Friday, November 21, 2008

Attack of the the Eye Creatures (AIP, 1966)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

When Charles and I finally got together I ran a movie from the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 collection — from one of the later shows with Joel Hodgson, which seems to have been when MST3K hit their peak (just before Joel moved on and Mike Nelson, who’d already been working on the show as its principal writer, replaced him on screen) — of a film called Attack of the Eye Creatures. Actually it was originally called just The Eye Creatures — and in that form the filmmakers created a somewhat cool-looking logo in which the words “The Eye Creatures” were arranged in the shape of an eye — but someone decided they needed a more “action” title, so they patched in the words “Attack of the … ” just above “The Eye Creatures,” so the actual on-screen title ended up Attack of the the Eye Creatures.

The MST3K crew’s mockery of this ridiculous movie — which was one of a number of 1960’s made-for-TV productions by American International based on some of their almost as inane 1950’s drive-in sci-fi films (in this case, Invasion of the Saucer Men) — was pretty inspired, but the movie itself, even with their lampooning, was pretty dull. The eye creatures themselves are white-clad actors with their baskets (the male ones, at any rate) clearly visible; they’ve got bumpy ridges all over them that apparently represent their home planet’s version of very bad acne, and the only thing especially “ocular” about them is the gaping maws at the bottoms of their faces, which is where ordinarily one would expect to see mouths but instead one sees a lot of black specks one MST3K crew member compared to Beluga caviar (appropriately) and one assumes those are the titular eyes.

The film is in color, Washedoutcolor in which the only hue that reproduces vividly is blue — an inadvertent opposite to two-strip Technicolor — and the “stars,” if you can call them that, are John Ashley (the man who sang “You Gotta Have Ee-Ooo,” a song whose title is its own critique, in the otherwise quite entertaining 1958 AIP production How to Make a Monster) and Cynthia Hull as Stan Kenyon and Susan Rogers, respectively, one of a number of young (straight) teen couples who do their necking on the farm of Old Man Bailey, who keeps trying to warn them off with a shotgun (at one point he actually pulls the trigger, but he’s forgotten to load the gun first) and dialogue like, “Another carload of those blasted smoochers on my property! I’ll get the law after ’em.” It’s one of those movies that’s so dull even the MST3K interjections couldn’t make it entertaining — though I did like the fact that whenever the hero was introduced as “Stan Kenyon” one of the crew joked, “Stan Kenton?” — an “in”-joke that probably sailed over the heads of most of MST3K’s younger viewers. (I just wanted them to take it a bit further and have Old Man Bailey beckon Stan to the piano and growl, “If you’re Stan Kenton, let’s hear you play ‘Artistry in Rhythm.’”

The utter impotence of the eye creatures themselves is one of the most bizarre and awful elements in this film. They’re supposed to have killed one of the human characters but it’s impossible to figure out how, and when one of them gets its arm severed, the arm continues an independent life of its own (courtesy of all-too-visible wires moving the prop), a gimmick that didn’t come off that well even in The Beast with Five Fingers (a much better movie than this, made at a major studio with a strong director, Robert Florey) and looks even sillier on an AIP made-for-TV budget. Ashley and Hull at least have a faint idea of acting — something that seems to elude the rest of the cast, especially the ones who play Army officers looking at a new infrared setup and using it to play long-distance peeping Tom on the kids necking in the field (and who come off so queeny one wonders why they’re bothering to look at straight people necking and haven’t trained the device on the nearest tearoom instead).

The climax comes when the kids realize they can incinerate the monsters with flashbulbs and other quick bursts of light — sort of like the way the kids in The Horror of Party Beach (a rotten movie that looks like a masterpiece compared to Attack of the the Eye Creatures!) killed the monsters by throwing sodium flakes at them — and we realize that The Giant Spider Invasion was not the stupidest and most irremediable movie MST3K aired in its long run. The MST3K crew followed up the movie with a twist-the-knife-in segment showing stills from the film exposing all its technical defects, including the rapid-fire alternations between night (or what’s supposed to be night — this is the sort of film where, even when it’s “night,” the sky is still blue) and day that would have embarrassed even Ed Wood, and the fact that the budget was so low that some of the “monsters” wore only the head and shoulders of a monster costume and a black turtleneck and leotard under it — which could have worked if the director, Larry Buchanan (who even “appeared” at the end of this, courtesy of an MST3K cast member “playing” him), could have avoided showing them in all their non-finery in some of the monsters’ group-attack scenes.