Alternate Titles: THE CRAWLING EYE; THE FLYING EYE; CREATURES FROM ANOTHER WORLD; THE CREEPING EYE.
Pro Co: Tempean Films/Eros Films.
Dir: Quentin Lawrence;
Pros: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman;
Wr: Jimmy Sangster; TV serial: Peter Key.
Phot: Monty Berman;
Film Ed: Henry Richardson;
Mus: Stanley Black;
Art Dir: Duncan Sutherland.
SFX: Anglo Scottish Pictures.
Assist Dir: Norman Harrison;
Pro Sup: Ronald C. Lisles.
Camera Op: Desmond Davis.
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Laurence Payne,
Janet Munro, Jennifer Jayne, Warren Mitchell, Frederick Schiller,
Andrew Faulds, Stuart Saunders, Colin Douglas, Derek Sydney.
At the end of the 1950s, Hammer Films'
biggest competitors in horror and sci-fi were undoubtedly independent
filmmaking duo Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman.
Like Hammer, and its earlier incarnation
as film distributor Exclusive, Baker and Berman established themselves
by churning out cheap thrillers and melodramas, designed to take advantage
of the generous quota system within the post-war British film industry.
While Hammer were quick to exploit the burgeoning broadcasting media
by adapting successful radio and television
shows for the cinema, the pair concentrated on literary and theatrical
After the international success of
Val Guest's The Quatermass Xperiment (55) and Quatermass
II (57), along with Terence Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein
(57) and Dracula (58), Baker and Berman were quick to spot
a new market and managed to secure the services of Hammer's in-house
scribe Jimmy Sangster (who had penned the brace of Fisher films, as
well as other projects for the studio), whose contract allowed him
to work for other production companies. Abandoning their usual literary
and theatrical source material, they had Sangster adapt a successful
serial, The Trollenberg Terror, produced by the Midlands-based
ATV station for the recently formed ITV network, in the process bringing
on board that programme's director and some of its cast.
A week after the death of a student
mountain climber on the Trollenberg mountain, next to the town which
bears its name, in the Austrian Alps, a train is travelling through
the area on its way to Geneva. In one of the carriages are two women
and a man. The younger woman awakens from at troubled sleep and goes
to look of the window at the Trollenberg mountain.
She is unnerved by the sight of the mountain, and suddenly has a fit
and collapses. The man, who identifies himself as Alan Brooks from
America, tends to her. It turns out that the two women are sisters,
Anne and Sarah Pilgrim. When the conductor announces the next stop
is Trollenberg, she insists that this is their next stop and they
have to leave the train there. It turns out that Trollenberg is also
Brooks' stop. At the station they meet the manager of the local hotel
who informs them that, although it is normally the height of his establishment's
busy season, he still has plenty of rooms left. On the way to the
hotel, Anne reveals that she knows a great deal about the area and
the mysterious events that have been occurring recently such as the
death of the climber, disappearances and locals abandoning the area.
At the hotel, she is again disturbed by the sight of the Trollenberg.
Inside they are introduced to another guest called Truscott, who seems
to recognise the sisters' names, but can't quite place
them. The women retire to their room where Anne experiences a strong
feeling of déjà vu about the mountain and its surrounding
area. In Brooks' room, Truscott is in conversation with the American
when the former remembers that he had seen the sisters' mind-reading
act in London just recently. He finds it surprising that they should
abandon their journey to get off at a place like Trollenberg. He then
notices that Brooks carries a gun. Shortly afterwards Truscott is
heard phoning for information about Brooks. Downstairs, the American
meets two men, Brett and Dewhurst who are making preparations to climb
the mountain. Dewhurst is a geologist who is trying to establish a
reason for the spate of accidents in the area, while
the other man is his guide. Truscott and Sarah appear and he warns
the climbers to watch out for their rope. When asked why, he is informed
that apparently rope slippage killed the student climber the previous
week, ripping his head off in the process, although rumours abound
in the village that there was much more to the incident than this.
