Monsters and Matinees: Taking a Look at Eye Creature Films

Taking a Look at ‘Eye’ Creature Films

Of all the monsters in horror films, the “eye” creature is one of the most bizarre.

I’m not talking about the great one-eyed giant called the cyclops – he tends to make a grand appearance in movies and is a force to be reckoned with. This is about a monster that is an … eye.

Three films that ran with that strange idea – The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955), The Trollenberg Terror (1958) and The Eye Creatures (1967) – show us just how peculiar the story and creature can be.

First, there can be some confusion about these films starting with titles. The British-made Trollenberg Terror is more well known by its U.S. title The Crawling Eye. The Eye Creatures is also known as Attack of the Eye Creatures.

Though the artwork looks incredibly similar, these are not the same movies.

Then there’s the artwork. The Crawling Eye has a great poster with a giant eye wrapping itself around a lovely lady. That same image is found on art “created” nine years later for The Eye Creatures. The only reason I could find that this not a copyright infringement is because Trollenberg Terror/The Crawling Eye was the final film made by Southall Studios which then went out of business. Still, it doesn’t seem right.

The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955) and The Eye Creatures (1967) unfortunately don’t live up to their awesome titles. By far the best is The Trollenberg Terror, the focus of this article, about otherworldly creatures that move within a cloud that has settled over the fictional town of Trollenberg in Switzerland.

Of the “eye” movies, The Trollenberg Terror is the best and the creatures live up to the name the film went by for its U.S. release – The Crawling Eye.

It’s directed by Quentin Lawrence, who also helmed the six-part 1956 ATV British TV series the film is based upon.

The compact film, written by the talented Jimmy Sangster (Hammer films), doesn’t waste time with preamble or setting up the characters. Instead, we are thrust right into the action from the opening scene of three mountain climbers that involves fog, screams and a decapitated body. We then quickly meet the main characters who all play a role in filling in the plot or moving it forward.

There is an unease from the opening scene and a surprising amount of tension throughout that builds to the conclusion. Sometimes it’s from something as simple – and budget friendly – as the use of static shots of the Trollenberg mountain with creepy music. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

The Trollenberg Terror is told like a good old-fashioned yarn that catches your imagination even if you may not quite believe it. Some scenes are set up like stories told around the campfire including one in a hotel parlor where the main characters share tales and theories over drinks about those students, missing mountaineers, frightened peasants and what could be going on.

Alan (Forrest Tucker) meets sisters Sarah (Jennifer Jayne), left, and Anne (Janet Munro) when Anne faints in his lap after seeing Mount Trollenberg through a train window in The Trollenberg Terror.

Forrest Tucker plays handsome and steadfast U.N. worker Alan Brooks who meets sisters Anne (Janet Munro) and Sarah Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne) on a train. As they pass by Mount Trollenberg in Switzerland, Anne faints for no apparent reason.

Clearly something is going on with Anne, who describes places she’s never been like when she insists they get off the train at Trollenberg and stay in the Hotel Europa. (Conveniently, that’s where Alan is staying.) She also goes into little trances (my favorite scenes), providing exposition and drama. “They shouldn’t have started the climb,” she says on the way to the hotel, mentioning the three English students from the opening scene. And she knows more, like how the mountain people are leaving and climbers are disappearing into the fog, never to be seen again. Creepy.

Other characters include journalist Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne, who played the same role in the TV series); first-time climber and geologist Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders, also in the TV series) and his guide Brett (Andrew Faulds); and Professor Crevett (Warren Mitchell) who has called Alan to Trollenberg after discovering familiar and disturbing occurrences from his observatory.

Mount Trollenberg is an ominous presence out the window as Professor Crevatt (Warren Mitchell), left, and Alan (Forrest Tucker) discuss some concerning news in The Trollenberg Terror (AKA The Crawling Eye).

Alan and the professor saw the same sort of cloud that is hovering over Mount Trollenberg three years earlier in the Andes Mountains. People also disappeared in the Andes and villagers swore something was alive inside the radioactive cloud, just as they are saying in Trollenberg. Alan balks at the comparison between the two situations, until the professor says the only factor missing between Trollenberg and the Andes is “mental compulsion.”

