Yes, it's another one of those - a movie which, when viewed as a young Dr. Freex, terrified me like few others. Now, viewed many years later, The Crawling Eye holds up passably well, unlike many other such films, which have only become laughable with the passing years (although it should be mentioned that this was the inaugural film for Mystery Science Theater 3000 ). Based on a British TV serial called The Trollenberg Terror, there are segments that still pack a punch, forty years later.
We start with the typical TV teaser: three students are climbing the Trollenberg, a mountain in Switzerland; while two rest on a ledge, the third has gone ahead to scout about. He calls to the other below that it's incredibly foggy up there; wait, there seems to be somebody else up here; then a scream, and his body plummets past them. The two on the ledge stop his fall with the safety ropes, and haul him back up, only to discover, to their horror, that his head has been torn off.
But enough of that, we have to catch a train to Trollenberg, upon which we meet American Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker) and two British sisters, Sarah and Anne Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro, respectively). Brooks' destination is Trollenberg village, but the girls plan to go through to Geneva - the plan goes awry, however, when what seems to be an extraordinarily powerful case of deja vu causes Anne, the younger sister, to insist they, too, disembark in the village.
The girls have no problems getting a room at the Inn, however; people are staying away from the Trollenberg in droves, thanks to a series of deadly accidents, of which the beginning beheading is only the latest. They do, however, find a fellow Brit in the hotel bar: Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne), who seems inordinately curious about the arriving trio, especially after he spots a gun in Brooks' valise.
Brooks takes a cable car to his ultimate destination: an observatory built into the side of the Trollenberg, run by his old friend, Dr. Crevett (Warren Mitchell), who is studying cosmic rays. For some reason, the study of cosmic rays requires an observatory that is built like a fortress, complete with steel-shuttered window. Crevett has summoned Brooks not only about the mysterious spate of accidents, but a strange radioactive cloud that hovers near the summit of the mountain, never moving in spite of the weather. "It's just like what happened in the Andes," Crevett opines.
It is at this point that the movie makes a slight shift in tenor, as the audience starts to piece together what is happening - Brooks is some sort of UN troubleshooter whose career was ruined by "what happened in the Andes", and whatever it was resulted in a lot of death and destruction. Brooks is, therefore, a tad gunshy about about calling in The Authorities. "It's not at all like the Andes," he counters. "There's no mental domination."
Funny you should mention that - Truscott has already recognized the sisters as a Mentalist act he saw in London. At the Inn, our major characters meet Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders), a geologist, and Brett (Andrew Faulds), his guide. They're preparing to climb the Trollenberg to investigate the accidents, and they might as well be wearing red shirts with Star Trek insignia. Attempting to comfort the apprehensive Brooks, Crevett says, "They'll be alright as long as they stay away from the cloud."
The Pilgrim Sisters do their act for the major characters that night - Sarah keeps her back turned to Anne while Anne identifies randomly chosen objects behind a screen as Sarah touches them. It becomes increasingly apparent that the act is not an act at all - Anne is genuinely telepathic. One of the objects, a snow globe with a mountain hut, puts Anne in touch with the mind of Something that is approaching the climber's hut halfway up the Trollenberg, where Dewhurst and Brett lie sleeping. Brooks immediately rings the hut on a direct line, only to find that Brett has wandered off. The observatory calls on the regular telephone to inform Crevett that the cloud is moving - toward the hut! Dewhurst sees something outside the door, screams, and throws a heavy bolt across the door - to no avail. On the other end of the line, Brooks hears the geologist's scream before the line goes dead.
The next morning, the rescue party finds the door still bolted from within. The door is forced open, but within, all that is found is a layer of frost coating everything... and Dewhurst's headless body. The phone lines have not been cut, but have shattered, as if dipped into liquid oxygen. Two searchers later find Brett, who is carrying the missing head in a rucksack. And an ice axe, with which he dispatches the searchers.
