Review of “The Crawling Eye” (1958)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. This is our second time watching the movie with Svengoolie. I fell asleep the first time. I must have been really tired. Alas! That bottle of white zinfandel from 1993 outlived its usefulness. Maybe if we wait a hundred years, we could have used it for salad dressing.

Plot:

In the opening scenes, two mountains-climbers (Jeremy Longhurst and Anthony Parker) crouch on a ledge and call to a third above them, an unseen “Jimmy”(Jack Taylor). Jimmy tells them there’s fog or a cloud. It’s getting cold. He then says someone’s coming.

“Who is it? The abominable snowman?” one of his companions shouts back.

They hear Jimmy scream. They watch in horror as he falls over the cliff past them. They scramble, trying to save him with rope. One climber recoils in horror and lets go of the rope. The first keeps trying, but the rope frays and snaps. Already silent, Jimmy is lost. The first climber grabs his companion and tells him, “You idiot. We nearly had him. Why did you let him go?”

Stunned, the second man answers, “Didn’t you see him? His head! It was torn off!”

The next scene follows a train entering a tunnel. Two young women, sisters, Sarah and Anne Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro), are seated opposite Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), who reads a newspaper. Anne wakes from a dream she can’t quite remember. Sarah points out the (fictional) Trollenberg Mountain to her. Anne seems entranced by it for a moment, then faints into Brooks’ lap. How awkward.

The Pilgrim sisters are on their way to Geneva, but Anne feels compelled to get off at the next stop, Trollenberg. They can stay at the Hotel Europa, she decides. Sarah is puzzled. Why would Anne want to stop here? They have to go to Geneva. They’ve never been to this place. How could she know about the Hotel Europa?

It just so happens that Brooks is getting off at Trollenberg and staying at the Hotel Europa. As a matter of fact, the proprietor and town mayor, Herr Klein (Frederick Schiller), meets him at the train station. He agrees to put up the sisters, even though they’ve arrived without reservations. The hotel season is a bit off. He doesn’t say so, but the viewer knows that decapitated mountain climbers can put a crimp in the tourist business.

What is unexpected is that Anne begins to give something of a description of the accident and acknowledge there have been other incidents. The peasants are leaving the mountain because they believe it’s bad luck.

“Climbers… disappearing into the mist and never seen again…”

At Hotel Europa’s bar, Brooks meets a journalist named Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne), who remembers meeting the sisters but can’t recall where. He is not all familiar to them. Brooks also meets overweight middle-aged geologist Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders) and his mountain guide, Brett (Andrew Faulds). They plan to climb the Trollenberg to find out what’s behind the accidents. They’ll stay the night at a hut and climb the mountain proper the next day.

Truscott says they ought to watch their roping. Apparently, the official story about the unfortunate Jimmy is that he somehow got the rope wrapped around his neck. The villagers say, however, he was found with it still wrapped around his waist. Brett, the guide, says the students shouldn’t have been up there at all without a guide. Accidents happen when inexperienced people go up alone.

Brooks offers to come along partway by cable car. He’s going up to a cosmic ray observatory located on the mountain. He’s not an astronomer or a scientist but works for the UN.

Thoughts:

I’d heard about this movie long before I saw it. The dearly beloved and some friends had access to a small observatory. When fog moved in, it was “eye weather.”

The menacing eyes-with-tentacles are a lot scarier before they’re shown. Just the same, there is a lot of creepiness in the movie. From the beginning, Anne Pilgrim seems to be under some sort of influence. She seems drawn to the mountain. What does the horror in the fog—which shows no compunction about murdering innocent mountain climbers—want with her?

She and her sister Sarah perform in a mind-reading act, but Anne is genuinely telepathic. She relates some details of the students’ accident. Later, she describes what is happening in the hut on the mountain while she’s in the hotel.

Making the movie creepier is that Brooks and Dr. Crevett at the observatory have seen these “accidents” before—in the Andes. Crevett’s ideas of what was causing the deaths got him laughed at. Brooks is reluctant to relive all that. After all, when people climb mountains, accidents happen…

This movie has a lot to recommend; it is creepy and suspenseful. The characters are not as interesting as the mystery they find themselves in; how will they solve this problem? Not only does the terror threaten climbers, but it also threatens people in the village. It could pose a threat to the world.

On the other hand, the enemy looks, well, goofy. Calling the final stand at the observatory (because you knew that’s where it would end up) over the top is charitable. Our hero is heroic, risking his life for children and protecting the womenfolk.

Overall, I enjoyed this flick. It is not great cinematic art, but it is great fun. The viewer can enjoy the creepiness when it comes and laugh with delight (rather than derision) at its shortcomings. If it doesn’t always allow one to suspend disbelief, at least its straight-faced demeanor keeps camp, if not amusement, at bay.



Title: The Crawling Eye (orig. The Trollenberg Terror) (1958)

Directed by
Quentin Lawrence

Writing Credits
Jimmy Sangster…(screenplay)
Peter Key…(story)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Forrest Tucker…Alan Brooks
Laurence Payne…Philip Truscott
Jennifer Jayne…Sarah Pilgrim
Janet Munro…Anne Pilgrim
Warren Mitchell…Crevett

Released: December 31, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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