The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Hello all. A first today for MMT, a joint review of this excruciatingly stinky little time-waster. Myself and Head Editor Pam will be doing alternating ten-minute segments, but this is our first attempt at something like this, so cut us some slack. The Beast of Yucca Flats is a legendarily bad movie, consistently on everyone's Top Ten Worst lists, and deservedly so. Still, since it has such high name-recognition amongst the exclusive community of b-movie aficionados, it's high time I gave it a look.
A note on picture quality: While most of the free public domain sites offer only grainy VHS-rips, my DVD copy is a surprisingly crisp and clean digital transfer, considering I bought it online for just $1.39. After I watched it a few times, however, it occurred to me that I probably should have spent that $1.39 on a chicken burrito from Taco Bell.
On to the show (me first)...
Our pre-credits scene gives us a nekkid boob within five seconds (perhaps a new MMT record), as a pixie-looking girl with a Sandy Duncan tomboy haircut stands in front of a mirror and gives us a blink-and-miss Janet Jackson. This is only noteworthy because of my utter surprise at seeing it in what I always thought of as a harmlessly bland little sci-fi film from the golden age of b-movies. In 1961, this girl's nipple would have kept The Beast of Yucca Flats off the majority of "respectable" movie screens (so as not to inflame the sinful urges of our fair nation's impressionable youth) and relegated it to skeevy midnight peepshows and houses of ill repute. Cut out that half-second nipple shot, however, and this would make natural fodder for every drive-in across America. Why the filmmakers would deliberately limit their revenue opportunities in such a severe manner is completely beyond me.
Reflected boobs are the best boobs.
If I may digress, I saw a few things in her bedroom while trying to powerwash the salacious image of her boobs out of my innocent mind. As an oldschool Big Eight football fan I noticed...
1) Stuffed tiger (Mizzou-Rah!).
2) Prairie schooner wagon (Oklahoma Sooners).
3) Empty trashcan (representative of all of Nebraska).
Also, nice shoes.
As she sits on her bed, rubbing her legs for no good reason, she's attacked! She's clearly nearsighted and deaf, because her assailant (we see just glimpses of his torso) just walks right up to her as she sits there in her room, her flight-or-fight reaction apparently in stand-by mode today. After she's dead, she's then (maybe?) raped. The camera shows her attacker lifting her onto the bed, then cuts to her face as the bed seems to be bouncing up and down. All this savage murder and necrophilia-rape damn well better be explained.
Is it over yet?
So, after some opening credits (yawn), we open at an airfield out in the high desert (never explicitly said but we can be sure it's Nevada). An annoying, movie-long Voice-Over starts up almost immediately, pouring out exposition from a leaky pitcher and often spoiling any real sense of suspense and mystery. The voice itself may be the main reason I despise it so, a Dragnet-like droll, monotone flat-line, like some guy reading actuary reports. Anyway, a little Cessna four-seater comes in to land on the dirt airstrip. The helpful Voice-Over tells us that it holds a defected Rooskie atomic scientist named Joseph Javorsky, who's got this nifty briefcase full of Nikita's secrets, which he's supposed to give to our own atomic smartyheads. Really, he's arriving in America on that little plane in the middle of nowhere? I'm quite certain there's a few more steps in between "him standing in Russia" and "him landing unattended in this dinky plane in the middle of bumfuck Nevada".
The plane landing. I ran the FAA registration number (N97434), but it has been scrapped for decades.
Javorsky is played by b-movie legend Tor Johnson, probably best known as the lunkyhead zombie in Plan 9 from Outer Space, but he also showed up in a number of other equally miserable movies. While on the surface a physically imposing man who towers over everyone around him, he's morbidly obese and in every scene seems to be seconds-shy of a massive pork chop-and-baked potato coronary. Most oddly, he has not one single line of intelligible dialogue the entire movie (and "Mmahgaghaha!!!" is not a word), making me wonder if there was some contract issues that didn't get worked out before filming began. This was the last movie Tor ever appeared in before he died in 1971 (I won't say "acted in", because that's not what he does here by any stretch of the imagination).
Javorsky casts a huge shadow.
Pulling up in a rare old Valiant sedan are two criminal-looking dudes in tacky hats and skinny ties. Our Voice-Over notes that they are "ruthless" Rooskie KGB assassins, sent by the dastardly Kremlin to kill Javorsky before he can spill his secrets. Instead of taking a page from Beria's textbooks on sneaky assassinations using poison darts and anthrax spray cans, these two guys just decide to draw iron and start shooting.
He just looks like a Rooskie, doesn't he?