Later, Brett shows up at the Inn and tries to kill Anne. Truscott reveals himself to be a journalist chasing the story of "what happened in the Andes", and Brooks and Crevett reveal all. In the Andes, there was also an old woman with some psychic ability, and this psychic was picking up on the thoughts of the Something in the Clouds, until the Something sent a mind-controlled assassin just like Brett to kill her. Even though the killer in the Andes had been dead for over twenty-four hours. Sure enough, when Brett's arm comes too close to an oil lamp, his frozen flesh dissolves like a bone-centered ice cube on a griddle.
Crevett's theory is that the Something in the Cloud is from outer space, and is using the great height to acclimate itself to our climate and atmosphere, as witness the cloud journeys lower and lower on the Trollenberg each time. In fact, as its flash-frozen zombie has failed, the cloud makes a beeline for the village. Brooks and Crevett pack the entire village off to the observatory, after Brooks finally calls The Authorities. There, the titular creatures (there's more than one crawling eye) lay siege to the place until Brooks finally figures out that fire is a pretty good way of stopping creatures that are super-cold. Several molotov cocktails and close calls later, the UN Peacekeeping Force arrives and firebombs the tentacled meanies out of existence, and everyone's safe until another cloud crops up. The end.
As you can tell from the synopsis above, the story in The Crawling Eye is a bit more involved and colorful than your average 50's sci-fi thriller. For this we can thank screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, who wrote the lion's share of the classic Hammer horror films of the late 50's-60's. Sangster rarely took the well-traveled route in his scripts, and The Crawling Eye is no exception. The character of Brooks is, in particular, fairly refreshing, as everytime a frightened character asks him, "What now?" Brooks truthfully answers, "I don't know" - over and over again! And although Truscott and Anne fall into the mandatory young lover clench at the end, Sarah and Brooks are not, thank God, forced to form a couple. That would have been too tidy. The acting is nicely competent throughout. I've always liked Forrest Tucker as a leading man.
First, for the pointless bitching: I realize that the title of the Movie was changed from The Trollenberg Terror to the more sensational The Crawling Eye to entice us brutal, bloodthirsty Americans into the theater (alternate titles include Creature from Outer Space and either The Flying or Creeping Eye), but the rather blunt retitling has other, more unfortunate effects: for one thing, it makes Crevett seem a bit of a dunce as he ponders the nature of whatever lurks within the cloud. We in the moviegoing audience have a hunch that it just might take the form of some sort of Crawling Eye. So much for any impact the beastie's first appearance might have had.
More to the point, extreme creepiness in the setup notwithstanding, the cardboard TV origins of the film show through to the overall detriment of the film. Too often, people obviously stand before a painted backdrop. The miniatures are sadly unconvincing, and never shot with an eye towards slow motion, to give them some scale. Let's not even talk about the head in the rucksack. and the worst-served by the budget, of course, are the monsters.
The Eyes look okay, and are even pretty ooky in close-up; it's when they're called upon to move that we start having trouble. The models seem to have some sort of mechanism that wiggles the eye itself back and forth, but the tentacles themselves stick out, stiff and unmoving in more than one shot. Again, when these models are set afire, they flail about, stiff-armed, with a speed that draws attention to their true, small size. The worst occurs when a lurking Eye hoists Truscott into the air and we cut to a far shot of the eye lifting a clay model of the journalist, jiggling like the plastic fish on the end of a child's toy fishing pole. The tentacles that interact with people are your standard issue ropes-on-invisible- wires, which behave just like ropes-on-invisible-wires, in a most inorganic fashion. All these drawbacks, cumulatively, cost the movie an additional half-Tor, knocking it down to Above Average, rather than Good - and it gets that on the basis of the genuine suspense and scares that overcome the glaring cheese of the FX.
Perhaps I am being unnecessarily harsh; as a child, these monsters were absolutely real and frightening; but I can't imagine even the most gullible filmgoer of 1958 seeing these Crawling Eyes and not thinking, "Have I been ripped off?" Ultimately, your enjoyment of The Crawling Eye will depend upon your tolerance for such things; if it's particularly high that evening, the movie can deliver a suitable 50's alternative to what passes for entertainment on TV these days.