The Beast With A Million Eyes is not like your standard, 50s, sci-fi, flick despite its being made by your standard, 50s, sci-fi, flick filmmakers. Roger Corman produced the film through Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International Film production company. Even with these icons of the low-budget, drive-in, genre behind it The Beast With A Million Eyes remains hard to classify.
The film wants to be a lot of different things all at once. It tries to be a melodrama, a horror movie, a sci-fiction movie, an anti-communist propaganda film, a treatise on the nobility of love, and some kind of weird spiritual poetry. It doesn’t manage to fulfill any of these aspirations. It’s a terrible film, but the effort to render so many ideas makes for an interesting mess.
Picture a drunken brawl between Tennessee Williams and Louis L’Amour orchestrated by Rod Serling and written by Captain Kirk. Now take 20,000 dollars and make a movie out of it. Apparently, that’s how much the film cost. I can’t imagine what they spent it on unless they paid for each of the beats’’s one million eyes individually, but of course, there is no beast with a million eyes in The Beast With A Million Eyes. Who could afford such a costume with just 20,000 dollars?
The bulk of the film is footage of the Kelley family at home. Their disfunction is the engine that drives the film, or at least gets out and pushes the film along. The mother feels trapped and taken for granted and takes it out on her teenage daughter. The patriarch is of course the wise, calm voice of reason, as well as the one who figures everything out and leads everyone to safety.
All of this drama is brought to a head by a space alien who lands in the desert and begins controlling the minds of all the animals both wild and domestic. The scenes where these animals attack the family are not the most convincing. It’s hard to make a young and friendly German Shepard look menacing, especially when he’s wagging his tail. A cow may be big but it just isn’t a very scary animal even when shot from a low angle.
The unseen alien eventually starts to control the minds of the family and their lumbering, mute, ranch hand named Him (not a typo). The Kelley family succeeds in repelling the invader but not before having a long argument with his disembodied and heavy reverbed voice. They argue and pontificate about the nature of humanity. It all gets blended into a ludicrous pâté of patriotism, and patriarchy that few would want to eat.
Apparently, it is only through sticking together and being of one mind that America can defeat communism, which seems a little ironic. Once the family learns to love each other they are inoculated against the mind-controlling invaders. Then the patriarch delivers a last Captain Kirk style soliloquy extolling the virtue of the human way of life and how even if it makes us vulnerable the human spirit can never founder.
The film was made in 1955. It was the same year that movies like Rebel Without a Cause, The Man With The Golden Arm, and The Night of The Hunter challenged the traditional family, but it was also the same year that Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, and Lady and The Tramp filled the public’s heart with schmaltz. The 1960s hadn’t begun yet but there was a menacing sense of change on the horizon, like an alien spaceship hiding in the desert waiting to take over our country and our minds, even if it did just look like a tea-pot in the sand.