As so we have a wicked gunfight at the airport, with the two godless freedom-hating commie agents versus one redblooded American Fed and a uniformed US Army driver (all that came to meet Javorsky at the airport). The editing here is atrocious, with endless shots of guys aiming and peeking around corners, and what seems like thousands of identical "pwing!" and "ka-pop" sound effects foley'd in. Close observation also notes that all parties involved seem to be using the same prop revolvers (with obvious white grips). It's actually possible that there was only one gun, you never see more than one in any scene. After a few minutes of this, Javorsky gets hustled into a Ford station wagon and off they go.
Get in the wagon!
The "car chase" is a slow, meandering Sunday drive through desert scrub and pinon woods, with the bad guys politely keeping their distance around curves. The Rooskies do take potshots at the car they're tailing, but seem to be aiming at a point several dozen feet above and to the right of the car. Seriously, if these two bumbling, half-blind, gun-shy agents are the best that Mother Russia can come up with, then we spent way too much money during the Cold War trying to defeat them. We should have just parachuted in a box of kittens and a junior high girl's volleyball team, could have had a McDonald's on Red Square by '54.
Lights on for safety!
Halfway through the chase, they run a guy in a Ranchero off the road and the camera lingers on his face for a while. Do we see him ever again? No, but that's not a surprise. This is the type of movie where all the director's friends and relatives show up in bit parts and financiers are repaid with pointless cameos. If I had to guess, this guy probably did the director a big favor and this was what he wanted in return. I have to say, however, that I'd also rather take a ten-second cameo in a movie than little bit of cash, fortune is fleeting but fame endures.
Bradley Cooper? Carlisle Cullen?
Forsaking the perfectly good pavement for a rutted dirt road, they bounce past a sign for "Yucca Flats", which is a real place on the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The cars stop and everyone piles out and the shooting starts up again in earnest. Frequent cut-aways and dramatic close-ups can't cover up the fact that the two groups of gunmen are maybe fifteen feet from each other. After firing like mad for what seems like hours, the Fed's revolver finally clicks empty. He pulls the trigger once more just to make sure and then looks down dumfounded at the pistol for a second (this is apparently the first time he's ever fired a gun before). The Fed then "gets shot", clutches his stomach, makes an amusing O-face, and falls over politely. The driver is also shot, and carefully lays down on the ground to await his paycheck.
Damn, just aim already.
And because I'm more obsessed with fashion that Christian Siriano, I also noticed that everyone's suit doesn't fit them properly and when they stretch their arms out the cuffs ride up almost to their elbows. I don't know why this bothers me so much but it does. On that, I like how everyone wears suits and ties in the blazing Nevada summer. You just never see guys wearing suits anymore unless they're lawyers or politicians, and almost no one wears fedoras anymore except for ironic hipster wannabes. Myself, I miss the bygone days of dressing up to look sharp, even the regional managers of my own Fortune 500 company show up in Polo shirts and Dockers these days. Disgraceful.
Also note the prison-grade forearm tattoo and the pinky ring on the Fed.
Anyway, Javorsky runs off into desert with his briefcase full of goodies. By "runs", of course, I mean "shambles slowly and laboriously, gingerly dragging his bum leg over the sandy scrub in obvious real agony". He takes off his size 60 suitcoat to beat the heat, though his unkempt, wrinkled, button-straining white dress shirt only makes him look even more like that homeless guy down at the bus station who yells at people. How much did Tor get paid for this gig? His over-worked aorta must have been demanding a raise by then.
Taking a stroll.
Suddenly, ka-blooey! We get two (completely dissimilar) stock footage clips of nuclear test explosions and an echoing thunder-crack leaps out from the soundtrack. So they managed to drive deep into a nuclear test range just minutes before one was about to pop? Really? Those events were extremely well-secured, with perimeter patrols and radar over-flights and all that, specifically to make 110% sure than no one was "downrange" so to speak when the bomb went off. It would be impossible to drive right up under one like that without someone noticing.
They couldn't even match the frame size of the clip, lousy editing work.
But it is what it is and the flash-bang of the nuke torches the two Rooskie agents (it looks like the boom is right on top of them) and catches Javorsky out in the open, fully exposed to all that nasty mutation-causing, soul-searing radiation. We see a close-up of his scarred hand reaching pitifully for the (literally) flaming briefcase. Earlier we heard that it contained info on the secret Rooskie moon landing (in 1961!), which might be the only interesting thing about this movie (though I wonder why he was supposed to hand it over to our "atomic scientists" as it seems like it would something more for our Air Force or NASA to handle). Anyway, as the strontium trickles down from the atmosphere and the mushroom cloud dissipates in the summer wind, I'll turn the review over to Pam.
A nice shot, too bad the stunt hand doesn't look anything at all like Tor Johnson's hand.
