The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961)

APRIL 22, 2008


Really, what else do you need to know?

My favorite all time episode of MST3k is Red Zone Cuba, an incomprehensible action movie about robbers, treasure, Castro, prisoners, hobos... I’ve seen it probably a dozen times and still don’t have the slightest clue as to what the hell is going on at any given time. It’s also hilarious, with many of my favorite sayings coming directly from Mike and the ‘bots comments (if you’ve never heard me randomly sing “Drink Night Train, go to the basketball game; throw up under the bleachers...” – you just don’t know me, man). So I had immediately checked out the episode The Skydivers, which was another film by the same guys – Coleman Francis and Anthony Cordoza. The episode sucked. Disheartened, I opted not to watch their treatment of the 3rd Francis/Cordoza masterpiece; The Beast Of Yucca Flats, until I had seen the movie itself, figuring I could tell whether or not it would make for a good episode based on how funny it was without them.

And let me tell you – this movie doesn’t even need the guys on the Satellite of Love. I was laughing my ass off almost nonstop. It’s also gotta be a ridiculously short episode – the movie only runs 54 minutes! Was this acceptable back in the 60s? I feel gypped if I see a movie under 80 minutes, let alone one under 60. Christ, some episodes of Star Trek run longer than that!

And yet, it’s a padded film. There’s an opening scene that has absolute zero connection to the film (it’s a woman being killed by a guy who’s allegedly Tor Johnson, but she’s in a house and he spends the entire film in the empty desert), a lengthy North by Northwest wannabe sequence that results in the death of a guy looking for his two kids, etc. There is also an attempt to make the plot look more complicated than it is, with the narrator rambling on and on about things that ultimately have no real bearing on the film itself.

Speaking of the narrator, he doesn’t narrate so much as he just sort of says things that sound interesting. Everything he says would begin and end with ellipsis if his dialogue was written. My favorite is early on, when he says “Yucca Flats... the A bomb... secret data... the first rocket to the moon....” in succession, as we see guys in a car drive around and shoot (pfft, I mean, wave guns) at some other guys. It’s beautiful. Even his dialogue is padded, as he offers no-shitteries such as “Vacation time... people travel east, west, north, or south...” for no reason whatsoever. And in what may be the most useless line of dialogue ever recorded until Vampires came along, Francis tells us that it’s “110 in the shade... and no shade.” How profound.

At least the narrator has a reason for being a disembodied voice. Francis shot the film without sound, and rather than try to sync stuff, he just had everyone talk off camera. I don’t think there’s a single shot in the film of someone talking where you can see their mouth. Some scenes include speakers that are never actually seen, which results in more than one occasion where you might be tempted to think that the characters are all insane, talking to non-existent people.

Hilariously, the transfer is one of the best I’ve seen yet on the Horror Classics set. Picture quality is crisp, the sound detail isn’t muddled, etc. And the end credits, seen at the beginning of the film (they scroll up! Opening credits don’t do that!) are all perfectly legible. Then again, since it’s not even a full length film, I guess they had more disk space to work with on the DVD. Sucks to be you, filmmakers who put effort into their stories and came up with 75 minutes or so of material! Enjoy your blocky, washed out image! Coleman and I will be up in a biplane, firing at random people in the desert and laughing all the way to the bank!

What say you?


  1. I watched "The Skydivers" recently and by far the best things about the flick were the insane dance sequences and the "comic relief" guy who kept falling over things. That dude killed me.

    I think it was acceptable to have shorter movies in the 60s, so long as there was an extra short feature or cartoons or it was the front-end of a double bill. They might have even still allowed space for newsreels, early on.

  2. Sounds like a hoot, but what of the beast itself?? I have this one in the same film pack you have...

  3. OK. I'll let this "I've never seen Rosemary's Baby before" stuff pass but you've never this masterpiece?!


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