Thursday 11 March 2010

Eegah (1962)

Director: Nicholas Merriwether
Stars: Arch Hall Jr, Marilyn Manning and Richard Kiel

I'm driving the highway to Cinematic Hell in 2010 for the awesome folks at Cinema Head Cheese to post a review a week of the very worst films of all time. These are so bad that they make Uwe Boll look good.

There are films that live on in legend because whatever else they might be, they're mostly prominent embarrassments in the career of someone eminently recognisable. I'm not talking about the direction John Carradine's career went as it dragged on way down into the depths, but about things like Trog with Joan Crawford, Teenage Caveman with Robert Vaughan and Eegah with Richard Kiel, three films that coincidentally share a theme. Yes, Richard Kiel is a 7'2" apparently ageless prehistoric giant caveman, which might have seemed a step up at the time from being merely a bouncer in a night club, but may well have been a little too prominent for comfort when he put on his steel teeth and started duking it out with James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me fifteen years later.

Not having seen this one before, I was surprised to find it has much more going for it than just the man who would become Jaws. For a start, it's yet another Arch Hall Jr vehicle, conjured up by his father Arch Hall Sr to launch him into superstardom as the new Elvis Presley, something that you won't be too surprised to find didn't happen in the slightest even though he certainly wasn't devoid of talent. Watch The Sadist for a start, a story based on the exploits of Charles Starkweather, which was the fourth of his six films. This was the second, after The Choppers, a juvenile delinquent movie written and produced by Sr and starring Jr as Jack 'Cruiser' Bryan who runs a gang, which means in 1961 that he sang rock 'n' roll songs and stripped cars. It must have promised at least something because a year later Sr put Eegah into production with what appears to be everyone he knew.

How's this for nepotism? The leading man is his son, Arch Hall Jr. The leading lady is his secretary at the time, Marilyn Manning. The title character is 7'2" of nobody that he 'discovered' bouncing at a nightclub. To play the leading lady's father he cast himself, under the name of William Watters, but that's only one pseudonym he used here because as Nicholas Merriwether he also wrote, produced and directed. Just in case you wondered if there was a member of the family who didn't get involved, Addalyn Pollitt turns up towards the end of the film as the wife of a drunkard. Outside the film, she's Sr's wife and Jr's mother. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the rest of the cast turn out to be his mechanic, his wife's best friend and his second cousin's chiropodist who owed him a favour.

There is one name that wasn't directly connected with the Halls, except through history, and he's introduced to their work here. He's Ray Dennis Steckler, now remembered as the legendary director of such Z grade movies as Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, The Thrill Killers and the awesomely titled The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? He was a budding cinematographer at the time, having worked on Timothy Carey's cult hit The World's Greatest Sinner, but after the Halls made him assistant cameraman and had him thrown into a swimming pool in a bit part as an actor, they went on to make him a director too. His debut feature in that capacity was Wild Guitar, Arch Hall Jr film vehicle number three.

There is a story here, though initially you might be a little confused as to what it's going to be, if by some fortunate circumstance you didn't have a clue before starting. The credits are certainly memorable, as desert becomes lush vegetation during a thunderstorm, only for the camera to pan up and find a rock with Eegah painted on it. There's even blood dripping from the last two letters because this film is so painful it even makes rocks bleed. That's enough for rocks though as the rest of the credits are for some reason intriguingly painted on wizened corpses that have been stuck in the ground like scarecrows for the camera to fail to focus on. Rocks would have been cheaper.

By the time it actually starts we find ourselves watching young Roxy Miller doing all the usual everyday stuff teenage girls did in 1962. Roxy walks out of a fashion store. Roxy gets in her sports car. Roxy stops at the gas station. I think we're supposed to feel the magnetism of the leading lady but we don't so gas station attendant Tommy Nelson has to point out to the other customer, 'That's my girl, her father's Robert I Miller.' You know, because the most important thing about your sixteen year old girlfriend is who her father is. We can never manage to work out just where Tommy fits into the social scale, given that he works as a gas station attendant but seems to be able to take the entire film off from work on a whim. If this is a part time job to get him through college, he's doing pretty well at it given that he's saved up enough to buy a pretty cool car and a dune buggy.

Anyway, on her way to the Ocotillo Lodge, Roxy drives her little yellow car into a 7'2" caveman. You weren't expecting subtletly from a movie called Eegah, were you? C'mon, you know better than that. Bob Wehling, who turned Arch Hall Sr's story into a screenplay, obviously hadn't a clue how to build a back story from the material provided, so just decided to have the plot stand there in the middle of the road, complete with loincloth and large club, just waiting for our heroine to drive into it. The giant threatens the vehicle because he thinks it's just some big ass critter but he never really does much more than threaten for the entire film, which is more than a little unfortunate. If only he could have whaled the crap out of something at random every five minutes it would have been much more enjoyable.