Pam here. I ought to say here that I'm watching a public-domain version of the movie at Internet Archive, and unlike Nate's DVD, the quality is abysmal, so it's likely I'll miss out on some details. The next scene opens to a car driving down an empty road in the middle of the desert. The movie quality is so bad you can't tell if it's now night or day, but since the car's headlights are on, I'll assume it's night. Is it the Rooskies searching for their missing scientist? No, it's a couple who stopped their car in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason, and the annoying voiceover tells us they're on vacation, as though it matters. (In fact we never see the Rooskies again, so it appears that Nate was right and the bomb finished them off.) The man gets out and roots around in the trunk while his wife (who is pretty homely, I have to say) sits in the car and smokes a cigarette. The camera dwells on her for longer than is really necessary, leading me to suspect, as Nate said about the guy in the Ranchero, this woman was a friend of somebody important who was connected to the movie.
No woman looks sexy smoking.
I have no idea what kind of car this is (Nate, can you help?) but it's got doors that are hinged in back, which I've always thought were kind of cool. (ed Nate: Actually, that's an extremely rare-for-America-in-1961 Renault 4CV, and he's not looking in the trunk, he's looking at the rear-mounted engine, probably feeding a carrot to the Frenchie hamster in the dinky little 21 horsepower engine to get it to spin the wheel a little faster...)
France's finest, 0-to-60 in 38 seconds, I could run that faster.
The man continues to search through the trunk, and all of a sudden we see hands around the man's neck. Judging from the lack of screaming, this whatever-it-is managed to approach the car and grab the man without either the man or his wife seeing or hearing anything. It's a peaceful death, much easier than you'd expect a strangulation to be: the man closes his eyes and folds up, slowly collapsing to the ground. His wife, mind you, is sitting in the car calmly smoking during this. The trunk lid is up, so she may not be able to see anything, but it's hardly credible she can't hear anything. To be fair, all the voiceover says about them is that they're on vacation, so it's possible they're both completely deaf, which would explain the lack of reaction.
Hope his hotel rooms are refundable.
Is the unknown figure going to be satisfied with killing the man? Is it going to wander off into the desert? Has it not sated its bloodlust, or is it at least exhausted from strangling a full-grown man? No, we see it reaching into the open window and putting its hands around the neck of the woman, who must be blind as well as deaf, as she doesn't even widen her eyes. The term "putting its hands around the neck" is completely accurate, as this being, whatever it is, does nothing as rude as grabbing. It gently eases its hands around the woman's neck and she peacefully falls backward in her seat, in what may be the gentlest murder scene ever filmed. The being opens the door and lifts the woman out, and at this point the voiceover tells us what everybody probably already knows, that this beast who walks like a man is Joseph Javorsky.
Must have had her iPod buds in.
If you were wondering how it happened that the briefcase caught on fire but the human being who was right next to it didn't, I have no explanation, but the "Beast" (Tor is listed in the credits as such, though not as "Javorsky" for some reason) has some nasty scars on his face and hands and his shirt is badly torn, so he didn't escape the atomic bomb unscathed. I also don't know what sort of bodily trauma could produce injuries that scar over so rapidly, but if I keep on being this picky I'll never get to the end of the segment I'm supposed to be reviewing, and watching this dog of a movie is getting more painful by the minute, so onward.
The Beast proceeds to carry the woman away from the road and into the desert, making heavy going of it, which is not surprising considering that he could barely carry his briefcase earlier. In fact, after a few steps away from the car, he has to switch from carrying the woman in his arms to clutching her with one arm and flailing the other to keep his balance. The actress's feet barely clear the ground, and this must have been incredibly uncomfortable for her, but luckily for her the camera cuts away after a few seconds. Or it may actually be a dummy, since it's completely stiff. By the way, since fashionista Nate started pointing out wardrobe oddities, I feel it's appropriate to say here that Javorsky was clearly wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt before the bomb exploded, and now, as the Beast, he's wearing a short-sleeved shirt. The sleeves weren't torn off, either, because a brief closeup showed the short sleeves were neatly hemmed.
Lugging her away from the car.
Back to the male vacationer, who is still lying behind the car. A passing motorist stops, looks through his pockets, and drives off, at first leading me to believe he stole the poor guy's wallet and left the body there, but I'm being unjust. It turns out this guy is trying to find a cop, and he finds one, identified by the narrator as "Joe Dobson -- Desert Patrol," a law-enforcement agency of which I've never heard. Officer Dobson duly heads for the body, where he is, according to the narrator, "caught in the wheels of progress," whatever that's supposed to mean. This narrator is really getting annoying. He sounds something like Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone, but he talks a lot more and doesn't make much sense. Joe Dobson evidently decides this is a little too much for him to handle alone and heads off to find help, as it appears that his car has no radio. Really? Radios in police cars were standard by 1961, and if anybody needs one, it's a cop that patrols alone in the desert. He's not driving a police car, though, so maybe it's his personal vehicle and he was off shift when that guy found him.
Joe, who looks 16-years old here.
