THE TROLLENBERG TERROR glopped forth from England in 1958 to emerge as THE CRAWLING EYE when it was first spotted in the States on the last day of the year. A short theatrical shelf life gave way to years of TV exposure in late-night runs that suitably spooked undemanding kids eager for whatever monster they could add to their list. Many years later it morphed into a cataract of camp when stoned, retro-bemused adults found it mockworthy, thanks to venues like Mystery Science Theater 3000. One step beyond that tokescreen of easy sarcasm was taken when further reappraisal gave it overdue credit for its basic storyline, able casting and moody atmosphere. That sober peek (is sober really the best way to watch this?) still allows ample bemusement over the numerous goofs and obvious—yes, eye-rolling— budgetary shortcomings. In this instance of “special effects” keep in mind that one definition of ‘special’ is “distinguished by some unusual quality.”
“His head! It was torn off!”
JOURNALIST: “Cute little things, aren’t they?” U.N. REP: “Yeah. I’m gonna throw a bomb at that one.”
‘Alan Brooks’ (Forrest Tucker) is a ‘United Nations paranormal science investigator’ (load yourself down with credits while you’re at it) who arrives in an Alpine town to see if the the recent mysterious, gruesome deaths of climbers are somehow linked to similar happenings in the Andes. Could ‘something’, coming from way above the mountains, be using them to disguise nefarious plans? That’s pretty much a duh considering there are radioactive clouds hovering, unmoving, over the nearby peak and more victims accumulate. Research becomes rescue, then repel boarders, when what lurks behind the vapor slithers into view. Others in the line-of-eye include clairvoyant ‘Anne Pilgrim’ (Janet Munro), who sees more than anyone would want.
Written by Jimmy Sangster, who blazed through six screenplays that year, scoring a major coup with Horror of Dracula, the script has a surefire set-up—collecting a varied group in a remote location and giving them something extraordinary to face. The bare bones budget didn’t allow for director Quentin Lawrence and crew to go on location to the Alps, but the slow-burn buildup (granted, the doofus US title lets the eye out of the bag) in confined spaces builds reasonable suspense, and the cast works efficiently. Tucker, who was equally at home in comedy, villainy or heroics, makes a solid, relaxed lead, and the fresh, sensual and disarming Munro brightened each of the few films she was featured in. Kids (and forgiving old hands) will not be unduly bothered by the matte work representing the mountains, and the cloud-shroud gimmick is a proven scare-standby from the halcyon days of Dracula and The Wolfman (have dry ice, will travel). The prolific Stanley Black composed the suitably dramatic score.
Location! Location!—the geographically inclined will note that Trollenberg is—oops—not in the Swiss Alps, but hundreds of kilometers away in Germany’s Black Forest. As for misdirection, the original, now-restored British running time was 84 minutes, but US distributors hacked it down to 75 to speed up arrival of the aliens promised by the suspense-killing title change. It was then part of a double-bill with another Brit import also starring Tucker, The Cosmic Monster aka The Strange World Of Planet X. Lest we forget, this was a triple for the hardy, underrated Forrest (and his fabled, um, tree); then 38, he’d also just starred in the British-made The Abominable Snowman.
When Molotov cocktails only go so far, call in the Air Force: NATO jets bombing neutral Switzerland, but, hey that’ll teach those peace-loving bankers to put chocolates on hold and order some anti-aircraft guns–gee, wonder who’ll supply them? Other than the first effective reveal of one of the slithery aliens, the effects are on the basement (or foundation) level of The Giant Claw, getting nakedly silly during the battle wrapup. Part of the fun. At the very least, the game if much-pilloried effort has earned its share of worthwhile writeups. Glenn Erickson of CineSavant/DVD Talk offers the fairest, most trenchant (https://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s378eye.html) while one of the more hilarious viewpoints is provided at Werewolves On The Moon (https://moonwolves.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/the-trollenberg-terror-1958/).
Ad taglines: “WARNING: If you’ve ever been hypnotized, do not come alone!” and “A man dissolves…and out of the oozing mist comes the hungry eye, slave to the demon brain!” Eeeuw…
With Laurence Payne, Jennifer Jayne, Warren Mitchell, Frederick Schiller and Andrew Faulds.
* Quentin Lawrence (1920-1979) was primarily known for directing much British TV, but the former physicist had also developed patents for equipment that provided television imaging and transmission and, more seriously, technology for nuclear reactor control rods. He’d worked on the Manhattan Project, so dealing with tentacled space orbs was a walk in the fake Alps.