Sunday, November 04, 2007



"This is a movie that all lovers of intelligent genre cinema should seek out, and its flaws are easily overlooked." - Dr. Mality, Sci-Film


"It's such a steep climb; Up the mountain's south side; It has a cloud that acts in such peculiar ways. - Accident count rising; A young girl prophesizing; To protect their race, they'll seize her mind. - At this altitude, it's freezing; Aliens control human beings; No one has lived to tell; Who's seen the crawling eye? - These evil demon eyes; Under cloud cover hide; They have great tentacles to tear apart their prey. - All these men are dying; Crawling eye decapitizing; Fiends without a face attack mankind - At this altitude, it's freezing; Aliens control human beings; No one has lived to tell; Who's seen the crawling eye?" - Lyrics to The Crawling Eye by The Misfits

(Yes, I know, decapitizing isn't a real word. You were expecting Shakespeare from The Misfits?)


41 years passed between the 1958 release of The Crawling Eye and the recording of The Misfits' 1999 tune which used it's plot for the lyrics shown above. But it's not like everyone's favorite horror-punk pioneers were treading on unfamiliar territory. Before being translated to film, the story that would become The Crawling Eye was actually broadcast in Britain in the form of a TV serial under the title The Trollenberg Terror. Under it's new name The Crawling Eye (Americans am dum, us need exploitative title to sell tickets and popcorn) the film version hung around on double bills at theaters and drive-ins before finally making the leap to American television in the 60s. From that point on it played endlessly on Saturday afternoon creature-features around the country for the next two decades. And just as the last of the local horror hosts were laying their shows to final rest, Mystery Science Theater 3000 came along and used The Crawling Eye for it's cable debut in 1989. Even Spielberg jumped aboard the bandwagon in the mid 90s when his cartoon Freakazoid parodied the movie for a full episode. Safe to say, by the time The Misfits got around to it at the turn of the millennium, The Crawling Eye was well-traveled ground.

And if you've never seen The Crawling Eye before, don't worry. Pop it in the DVD player and you'll feel in familiar territory too. After a mountain climber is beheaded by something hidden in the clouds (Mysterious set-up. Check.), the movie quickly introduces a disparate group of people who've come to the isolated village of Trollenberg. (Remote setting. Check.) We've got the hard-drinking hard-smoking American investigator, his old friend the funny little scientist, a determined young reporter, a beautiful clairvoyant accompanied by her big sister, and a motley assemblage of red-shirts destined to be Eye fodder. (Recognizable types. Check. This cast of characters was as familiar to 1950's sci-fi fans as hordes of empty-headed repulsive teenagers are to today's audience.) The clouds quickly cut off any escape routes and the things enshrouded in the mist begin picking off people one at a time, sometimes raising them as zombies. As the film nears it conclusion, the attacks escalate and the usual stuff happens. (Final siege. Check. John Carpenter confirms in an interview with Dark Horizon that this movie was an influence on The Fog.) The survivors hold up in the funny little scientist's fortress, the American saves the day with molotov cocktails and napalm (Americans am dum, us solve problems by blowing things up), and the determined young reporter gets his story and a new girl to boot. It's cliched (This is no place for a woman!), it has a couple of plot holes (Who knew Britain had the authority to bomb the Alps?), and most of the effects are sub-sub-par (Look, Ma, it's a pipe cleaner attacking an action figure!). We've seen it all before.

And yet, oddly enough, The Crawling Eye is not a bad movie. The credit for this has to go to the film's fairly tight script written by Jimmy Sangster. He was the man who penned Hammer's revival of Dracula and Frankenstein among other things, and he's in fine form here as well. Atypical for a B-movie of this period, there are no wasted moments, no unnecessary padding. Every scene either advances the story, or adds background to the characters. (A neat touch is the hinted at previous encounter with the aliens which ended with a bloodbath for our side.) Sangster beefs up the early attacks by allowing the psychic girl to "see" them as they occur. She relays the goings on frantically while the rest of the cast scrambles to communicate with those in danger before it's too late. It has the net effect of layering tension onto scenes which could have come across as mundane since the killings happen mostly off screen. Sangster, more than aware of the movie's budget, also wisely keeps the monsters hidden until the near end. (Actually, despite the mostly wretched effects, the first appearance of The Crawling Eye is kind of impressive for the five bucks it must have cost. It's pulsating vein-encrusted mass leering through a shattered doorway gives off some definite Lovecraftian vibes.) Instead, the script calls for the actors to carry the burden of building the suspense, which works in this case because the actors in the movie are actually capable. Well tread ground or not, The Crawling Eye ends up being, despite it's flaws, a smart low budget thriller worth a viewing. (Which doesn't mean rush right out and rent it. If big crawling eyes don't do it for you, no amount of brains is going to make up for it.)