He does get to look longingly on the delectable female form who pretends to faint dead away in her car, but he gets interrupted by Tommy. 'Roxy, it's me, Carl,' he says. 'Oh Tommy!' she replies, waking up. Perhaps Carl is the name he adopts when he goes to hang out with Roxy's dad because it's a little more suitable for the Ocotillo Lodge than plain old Tommy, but we never get an explanation. We're too busy getting explanations for 7'2" cavemen on the road. After all, as her dad tells her, 'a prehistoric monster is a rather large order to swallow.' No, hang on, this isn't that sort of film; calm down, there's no John Holmes here. Daddy believes her of course, but only while mentally checking her into rehab next week with her idiot friends Paris and Nicole. She has the explanation ready though. 'There were giants,' she says. 'The Bible says so.'

Perhaps this introduction of Biblical quotation into a giant caveman movie, right down to the chapter and verse, is what prompts everyone to become Production Code stereotypes. Tommy or Carl or Rumpelstiltskin or whatever his real name is wants to head out into the desert with a flashlight because he's a big man and he's happy to take on a prehistoric giant with a club. 'I swear on my Elvis Presley LP,' he says, as if we'd forgotten why Arch Hall Jr is even in the movie to begin with. Meanwhile Roxy goes all mushy and a little doe eyed. She has the funniest feeling he wouldn't hurt her. She thought he was kinda cute. I really hope this was just to rile up Tommy. And so does he. Oh boy, so does he.

After they drive out the next day and find huge footprints, Mr Miller shows that he doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk too. He pulls his safari suit out of mothballs and has himself flown up to Shadow Mountain by helicopter. Sorry, Tommy, helicopters trump dune buggies, and you'll have to work a few more weeks at the gas station for one of those. At least Daddy doesn't have a rifle like the moron cop in The Beast of Yucca Flats, but he probably wouldn't be able to use it anyway because he can't even use a camera. The moment he tries to focus his box brownie on the remnants of a fire, Eegah the caveman looms up in front of him, and he proves that the clothes don't make the man by promptly backing up a step, falling over his bag and knocking himself unconscious.

So off go Tommy and Roxy in their dune buggy to save him, riding around the sand dunes for a while having a great time until they remember they're supposed to go to the mouth of Deep Canyon to pick up Daddy because the helicopter blew a gasket or something. In other words Arch Hall Sr couldn't afford a helicopter for two scenes so conjured up a dubious excuse. Can you imagine that one being used in real life? 'I'm sorry we can't send out the lifeboats to save your ass but we blew a gasket. Have a nice day.' At least the call to arms means that we don't have to listen to Jr singing at the poolside any more. He hauled an electric guitar over there with a couple of amps, just to sing 'I love you Vicky,' even though his girlfriend is called Roxy. When his next song in the desert turns out to be all about someone called Valerie, even she calls him on it. I didn't think all that Roxy Music was already copyrighted in 1962.

Mr Miller naturally hasn't made it back to the mouth of Deep Canyon, given that he lasted about ten seconds alone in the bush, so they wait for him into the night. The ever thoughtful Tommy has brought bed rolls and a rifle and probably some of those little blue pills too. What an opportunity, he's obviously thinking, but Roxy won't bite even when he pulls his magic guitar out, the one that sounds like a whole band with whistles and backing vocals to boot. Even Eegah heads on over to listen but he doesn't get to do more than peek at the sleeping Roxy in the dune buggy because Tommy's transistor radio has motion sensors on it that alert him when cavemen look at his girlfriend and promptly scare them off with the noise.

Well, officially it just switches on and off at the slightest touch, but as nobody could be so indescribably stupid as to put such a thing in his pocket when he goes to sleep I'm leaning towards the motion sensor theory. And so, after scaring off Eegah and tossing his club into the desert, they drive into Deep Canyon to find Mr Miller. Because Tommy and Roxy apparently haven't learned the ground rules of grade Z movies, they promptly split up, naturally at precisely the location that Eegah was hanging around. It's a strange location too, one that obviously plays havoc with acoustics as while Tommy doesn't hear his girlfriend scream, he does hear her conveniently brush against the horn while being dragged out of the buggy by the giant caveman, who carries her off to the very same cave in Bronson Canyon that was Ro-Man's headquarters in Robot Monster. How's about that for a Z movie pilgrimage site?

