1/4/07

621 The Beast of Yucca Flats

(1961, Horror, b&w), with:

Money Talks
(1951, Educational, b&w), and:

Progress Island U.S.A.
(1973, Educational-Civic, color)

Flag on the moon. How did it get there?

Rating: 1/2*

In a nutshell:

Short #1: The ghost of Ben Franklin warns a cash-strapped teen about frivolous spending.
Short #2: Let’s all move to Puerto Rico!
Film: Tor Johnson wanders the desert in a murderous rage.

Short Summaries:

Fine purveyors of rum to the drunken masses.Our first short is Money Talks, in which a scrawny high school kid named Bill wants to take Bob’s sister to a dance. Unfortunately, he only has fifty cents of the required two-dollar entry fee. Appeals to his father for extra cash go unheeded. Depressed and alone, Bill gazes at his last fifty-cent piece, and asks the profile of Ben Franklin why he’s “always in the red.” The coin spins hypnotically. The room goes dark.

The ghost of Ben Franklin appears in silhouette, and, with the aid of his magic mirror, he drags the teen back through the recent past. They go over Bill’s income of about six or seven dollars per week (pretty good for a kid in the fifties) and then see how he loses it all again in frivolous impulse purchases. Then they observe his fellow teen Bob, who has used his fiscal acumen to purchase his very own vehicle. Franklin teaches Bill the basics of making and keeping a budget, and the vision ends. Bill earns another dollar-fifty by giving budget tips to his dad.

The second short is Progress Island, U.S.A., in which an enthusiastic voice-over narrates a film montage of industry and art in praise of that towering pillar of Western culture, Puerto Rico. The camera moves through factories, historic architecture, and sugarcane fields at a breakneck pace. We soon learn that Puerto Rico has withstood attack by Sir Francis Drake, has a number of sandy beaches, and makes most of the rum sold in the United States. Though no specific entreaties are made, we come away with the feeling that makers of this film really, really want us to move there, or at least buy more rum.

Film Summary:

The Beast of Yucca Flats stars Tor Johnson as Joseph Javorsky: Lumbering Scientist, and Coleman Francis as The Voice With Ninety-Nine Percent Of The Spoken Lines In The Film. It opens with a depressed woman getting out of the shower in her gray and barely furnished apartment. The burned and mangled Javorsky strangles her and proceeds to make free with her corpse.

In what I think is a flashback, we learn that Javorsky has recently defected from the Soviet Union, carrying all of that nation’s most precious aerospace secrets in a tiny briefcase. Upon his arrival in Yucca Flats, KGB agents kill his incompetent escort and pursue him into the desert. Someone sets off a nuclear bomb nearby, somehow turning the benevolent Soviet expatriate into a sex-crazed killing machine.

Now referred to as “The Beast,” he stalks the desert looking for victims. He happens upon a stranded motorist and his wife and strangles them both. He carries off the woman (so he can molest her corpse later, I think) but a pair of vigilante-ish desert lawmen finds her husband’s body and tracks him into the desert. The Beast leaves her behind when he hears them coming. The lawmen carry her halfway out of the desert before changing their minds about her vital state and discarding her corpse. They decide to hunt for the Beast by plane.

Meanwhile, a family of four goes on vacation to beautiful Yucca Flats. They’re forced to pull over in the middle of nowhere when they blow a tire. The boys, Art and Randy, wander into the desert while their father, Hank, makes the necessary repairs. They predictably get lost and find The Beast, who chases them into a cave before lying down to sleep at its entrance.

Hank goes out to look for them, running and calling their names. A vigilante cop in a light plane sees a man running in the desert, assumes he must be the Beast, and starts shooting. Hank goes down with a bullet wound in some body part or other. In the many scenes of staggering that follow, he alternately clutches his leg, shoulder, and side. He goes for help at a nearby ranch, abandoning his wife by the side of the road.

The cop parachutes down, meets up with his partner, and runs into the real Beast, who has started to chase the boys across the countryside again. Several gunshots and an aborted strangling later, the Beast lays dead. The boys are reunited with their parents. The Beast’s corpse kisses a jackrabbit for no discernable reason.

Introduction:

Proposition Deep 13 guarantees a new car in every pot.Mike is wallpapering the Satellite of Love while doing his best to ignore the “helpful” running commentary of Tom and Crow. He shows the fruits of his labors to Gypsy, who shrieks in horror.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank have balloons and banners to push Proposition Deep 13, a vaguely political initiative that’s long on superlatives, but short on actual substance. The main gist is that they will send the film The Beast of Yucca Flats to destroy all those who live on the Satellite of Love. Crow blows a horn while Tom gives Mike a pompous introduction. Mike delivers a grand rebuttal speech, enumerating their past victories and promising they will triumph over this movie as well. Dr. Forrester tells them it’s a Coleman Francis movie. “We’re doomed!” wails Crow.