Don't just take my word for it. Trolling around the Internet looking at other B-sites which have reviewed this movie you'll find the same thing time after time. Even for those reviewers who've seen the movie before, once they sit down and take another look at the latest release of The Crawling Eye, most of them find it to be pretty good. In fact, for many of them, there's a recognizable pattern. They saw it as a small child and were kind of scared by the Eye. They saw it later, usually on MST3K, and laughed at the cheesiness of it all. And now they've viewed the restored version and can appreciate what an intelligent little sci-fi tale it is. This kind of thing happens again and again when watching movies (or reading books, listening to a song, etc.) for a second or third time. In her book Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering, Wendy Lesser recalls having the same experience while rewatching Hitchcock's Vertigo. "I have never seen it without noticing or feeling something new." she says, "It is a movie that never goes dead on me." Lesser's book of essays recounts her experience of approaching anew works she hadn't read or seen since she was a young woman, an experience that often left her surprised at the themes and ideas she had missed the first time around. "The idea that a simple rereading could also be a new reading struck me with the force of a revelation. It meant that something old wasn't necessarily outdated, used up, or overly familiar."

That's good news for mass attendees. According to Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas "if a Catholic were to read no Scripture beyond the texts used for Sunday Mass over the three-year period, that person would have been exposed to more than seven thousand verses of the Bible." Of course, Not all the Bible is included in the Lectionary, there just isn't time. But according to Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D. "if one includes all the Masses for weekdays, rituals, votives, the propers and commons of saints, and special needs and occasions, the Lectionary for Mass now covers much of the NT (about 90% of the Gospels, 55% of the rest: Acts, Epistles, Revelation), but still very little of the OT (slightly over 13%), but this is understandable, given how much longer the OT is." That's a lot of Bible verses. And since the Lectionary readings repeat in a three year cycle (two years for the weekday readings), this means the average Catholic (at least the 25% who bother to attend mass regularly) will likely be exposed to the same passage of Scripture at least ten to fifteen times over a lifetime.

That much exposure to the same reading over and over could easily lead to boredom and inattention if a person assumes they've heard it all before, that it's all too familiar. (Especially us Americans who am dum and think us need something new and exciting every five minutes!) The problem with that attitude, as Lisa Marie Contini writes at is that "familiarity, unfortunately, spawns complacency. Complacency becomes manifest through irreverence." And in her opinion, "since many American Catholics do not recognize irreverence as sin, they also fail to see its spiritual consequences. It is primarily the behavior of Catholics within their churches that demonstrates the depth of their faith to non-Catholics as well as to their fellow Catholics whose faith may be lacking." The notion that our own indifference to something like the weekly Lectionary readings might adversely affect the spiritual life of others is something to consider seriously the next time we feel like flipping through the bulletin or sending a text message during the readings at mass.

"The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body." The Catechism tells us, "To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words." And that means being attentive on the tenth go around as much as we were on the first time. As Ms. Lesser points out in her essays, "The first time you read a book, you might imagine that you are getting out of it precisely what the author put into it... But as you engage in this rereading, you can sense that there are at least two readers, the older one and the younger one. You know there are two because you can feel them responding differently to the book." Tess Lewis of The Hudson Review carries the idea even further. "Books, unlike paintings, must be apprehended sequentially, line by line, rather than instantaneously. Therefore, we can only begin to understand a novel as thoroughly as a work of the visual arts on the second, third, or even fourth reading." And that's the attitude we should bring to the weekly readings at mass. If it takes a third or fourth viewing of something as goofy as The Crawling Eye to finally recognize the substance it contains, is it that much of a leap to expect it may actually take ten or fifteen times to fully comprehend the multiple layers contained in a passage of Scripture? Put down the bulletin and back away from the cell phone, there's still some meaning left to be found in those same old readings.


There's also a practical reason for continuously repeating the same scriptures in the liturgy. According to a 1999 survey conducted by Barna Research, only about 1/3 of Christian adults read from the Bible on their own even once a week. That's not good considering St. Jerome once said that "Not to know the Scriptures is not to know Christ." And there's proof. A newly published survey of 1,000 Americans by Kelton Research shows that more people can name the ingredients of a Big Mac than could name all of the Ten Commandments. Cripes! Only 60% could even come up with "You shall not kill"! If the cholesterol doesn't doom us, then the ignorance surely will.


Rich said...

This giant eye stuff is creeping me out.

EegahInc said...

Given your occupation, I have to believe you've had at least one dream exactly like this at some point.

Niall Mor said...

If memory serves, wasn't this movie used for the pilot episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000?

Niall Mor said...

Oh, I see you mentioned that. Sorry. Never mind. :)

Anonymous said...

"If memory serves, wasn't this movie used for the pilot episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000? "

Yes, that is correct.