Wisconsin based filmmaker, Bill Rebane, got his career off to a good start with his successful documentary short, “Twist Craze” (1962), only to see his next project come to a sudden and disastrous end.
Terror at Halfway was his first attempt at a science fiction or horror film – although not, by far, his last – but his production was plagued by problems. He convinced Ronald Reagan to star, as the result of a chance meeting, only to see his producers reject him as a has-been. And, in the end, he ran out of money before he could finish his film.
But rather than try to find more backing, he chose instead to sell what he’d filmed to schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis . Lewis then shot a few more scenes to try to make sense of it all (one actor had changed enough in the four year gap that he ended up playing his character’s brother) and slapped it all together with a generous serving of overblown narration (which is generally a guarantee that the film you are about to see won’t make sense without a lot of help)
The end result was Monster a-Go Go, which came complete lots and lots of talk, important characters who suddenly vanish and are never seen again, a few shots of a giant astronaut monster, a hep theme song with the lyrics “Go, Monster, Go”, and a totally extraneous sequence with a dance party.
The plot bears more than a passing resemblance to The Quatermass Experiment, with a returned astronaut who has become a monster – at least, until we reach the bizarre “twist” ending where…
…Where the audience collectively asks themselves “what the hell just happened?” It’s really impossible to say much of anything else about it. One moment, we are in the middle of a hunt through the Chicago sewer system for a monster, like a low budget version of Them!, and the next?…
…And then the even more bizarre telegram shows up, telling us about something even sillier that just happened off camera.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Lewis hit on this bizarre solution because he didn’t have a dramatic shot of the monster’s death. Nothing else makes much sense of it all.
Oh, well. I have to admit that I like the black and white cinematography in some of the scenes, and the initial shots of the monster (undoubtedly Bill Rebane’s work) are reasonably impressive for a low budget horror film. The opening image – of the monster’s legs trudging across a starry background – are actually rather striking. One wishes they’d found more images like it throughout the film.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 took their best shot at this one, although it generally isn’t considered one of their better efforts because they had so little to work with – except for lots and lots of scenes of people talking.
The type of horror films represented by the Quatermass films, with their slow burn plots and growing horror is, unfortunately, hard to pull off, as they do tend to involve a lot more talk, a lot more technical jargon, and the need for a lot more work so they can gradually turn a string of minor incidents into stomach churning suspense. It isn’t easy to pull it off under the best of circumstances, let alone under the absurd conditions that produced this “epic”
Yet, I will confess that I have a certain affection for this film, despite its crippling flaws. It is moderately enjoyable in a bad movie sort of way, although it is a good one to avoid if your expectations are too high.
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