Brooks decides to accompany the two men on part of their journey,
with him stopping off at an observatory located on the side of the
mountain. At the observatory, he meets an old friend, Professor Crevett,
who had sent him a letter asking to visit him as soon as possible.
They discuss the strange events happening in the area in recent weeks
and their link with a mysterious, stationary
radioactive cloud that never seems to move from a point on the side
of the mountain. Crevett reminds Brooks that a very similar situation
occurred in the Andess three years previously.
Despite its SF content, The Trollenberg
Terror is initially presented in the form of a thriller. This
becomes evident from the startling pre-credit sequence, featuring
the decapitation of the climber, which then jump cuts to a train entering
a tunnel, followed by the titles. The titles themselves, along with
the driving theme music by Stanley Black (City Under the Sea
65), strongly evoke the style of a thriller, with some viewers possibly
being reminded of Saul Bass's credit sequences for Alfred Hitchcock.
Although assumed to be a scientist
by some of the other characters, hero Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker)
appears to be some sort of special agent-cum-trouble shooter for the
United Nations, part of a wider team that investigates strange phenomenon
throughout the world.
Thrown into this mix are the presence
of the two innocent bystanders caught up in events outwith their control,
the mysterious guest called Truscott (Laurence Payne), who spies on
both Brooks and the women, and whose motives remain unclear for a
lot of the film, along with a nearby scientific facility which has
been observing some strange activities.
The Trollenberg Terror's narrative
drive is also very thriller-like in its pacing. While part of the
must be attributed the skill of film editor Henry Richardson (A
Study in Terror 65), another important factor is that screenwriter
Jimmy Sangster has condensed some 150 minutes of television drama
into a feature film of less than 90 minutes duration. Thus the main
plot components are very quickly established with a handful of establishing
scenes, and Janet Munro's dialogue describing recent events in the
area around the Trollenberg.
Even if the condensation of the source
material had been far less successful, The Trollenberg Terror
would in all probability still have proved compelling, since the initial
premise of Peter Key's original teleplay, with its mixture of mystery,
science fiction and bizarre incidents is strong enough to survive,
almost any attempt at adaptation.
Sangster is well served by a mixture
of second-rank and character performers, with lead actor Forest Tucker
proving to be a dependable and likeable leading man. This was, in
fact, one of three sci-fi movies that Tucker made in the UK at roughly
the same time, with all being based on successful television material,
the others being Val Guest's Nigel Kneale-scripted The Abominable
Snowman (57) and Gilbert Gunn's The Strange World of Planet
Of the rest of the cast, two were
employed on the original telecast, Laurence Payne (The Tell-Tale
Heart 60) and Stuart Saunders (The Horrors of the Black Museum
59), as the inquisitive reporter and doomed geologist, respectively,
and acquit themselves well as do the rest of the cast. Busy character
actor and future sitcom superstar Warren Mitchell (Curse of the
Werewolf 61) does, however, turn in a highly theatrical performance
as the excitable German scientist in charge of the observatory. By
far the most striking performance seen in the film comes from the
diminutive Janet Munro (The Day the Earth Caught Fire 61) as
the young psychic. Munro possesses the most extraordinary eyes, and
here cinematographer/co-producer Monty Berman (What a Carve-Up!
61) makes outstanding use of them, aided by the actress's not inconsiderable
talent, to convey the psychological terror inflicted on her by the
alien invaders. Overall, she very effectively imparts the feelings
of fear, confusion and bewilderment produced by her experiences, succeeding
in turning in a very touching performance.
Regrettably, Sangster's script does
not always repay Munro's efforts, as he fails to develop some of the
concepts connected to her character, such as the reasons her growing
link with the creatures in the cloud, and the nature of the breakdown
that brought her to Trollenberg. It is extremely regrettable that
Sangster cannot find anything for her to do in the final act and simply
halts her involvement in any further proceedings when he has her attacked
and knocked unconscious by a possessed villager. Jennifer Jayne (Dr
Terror's House of Horrors 65) is treated even more shabbily, with
her character of the older sister being reduced to mere decoration.