The Beast is still staggering through the desert, clutching the woman from the car. Now that I look at her, it's only her legs that are stiff, so it probably was the actress being carried, doing her best to keep her feet from being dragged across the rocky ground. For such a big man, the Beast is having a very hard time carrying this fairly small woman, and it's obvious that, while the radiation left him scarred and seemingly unable to talk (or even close his mouth - it hangs open all the time), it didn't give him super strength. A quick check of the Internet showed that Tor Johnson suffered from a longstanding heart ailment, and he looks in really bad shape here. Some of the stumbling might have been intended to show the beast-like nature of the altered Javorsky, but mostly he looks about ready to collapse at any moment. It just doesn't seem possible that this wreck was able to strangle two healthy adults. Joe Dobson pulls up to a house, and...it's your turn, Nate. I have to rest my eyeballs for awhile.
Not sure who I feel more sorry for.
Ok, I'm back. Indeed, Pam, this movie is a...er, "unique experience" to watch, sort of like having pure concentrated stupidity poured directly into your soul. So Joe abandons the crime scene, leaving the dead man just laying there in the road, and drives out to a house to alert his partner Jim, who apparently doesn't have a telephone either. He's a Desert Patrolman like Joe, a former paratrooper, Korean War veteran, and a man in desperate need of hair care products. More on him later.
But this scene isn't about meeting Jim, it's about ogling his hot wife. For reasons that should be clear to any fan of b-movies, this woman spends her entire 25 seconds of screen time bending over and flashing her impressive, Grand Canyon-esque cleavage to the camera in an obvious attempt to channel the mystique of Jayne Mansfield. Considering the nipslip in the opening scene, I was surprised that she kept it all contained (though, her nightgown seems to be violating the laws of material science by not exploding under the sheer weight of her mammoth mammaries).
Anyway, the Beast is still out in the desert, lugging the wife around like a sack of potatoes. He hauls her up to a cave, because all movie monsters tend to gravitate towards caves and grottos and this movie is nothing if not derivative. The Beast lays the girl down on the rocks at the cave entrance (watch as the "unconscious" actress moves around quite a bit to find a comfortable position amongst the scree). He then gets down on all fours, straddles her, and begins some deep heavy sniffing of her face (!?). Does he rape her like he did the girl in the opening scene? That's unclear, but if he did try any funny business, he put her clothes back on afterwards (how polite).
Hmmm...girls don't smell like this back home in Russia.
The Voice-Over tells us that the Beast's exposure to the nuclear blast has driven him to "Kill just to be killing.", which is sufficient motivation, but then why did he bother hauling this chick off into the woods? Why didn't he just kill her on the road and be done with it? Was he exposed to an extra dose of boobatonium, rendering him unable to resist a woman's breasts? While I'm thinking about it, what sort of released radiation would cause Javorsky to become the Beast anyway? Of all the recorded cases of direct exposure to atomic radiation (and there are many), not one person turned into a shambling zombie killer (well, at least that's what the Gub'mint tells the sheeple). And is the filmmaker trying to say that splitting the atom will make men into monsters, that harnessing the power of nuclear fusion will strip away our humanity? Can it really be that simple, just an anti-nuclear protest thinly gauzed in a b-grade monster flick? Maybe so.
And he has a crooked staff!
Anyway, Joe and Jim go out looking in the area of the abandoned car, determined to find either the lost woman or the killer (is the poor husband still collecting buzzards and coyotes in the road?). We see them hiking around in their matching Desert Patrol outfits, their tin badges flashing in the summer sun and their low-slung holsters and cowpoke hats making them look like extras on The Big Valley. For being experienced desert experts and all, it seems pretty dumb for them to be out here without any water bottles, but men were tougher in the '60s.
Hey, looks like Elephant Rocks State Park!
They spy an isolated cave entrance, said to be a "1,000 feet up over a rocky cliffside", and somehow just know that they need to investigate. We see them scaling the dangerous rocky walls, one misstep away from falling to their deaths, which makes us wonder how the Beast, encumbered as he was with a hundred-pound unconscious woman under one arm, managed to do it. Apparently radiation turns you into a mountain goat over rocky slopes but leaves you barely able to stand on level ground (this needs more scientific study, perhaps on all those zombie mutants being kept at Area 51).
Bronson Caverns, anyone?
They quickly find the wife right where the Beast left her on the ground after their unholy carnal union (tsk, men...). Sadly, Joe and Jim's version of emergency medical aid is to walk right up to an unconscious victim and immediately start shaking them around (must have taken classes at the Japanese Kaiju Victims School). Halfway down the mountain, however, she expires, never having woken up and never having actually seen her killer. It's unclear, but they might have just left her body up there in the hills, it's not like we've been seeing any real police work here so far. Ok, that's the end of my second part. Back to Pam for the exciting middle act.
Ouchy, that looks painful.