That gets Alan’s attention as he recalls how Anne seems compelled with her visions. Still, he won’t go to the authorities, nor stick his neck out again after the two men were laughed away in the Andes. “I need facts, proof,” Alan tells Professor Crevett. He’s about to get some.

That night, the sisters give a demonstration of their London “show” that explains Anne’s odd actions. She is telepathic but her fun parlor game of guessing hidden objects turns to terror as a snow globe with a hut brings visions of Dewhurst and Brett on the mountain.

In one of my favorite scenes, she very slowly utters words and sentence fragments that build on an increasing sense of dread.

“Snow … mountains … hut. Two men in the hut. The fat one, he’s asleep. But he’s not the one. The other one… sitting at the table, smoking, writing in the book. He’s the one. He’s getting up. He’s coming toward the door. He’s reached the door. He’s opening it. He’s coming out. Up the slope. Up the slope …”

As she’s speaking her eyes are superimposed over images of Brett leaving the hut and going into the snow. A call to hut reveals that Brett has indeed disappeared.

If it wasn’t already clear before this scene, it’s now obvious that the eyes in this film are not only those of the creatures, but also Anne’s. Actress Janet Munro has lovely, expressive eyes and the camera often focuses on them in close-up, drawing the viewer into what she is saying and seeing. In a clever twist, Anne is sometimes the eyes of the creatures, sharing with the audience what they are seeing.

The superimposition of the eyes of Anne (Janet Munro) as she sees Brett in a dangerous situation on the mountain is one of the atmospheric moments in The Trollenberg Terror (AKA, The Crawling Eye).

While the film has already been moving at an interesting pace, the action speeds up here. A search party goes out; Brett returns (or does he?); Anne is in danger; the radioactive cloud moves toward the village; guests evacuate to the observatory to find safety and buy time to devise a way to stop the cloud that has broken into five dangerous pieces.

There will be a child in peril while looking for toy (a trope still used in films today) and some nifty scenes of the fog sinisterly finding its way under a door and wrapping itself around electrical and other mechanics to shut down power. If that seems familiar, there’s a reason: director John Carpenter saw this film as a kid and was inspired to have similar scenes in his excellent ghost story The Fog (1980), also about evil things that live inside of fog.

A giant crawling eye knocks down a door in a jolting moment from The Trollenberg Terror (AKA The Crawling Eye).

We finally see our eye monsters which look surprisingly close to how they are depicted on the poster, albeit on a shoestring budget. It was clever to make the creatures in the mold of an octopus with one huge eye and multiple spindly arms that reach out and grab people. That fact that do indeed crawl (slowly) is impressive.

But while an eye creature busting down a hotel door is momentarily effective, your imagination is needed to boost the effect of multiple creatures attacking the observatory, scenes that make me wish there was a larger budget. The effects were by Les Bowie, who also worked for Hammer films and won a posthumous Oscar for Superman (1978).

Still, The Trollenberg Terror is a solid B-movie creature feature with a good cast (why wasn’t Forrest Tucker used more as a leading man?), a story that keeps the viewer interested and an almost constant sense of dread.

Grab the popcorn for this fun matinee movie.

The other eye movies

The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes and The Eye Creatures can’t hide their low budgets and slim stories. Both also take too much time to get moving – if you can call it that – and take odd turns as one becomes a family drama about hearts and souls; the other finds a little life when it becomes one of those “adults won’t listen to the teens, so the teens take on the beast themselves” films. Here’s a brief look.

An example of the excellent opening credits of The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes.

The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes

If only this film lived up to the incredible opening credits with eyes on objects in the desert that nicely gives off the impression of being watched by a million eyes. But it doesn’t – and it also falls about 999,999 eyes short of the title. In fact, the bizarre eye creature we finally see at the very end was a last-minute addition.

