The Trollenberg Terror [The Crawling Eye] (1958)

I quite like this one.

Yeah, I know it gets its share of mockery — well, more than its share — thanks to the less than special “special effects” of its climax, but The Trollenberg Terror (better known here as The Crawling Eye) is actually a tense little horror film if you ignore the effects.

I’ve written elsewhere about the original Quatermass serials, which combined horror, science fiction and character-driven storytelling and introduced the British TV audience to horror at a time when it was restricted to adults in British theaters. The show was a big hit for the BBC and quickly spawned several sequels and a series of Hammer films. So it should come as no surprise that it also inspired a legion of copies.

One of the first was Associated TV (ATV)’s six part story, The Trollenberg Terror (1956-57) which rushed to the big screen a year later, with Forrest Tucker as the inevitable American star found most British films at the time (ironically, he would make two other Quatermass clones in the UK the same year: The Cosmic Monsters, based on yet another TV serial; and The Abominable Snowman, Hammer‘s version of another TV drama by Quatermass’ creator, Nigel Kneale).

The build-up is just lovely: we have a series of mysterious events — a strange cloud where there should be no cloud, strange deaths and disappearances, a young girl psychic gets off the train at the wrong stop because of a mysterious compulsion, and there are dark hints about something similar that happened in Forest Tucker’s past.

It all ends with an all-out assault on the village as the unseen menace finally reveals itself.

John Carpenter credits this film with inspiring The Fog, which also features a mysterious cloud with deadly monsters hidden inside.  It is a classic situation, even if it isn’t as good as those in the Quatermass serials.  

This is, however, a creepy, slow burn mystery which builds plenty of suspense as the horror gradually mounts. The writing isn’t as sharp as Nigel Kneale’s, and the fact that it has been crammed into a film half its original length (and a new main character added!) does mean that there are some loose ends, unresolved issues and minor plot holes. While the creatures are disappointing (although “disappointing” really isn’t strong enough),  the first time we see one of them is quite dramatic and fairly impressive.

Even if they do look quite silly when we finally see large numbers of them.

But then I’ve seen worse effects in other Fifties SF films.

Which I suppose is the real dividing line. If you are going to hate a film because its ambitions outreached its minimal effects budget (and what film technology could accomplish at the time), then by all means avoid this one.

But if you can overlook silly effects and instead enjoy a film with a strange mystery and slowly building horror, then you might want to take a look. It isn’t as good as most of the British SF films of the age, but it is an enjoyable minor effort, if you can overlook its modest flaws.

And let’s face it: technical skill and great effects are no guarantee that a film is worth seeing. If you can’t ignore a few flaws, then you are going to miss out on a lot of enjoyable films.

And, if you give this film half a chance, it would be one of them.

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