On the whole, Jimmy Sangster has successfully
reworked the original material by Peter Key into a feature film format,
there are some issues that may have been more fully resolved in the
much longer teleplay. Among these are the aliens' keen interest in
acquiring human heads, of which they seem to have quite a collection,
and why they feel so threatened by humans with ESP along with some
plot inconsistencies about the beings' strengths and abilities (notably
how they can leave and enter a locked hut so easily).
The Trollenberg Terror shares
many of the traits found in other genre product from Britain cinema
of the time. The most obvious, of course, is the poverty-stricken
budget. This means that, apart from a few scenes taking place in spartan
settings like a railway carriage, cable car and studio-bound mountainside,
much of the action takes place in the hotel foyer and the control
room of the observatory, which actually adds to the sense of claustrophobia
generated by the story.
As every low-budget filmmaker knows,
talk is cheap, and Sangsters script is certainly dialogue-heavy. Some
of this, however, may be attributable to the project's televisual
origins that, in turn, owe a lot that medium's debt to Britain's theatrical
past. Some of this dialogue is quite useful, not just expositional,
providing technical and other details about the nature and scale of
the threat faced by humanity, adding some veracity to the proceedings.
Modern viewers may still consider it excessive padding.
Quentin Lawrence's background in television
production is apparent throughout this film, to its frequent detriment.
Although benefiting from moody photography by Monty Berman (featuring
some imaginative composition) and the oversized expressionist-tinged
settings from Duncan Sutherland (The Vulture 66), Lawrence's
direction is at best workmanlike, with little in the way of style
and imagination, apart from the occasional visual flourish (like the
high-angled shot employed when showing Janet Munro attempting to escape
from the observatory). He largely fails to generate any real tension
and excitement, outside of that inherent in the narrative itself and
it is plain to see why he worked almost exclusively in television,
apart from the occasional minor cinematic work.
If Lawrence's overall contribution
to The Trollenberg Terror is, overall, disappointing, there
are some sequences, in a macabre vein, where he does raise his sights.
The first of these has the sisters
perform their mind-reading act for the residents of the hotel. At
first, everything goes as planned, then, apparently triggered by the
image of the Trollenberg mountain in a paperweight, the psychic sister
goes into a trance and seemingly witnesses events unfold on the peak
as if she were actually present there. During this sequence, very
effective use is made of deep focus and extreme close-ups (especially
of Janet Munro's eyes) along with extremely atmospheric underlighting
to create a genuine frisson.
In a later scene, a climber (Andrew
Faulds, Jason and the Argonauts 63) thought lost on the mountain,
suddenly reappears at the hotel. Acting somewhat disorientated, he
gives the impression of being otherwise well, until he attacks the
psychic girl with a dagger. At the start of this sequence, Faulds
make a startling entrance, his face, lit and shot from below, suddenly
filling the whole frame. He then lurches towards the camera, which
tracks rapidly away from him. Where Lawrence really excels,
however, is in the next few minutes when it becomes apparent, through
small details and growing sense of unease, that something is terribly
wrong with the climber. Faulds's performance here is exemplary, effectively
conveying someone who is not in control of his own body. Munro's horrified
reaction to his presence is also very good.
In a piece of filmmaking heavily indebted
to the horror genre, an apparently dead Faulds is later resurrected,
and escapes from the room where he is being held by graphically strangling
(shot from a low-angle with a hand-held camera) the hotel manager
(Frederick Schiller) and obtaining his keys. He then grabs a cleaver
and makes his way to Munro's bedroom. With its expressionist lighting
and composition, this harks back to an earlier era of genre filmmaking,
while the shuffling, zombie-like human it looks forward to George
A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead (68).
While somewhat primitive, the gore
content in The Trollenberg Terror is significantly higher than
would have been allowed in its television incarnation. Therefore the
makers here can show images like a bloody headless corpse, a head
sticking out of a rucksack and, most impressively, the skin on an
arm melting away to reveal the bone.
