The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
“Commies made him an atomic mutant!”
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Director: Coleman Francis
Cast: Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford
Synopsis: A defecting Soviet scientist is hit by a nuclear explosion near Yucca Flats and roams around as a beast.
When a movie boasts Swedish wrestler and Ed Woods cohort Tor Johnson as its guest star you know you’re in for a rough ride, and Coleman Francis’s Grade-Z horror The Beast of Yucca Flats certainly doesn’t disappoint on that score. Johnson was apparently a very pleasant chap in real life, but he had a face and physique made for horror flicks. He also had the kind of acting skills that meant he would never rise above rubbish like this other than to appear in non-speaking bit parts in more mainstream movies.
He plays Joseph Javorsky, a defecting Russian scientist who flees – or rather rambles – into the desert when his car is ambushed by the KGB. He has the misfortune to wander into Yucca Flats, an atom bomb test ground, just as a test explosion takes place, and before you know it he’s a crazed beast throttling random people for no reason other than he really, really wants to kill things. His victims die silently, not because they’re paralysed with fear – although Johnson is a terrifying sight – but because Francis couldn’t be bothered to post-synch the sound, choosing instead simply to have the camera looking somewhere else whenever any of his characters was speaking. People have conversations with their backs to camera, or we see torsos conversing through a car window, or from a distance of 100 metres or more. Not that the onscreen characters have much dialogue – which is probably just as well because we don’t even have to hear them talk to see that they are actors with zero talent.
Most of the dialogue is delivered via Francis’s Twilight Zone-style narration, which is little more than the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a drunkard on the verge of stupefaction: ‘Nothing bothers some people.’ ‘he intones, ‘not even flying saucers’ as a gas station attendant fails to rise from his lounger upon the arrival of a customer; ‘Flag on the moon,’ he observes apropos of nothing, ‘how did it get there?’ Sometimes he stirs from such navel-gazing to comment on the action taking place on the screen: ‘Boys from the city, not yet caught by the whirlwind of progress, feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs.’ Having said that, had The Beast of Yucca Flats not contained such an eccentric narration there’s no doubt it would have been even more mind-numbingly boring than it already is.
There’s plenty more that is wrong with The Beast of Yucca Flats – and precious little that is right – but to bang on about it really would be flogging a dead horse, and I always feel a certain amount of sympathy for makers of really bad movies. These guys at least have the drive and ambition to get off their butts and have a go at realising their dream, and you have to admire them for that. Anthony Cardoza, the producer of this one, worked as a welder to raise the $37,000 budget. Now $37,000 is no small amount of money today, so imagine its value more than half a century ago. It’s easy to laugh at these incompetent amateurs – especially when a movie is as bad as The Beast of Yucca Flats inarguably is – but that derision should be tempered by the knowledge that, against the odds, these guys at least realised a vision that most people never will.
(Reviewed 17th March 2015)