Host Segment Two:

Mike and the ‘Bot’s relaxation is interrupted by a nearby trailer party. Drunken trailer park rednecks appear in the Hexfield Viewscreen and give Mike a hard time when he asks them to keep it down. Crow pops over to join them until Tom scares them off by imitating a police siren.

Host Segment Three:

Crow asks over and over again if it’s eleven-thirty. Mike replies over and over again that it is not. When the appointed time finally arrives, Crow rushes out for a sandwich. He comes back and asks, “When will it be eleven-thirty again?”

Host Segment Four:

Crow asks the viewers to donate to the Film Anti-Preservation Society, an organization that transfers awful films (such as The Beast of Yucca Flats and anything starring Sylvester Stallone) to easily degradable mediums so they can fade peacefully into oblivion.

Host Segment Five:

Mike delivers a victory speech, for they have triumphed by surviving yet another awful film. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester stumbles through the first part of a concession speech before trailing off in disgust. He turns to Frank and says, “I’m going to start slapping you, and I may never stop.” “Let the healing process begin,” Frank replies. We hear slapping sounds over the closing credits.

Stinger:

The Beast throws a rock and lets loose a feral cry.

Thoughts:

The ever-dignified Tor Johnson.Content is a little thin in the shorts. Their messages can be entirely stated in one sentence each. For Money Talks it’s, “Spend less than you earn.” For Progress Island U.S.A. it’s, “Puerto Rico is just as good as the rest of the United States.” Despite the fat talking shadow, the first delivers good advice; it’s something I wish I knew how to do when I was a teenager. The second is…well…okay, I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but their public image is that of crushing class poverty drawn along ethnic lines, combined with the constant threat of hurricanes. If the filmmakers were hoping to change that image with this film, they will (or have already) come away disappointed. On the other hand, it’s an image they share with most of the states that border the Gulf of Mexico.

The Beast of Yucca Flats is the first of Coleman Francis’ films, and the last one to be featured on MST3K. I shouldn’t need to tell you about how awful it is. If you’ve been reading these reviews in order, you know I consider Mr. Francis to be one of the worst, if not the worst, director in the history of film. In this case, the utter awfulness of his filmmaking technique is secondary. That anyone thought it would be a good idea to make a film about a hulking mutant necrophile amazes me. That other people agreed with him and gave him money to make it is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Like most deserts, Yucca Flats probably has a startlingly complex ecosystem and a number of fascinating Native American artifacts. I don’t know, and I probably will never know, since, in my mind, the place is forever connected with the drab, gray oeuvre of Coleman Francis. If I ever have the misfortune to wander into it, I will put my foot to the accelerator, stopping only to hide in the bushes every time I hear the drone of passing aircraft. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it to happier climes before my will to live dissipates entirely.

This episode has one funny host segment, one obscure host segment, and four fairly amusing host segments (counting the introduction). The funny one is the space-going trailer park party, featuring Bridget Jones as an obnoxious drunk, and Mary Jo Pehl (always note-perfect when it comes to portraying trailer trash) coming on to Crow. The obscure one is Crow’s obsession with eleven-thirty, which derives from Frank Conniff’s behavior in the Best Brains writing room (see the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide). The rest are fairly amusing.

Tom starts off the film segments in Money Talks by observing that our hero, Bill, has “had his chest excavated.” In Progress Island U.S.A. the Satellite Crew gets around the rapid-fire narrator by minimizing everything he says. When the narrator praises a resort for having “Old World charm and modern convenience,” Mike adds, “That means no hamburgers.” During The Beast of Yucca Flats, the vigilante cops spend a lot of time rock climbing. This inspires Crow to comment, “Why did they call this flat? I get the Yucca part.” When the massive Tor Johnson wanders off with a lady corpse, Mike notes, “It’s like being abducted by Montana.” As the narrator, Coleman Francis delivers the funniest lines himself. His attempts at serious social commentary include such lines as, “Push a button. Something happens,” “Nothing bothers some people. Not even flying saucers,” and “Flag on the moon. How did it get there?” They’re so disconnected from both the continuity of the film and reality in general that you have to laugh at their sheer non sequitur absurdity. Assuming, of course, that you can muster some amusement out of the hopeless gray of the rest of the film. The last time I reviewed a Coleman Francis film I said that no commentary, however funny, could have saved it. In fact, that’s true of all his films, including this one.