the first ten minutes, there was some actual suspense. For a third, there was no voice-over. But looking at the entire movie, I can see why it didn't do well at the box office. It had promise, but it just didn't follow through. The characters were strictly stock characters interchangeable with those in most other B-movies. Poor Frank was the only one with a little individuality, and we didn't see enough of him to know what he was really like outside of his disability. This was true of all the other characters, too. As Nate pointed out, none of them were fleshed out enough for us to care about them.
Frank does get a pretty good death scene.
The view of Ludlow after the destruction was a good start, but there were no big cataclysmic scenes of grasshoppers actually destroying anything. As I mentioned, they didn't seem to be damaging anything in Chicago. I'm sure the budget didn't allow for much in the way of special effects, but the sight of giant grasshoppers moving through the streets of Chicago wasn't particularly frightening, and all the screaming people didn't do much to scare us. Did we actually see anybody get eaten? I don't think so, I think the camera always cut away before a grasshopper chomped down on anybody. And even if you have grasshoppers that eat people, is it realistic that they will eat every scrap of a person, bones and all, not even leaving any blood? I can't suspend my sense of disbelief enough to believe this. This brings up another point: grasshoppers, even great big ones, just aren't that scary. Better special effects would have helped this movie, but probably not enough. Once we know the mysterious attackers are grasshoppers, all fear evaporates, and there's not much point in watching the movie. The Killer Shrews was a better movie, even though the special effects, what there were of them, were much worse than those in this movie.
Locusts have more legs than shrews. True fact.
How about you, Nate? Did you like this movie?
Well, Pam, I'm not sure I even remember it anymore, it was that forgettable, though it wasn't "bad" at all, just bland. All these types of movies follow the same well-traveled path...man creates monster, monster rebels against man, man has to kill monster, and the guy gets the girl in the end. If I had to point to one thing in this movie that has stuck with me in the week since I watched it, it would be that one throwaway scene of Audrey, Ed, and Frank talking about what wrecked the silos, just before the first reveal of the giant grasshopper. It's not what they were talking about that was memorable, I can't recall even the gist of their conversation, but what I remember clearly is the way Audrey was leaning on a big pipe, slouched over with her hands on her knees. In an era when all leading ladies in b-movies stood in ramrod-straight, chest-thrust-out, hips-back, tip-toe, runway model poses in every single scene, it struck me as refreshingly odd that the director had Audrey just hanging out with the boys like a normal woman would. Don't know why that sticks with me but it does.
I look for moments like these in crappy movies.
Written in March 2013 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...