The film opens with an ominous voiceover with thunder, lightning and images of an eyeball. It deserves to be shared in its entirety because it’s so over the top (read it with a deep voice):

“I need this world. From millions of light-years away I approach your planet. Soon my spaceship lands on Earth. I need your world. I feed on fear, live on human hatred. I, a strong mind without flesh or blood, want your world. First, the unthinking — the birds of the air, the animals of the forest — then, the weaker of men shall all do my bidding. They shall be my ears, my eyes, until your world is mine. And because I see all of your most secret acts, you will know me as The Beast With a Million Eyes.”

And there is the plot – told to us before the film title hits the screen.

The burly Paul Birch plays Allen Kelley, who lives on his date ranch in a California dessert with his unhappy wife Carol (Lorna Thayer) and teen daughter Sandy (Dona Cole) along with a mute handyman called “Him” (Leonard Tarver).

After an “airplane” flies overhead, strange sounds and events start occurring with increasing attacks by animals (including the family dog) and birds that are a precursor to a certain Hitchcock movie. Although not graphic, those animal attacks are unnerving.

What looks like a kitchen gadget is an alien spaceship in The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes.

This goes on for some time without any sight of the eye creatures. Instead, we only see a metal object in the desert that looks like an oversized kitchen gadget. It lights up and makes strange sounds that cause animals and people to turn violent.

Then the unexpected shift happens from sci-fi film to a family drama about how people are stronger together than alone. Nasty wife Carol has an especially strong change of heart, showing remorse for how she treated her family and being the one who pulls them together to fight off the alien.

This drama finally gives the film some interest, but like the alien we finally see (a blurry creature that appears out of an eye), it’s extremely late in the film.

The Eye Creatures

A loose remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men, there’s not much to see in this ultra low-budget film – literally. Sets are as bare as they can be and still be considered a set; the same can be said about the script.

Oh, it has some of the right jargon with talk of the government’s “Project Visitors” and security sectors. It even opens with a man who has a briefcase locked on his wrist.

What could be so important? You may not wait around for it to be opened. The acting is mostly dreadful and the film barely moves forward. Extended attempts at humor with two military guys peeping through an infrared scanner at frolicking teens fall flat. (This made-for-TV movie is labeled a comedy by some.)

However, fans of John Ashley, who was groomed to be the next Frankie Avalon, will be happy to see him. He plays Stan, a teen (he was 30 at the time) who is planning to elope with his girlfriend Susan. (Ashley did multiple films with beaches and hot rod cars, he also starred in another monster B-movie, Frankenstein’s Daughter.)

Unlike the other films, we see the title creatures early and often which is not a good thing. They’re bumbling guys in suits that have big bubbles over them and a few extra eyes placed haphazardly on their oblong heads.

Stan hits one of the eye creatures with his car, but the authorities don’t believe him after they find the body of a drifter, not an alien. (The accident does lead to fun scenes involving the creature’s severed hand in the car with Stan and Susan.)

After a lot of unnecessary scenes with the military, cops, another drifter, the old guy who owns the land where the aliens have landed and teens kiss, the film makes an abrupt turn. Stan and Susan have gone to extremes to get someone to believe them to no avail, so when they accidentally discover how to kill the aliens, they turn to their friends – who are still parked in their cars making out.

The silly title characters in The Eye Creatures were better left off screen.

Finally, the film has some life and a bit of comedy as Stan and Susan drive off with a couple still smooching it up in the back seat to fight the aliens. Perhaps if filmmakers had gone the full route of the “teens against the monsters” and not shown the creatures, The Eye Creatures could have been a watchable movie.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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4 Responses to Monsters and Matinees: Taking a Look at Eye Creature Films

  1. As always, Toni, I enjoyed reading your entertaining take on these films (even though, as usual, I had to quickly skim past some of the pictures!).

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Thank you so much for reading and your continued support, Karen. It’s funny how I can handle bizarre eye creatures, but get freaked out by femme fatales!


  2. Joseph Kolakowski says:

    thank you for sharing.

    I loved another movie Forest Tucker did in England called “The Strange World of Planet X” also released as “The Cosmic Monsters”.

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Hi Joseph:

      I will need to look for “The Cosmic Monsters”/”The Strange World of Planet X.” Thanks for sharing – and thanks for reading.


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