Review: The Beast of Yucca Flats

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I had been warned about The Beast of Yucca Flats. I had been told that it was the worst movie ever made. Yes, even worse that Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space. But still, the life of a horror film critic is a masochistic one. And I wouldn’t leave my viewing of Coleman Francis’s 1961 gem unscathed.

Like all important films, The Beast of Yucca Flats starts with a boobie shot. An unknown, naked woman stands in front of a mirror towelling herself off. She saunters over to the bed so that she may better dry off her feet. Out of nowhere, an unseen man walks up to the naked woman and places his large hands around her throat and strangles her to death, all the while she remains silent. He lays the woman’s fresh corpse on the bed and opens her legs a bit. The camera pans to the woman’s stiff face as her body starts to move up and down as if something or someone was thrusting upon her. The title card appears.

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The initial scene of necrophilia, somewhat reminiscent of Janet Leigh’s death in a desert hotel room by an unknown murderer in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), is never mentioned again in the film, but its apathetically macabre aura will be felt throughout the entire film.

Francis’s The Beast of Yucca Flats is notorious for its use of Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson in his last acting role as Joseph Javorsky, a Soviet scientist, who turns into a monster after suffering from the radiation in the nuclear test site zone of Yucca Flats in Nevada. It is also notorious for its use no on-screen dialogue (all dialogue and narration was added in post-production) and its rambling and meandering plotline set in this devastated desert town.

Critics and viewers are quick to note its poor production value, its complete absence of narrative logic, and its repetitive and vacuous voice over narration. If that is of interest I suggest reading those reviews as they will be more eloquent than I. However, I can say from viewing The Beast of Yucca Flats there is something hypnotic, mesmerizing, and refreshingly experimental about the film. It reminded me of the Herk Harvey’s classic Carnival of Souls (1962) which transports the viewer into a modern purgatory.

But Coleman’s purgatory is uniquely American. It is a manifestation of American’s distrust of modernity. It draws upon the global devastation of the two World Wars and the Korean war, the apprehension of technological progress, fears over the environmental degradation of the planet, and the always present fear of communism and its threat to American democracy. There is a kind of bleak hopelessness in the film that I may even characterize as being postmodern. I think that to characterize Beast as a simple B movie that should have been left behind in the 1960s is an unfair treatment. Obviously, as I sit here in 2016 writing about it, the film has not been forgotten and I attribute that to a certain type of poignancy which permeates the film. It is repetitive and obtuse, but still at its core, there is something poignant and indescribable.

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Review: Alex Schultz

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