A the climax of the movie, the cloud
which has been hovering about on the side of the mountain, descends
onto the town of Trollenberg itself and those controlling it are finally
revealed. Seemingly inspired by the creatures seen in Jack Arnold's
It Came From Outer Space (53), the alien invaders most prominent
feature like the earlier work is a huge single, glaring eye. The cloud
creatures, however, also feature lots of tentacles, to ensnare unwary
humans and pustulent, pulsing bodies. Their overall grotesque appearance
is enhanced by sound recordist Dick Smith's bizarre audio effects.
Some reviewers have drawn attention
to the possibility that the normally hidden, multi-tentacled and mind-controlling
aliens along with the movie's original title, The Trollenberg Terror,
may in fact be an allusion to the work of American fantastic author
H.P. Lovecraft, in particular his writings as part of the
Cthulhu Mythos. While this is certainly an intriguing possibility,
there appears little hard evidence to support it, since screenwriter
Jimmy Sangster has never commented on it, and apparently nothing has
ever been written (to this writer's knowledge) about original scripter
Peter Key or his career (which seems to have ended at the end of the
If the creatures themselves are of
a nicely gross design, their actual creation and use is compromised
by the lack of time and money that is such a feature of the world
of low-budget film production. The remain impressive as long as they
stand still but lose some of their menace when seen lumbering towards
the camera (even though Forrest Tucker's character exclaims: "Those
things can really move". Not true),
The effects credited to Anglo Scottish
Pictures, but featuring the talents of Les Bowie (The Evil of Frankenstein
64) and his team, are ambitious for such a project and unfortunately
are found wanting in a number of respects. A recurring bugbear in
British cinema (including more lavish films like those in the James
Bond franchise) is the ineptitude of much of the optical work.
This is certainly true of The Trollenberg Terror, especially
when live action, matte paintings and rear projection are used together.
Some of the best effects work is in
the use of miniatures, such as that of the observatory along with
the hotel and surrounding area, where some of the detail is impressive.
This is somewhat marred, unfortunately by some very obvious scenic
backdrops that are very obviously paintings.
Things really start to go wrong in
the finale, when a pack of creatures descend onto the observatory,
where they have to be fended off with petrol bombs. Even taking into
consideration that this is a product of the 1950s, the miniatures,
the mini-blobs and above the pyrotechnics are pretty risible and,
for many less tolerant viewers, undermine the enjoyment of the movie.
The film is further hindered by a
weak denouement that has the air force merely drop fire bombs onto
the invaders, quickly solving the problem, rather than having Tucker
and the people inside the observatory devise their own method of dealing
with the invaders. A more imaginative piece of writing would possibly
have allowed Janet Munro's character find a way for her to use her
ESP abilities against the creatures' mind-control abilities.
Several of those involved in The
Trollenberg Terror, had interesting careers following their work
Robert S. Baker and Monty moved into
filmed episodic television in the early 1960s and had major success
both domestically and internationally with titles like The Saint,
Gideon's Way and The Baron. The partnership dissolved
at the end of the decade and Berman continued working in television
with titles like The Champions, Department S and Randall
and Hopkirk (Deceased) to his credit. Baker, meanwhile made the
occasional movie (for cinema and TV) and profitably exploited the
rights to Leslie Charterist's The Saint well into the 1990s.
As Jay Fairbank, Jennifer Jayne had
some screenwriting credits, including two Freddie Francis vehicles,
the horror anthology Tales That Witness Madness (73), which
she also appears in, and Son of Dracula (74).
Assistant Director later went on to
helm episodic TV as well as the occasional "quota quickie"
like Calculated Risk (63).
Under the name Ronald Liles, production
supervisor Ronald C. Lisles produced John Gilling's The Night Caller
(65) and helped script Terence Fisher's Night of the Big Heat
Actor Andrew Faulds eventually became
an outspoken Labour MP between 1966 and 1997 (for two different constituencies),
whose main area of concern was the Palestinian issue.
~ ~ ~ ~
Special thanks to Iain McLachlan.for
allowing me to use this review.