The Quatermass series I wrote about last week were based, as I said, on television mini-series written by Nigel Kneale. They were not the only Kneale adaptations, nor were they the only SF films from that period to turn to television for source material. A six-part series aired in 1956 under the title of “The Trollenberg Terror.” This was written by Peter Key, doing his best to be Nigel Kneale. A film version duly followed in 1958, retaining the original title in Great Britain, but seeing light in the States under th… much more lurid (but beloved) moniker of The Crawling Eye.
Forrest Tucker is a scientist on his way to the town of Trollenberg to visit a colleague at the observatory up on the mountain. On the train heading there, he meets two sisters (Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro). Munro is a mentalist, and the duo has an act, but she also is legitimately psychic, and she feels an inexplicable compulsion to alight at Trollenberg. The small Swiss town, meanwhile, is dealing with tragedy, as a mountain climber has been mysteriously decapitated during an ascent. Tucker’s friend (Warren Mitchell) is also concerned about this mysterious, radioactive, unmoving cloud that clings to the mountainside. Strange events multiply. Munro has visions of events going on up the mountain. A geologist is killed, and his partner becomes a possessed zombie who tries to kill Munro. Turns out there are evil aliens in that cloud. And they look like… Well, you can probably guess.Peter Key was no Nigel Kneale, and the film is no match for the Quatermass flicks. If the FX in the latter had their rough edges, the context in which they appeared – from both narrative and technical considerations (the lighting was always superb) – made them much more convincing than they might otherwise be. The tentacled eyeballs of The Crawling Eye are so ludicrous that they cannot be taken seriously. On the other had, they are extremely memorable, instantly recognizable in a way that the Quatermass monsters are not. They are also completely adorable. Rarely has an SF monster looked so precisely like the most stereotypical SF monster imaginable. I mean every word of that apparently self-contradictory sentence.Bill Warren has pointed out that the plot makes no sense. True enough. Very little by way of convincing explanations and motivations regarding the crawling eyes and their actions are ever provided. But in the final analysis, this matters not one jot. The film has such a wealth of incident that one is carried along by the plot, breathlessly watching each new (and exciting) development without worrying about how they all connect (if they do at all). The performances certainly help: everyone acts with conviction, and the delivery is often underplayed, making the whole affair that much easier to take seriously. The atmosphere is also carefully developed. The dimly lit inn where much of the action until the climax takes place starts off cozy but becomes eerie once the characters come under threat. Silly though the proceedings might be, they still carry an undeniable aura of menace, and the climax manages to be suspenseful despite the silliness of the monsters.Image’s DVD is a pretty no-frills affair (trailer and stills, plus liner notes), but it does present the film in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is the original British print, with the original title intact.