The longer this film runs the more you feel sorry for Richard Kiel because this just can't have been what he signed up for. Arch Hall Sr wrote this story for him because he's a 7'2" giant resonating with power who screams out to be a title character in a movie. Yet somehow he managed to emasculate him in every way possible. The obvious things like the loincloth and boots, the huge flowing beard but rather well trimmed moustache, the mummified relatives he discourses with in one sided caveman gibberish are all forgivable because they're just dumb things in a dumb movie. We expect things like this. The problems stem from the fact that he's a politically correct caveman who carries around a huge club without any apparent willingness to use it. And yeah, if you want to get Freudian, that applies too.

He doesn't kill anyone, he doesn't rape anyone, he doesn't even crap in his cave. OK, he throws Ray Dennis Steckler into a swimming pool, but that's about it. He even stoops so low as to run away from a poodle at one point. Mostly he just goes moonfaced over Roxy to the degree that he brings her flowers and carries her purse for her. No, I'm not kidding, he's some sort of prehistoric lounge lizard. He even sits still while she shaves him though he does slurp up the foam. He doesn't freak when she gives him a mirror to look into. And, get this, he shows her his etchings. He's even a primitive artist, drawing cool things on the wall like a spaceship chasing a buffalo. Ah, no, that's not a spaceship, it's apparently Roxy in her car. She recognises herself instantly because she must be an aficionado of modern art.

He's an embarrassment but to be honest he isn't the only one. Arch Hall Sr tries to emphasise how much of an expert Mr Miller is on everything there is, but gives himself intellectual lines like 'Roxy, Roxy. Roxy? Roxy!' He can recognise the style of Eegah's cave paintings as being the same as 'that cave in France'. He can identify precisely how long mummified remains have been dead. He can conjure up all sorts of theories on the drop of a hat about how to communicate with Eegah, how the sulphur in the cave must be what kept the cavemen alive and healthy so long, even how Roxy can get Eegah's mind out of the gutter. Yep, she starts singing operatic exercises.

Meanwhile Jr, who was over six foot tall but in the company of Richard Kiel looks more like a ten year old schoolboy, is so lyrical that he can come up with conversation like, 'Wow. Wow de wow wow,' because Roxy's skirt seems to get shorter with every scene that passes. He's supposed to be awesome because he sings and plays guitar in a rock 'n' roll band, but they can apparently cope fine without him because they have spare people at the next table to fill in when anyone needs. He just hands over his guitar to someone else and wanders off to dance with his girl and nobody cares. Somehow I don't think that would have worked for Elvis. It works for some other member of the band though, because this act brings the realisation that if Roxy is Tommy's girl then she can't be his. Maybe he's really Carl and Arch Hall Jr just got to play both characters for most of the movie.

Roxy doesn't care about either of them, of course, because she's suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and how can these two little boys compete with 7'2" Richard Kiel? I'm not sure whether the crucial moment was when he was rough enough to rip off her shirt but polite enough to do so without scratching her, or whether it was when he slurped away that shaving foam with a huge tongue, but she was obviously missing her big Eegah even while being driven away from him in Tommy's dune buggy. And that scene, where the camera focuses in on her longing face looking back at the prehistoric giant chasing her, is the one truly emotional shot in the entire film.

In fact everything that follows could be interpreted as being her imagination, her giant romantically tracking her down by the scent on her scarf and standing up for her against all odds, only to die heroically because their love was never really meant to be. In fact to reinterpret the finale as the heroine coming to terms both with her impending womanhood and the fact that her boyfriend is a wiener actually plays a lot better than how it was presumably intended. Actress Marilyn Manning's boss Arch Hall Sr didn't care, of course, because he got to see her without a lot of clothes on in a film starring his son that made him money. How much more can a man get out of life? And in the end, that's what this is really all about.


Anonymous said...

Just watched this as part of Elvira's "Movie Macabre"

Trying to identify the make of the yellow sports car ?

Any Ideas ?

Deb said...

Just watching this movie and was thinking that this had to come from the "Rat Fink & Boo-Boo" genre even before I looked it up. This might answer my question as to whether this was Kiel's first movie role. Apparently it was as in reading here it is said Kiel was a bouncer at a nightclub and was "discovered" by Arch Hall Sr. for the role of caveman for this bomb. Also, I think Roxy's little yellow car is a Triumph (British Leland). The only reason I watch these movies is to see the cool cars...

RAPman said...

Roxy's car is an Austin Healey Sprite.

Jim said...

Does anyone know if the dune buggy is still around ?