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Crawling Eye, The

Image // Unrated // December 4, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 12, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The nightmare terror of the slithering eye that unleashed agonizing horror on a screaming world!

The 1958 film The Crawling Eye, despite its dubious distinction as the first movie featured on the now-legendary Mystery Science Theater 3000 on its basic cable debut, is generally considered to be fairly decent in many sci-fi circles. This was the last and by far the best known of the three films churned out by British outfit Tempean Productions, who was shamelessly attempting to duplicate the success of the then-budding Hammer Studios and Quatermass and the Xperiment. Both films were adapted from British TV serials, and the source material for The Crawling Eye were the six episodes of The Trollenberg Terror that aired on ATV in December 1956. Less gory than its silver screen counterpart, The Trollenberg Terror was written by Peter Key and even featured a handful of the same actors, most notably Stuart Saunders, Frederick Schrecker, and Laurence Payne. Another similarity between this film and the first Quatermass is the casting of an American actor to provide some level of marquee value domestically, with future F-Troop regular Forrest Tucker standing in for Brian Donlevy. Despite the relative obscurity of the serial, the feature film version has somehow managed to embed itself in pop-culture, thanks to its appearances in Small Soldiers, the title sequence for the first few seasons of MST3K, a cameo in the Ethan Hawke/River Phoenix sci-fi classic Explorers, a lengthy spoof in an episode of Freakazoid!, and some level of prominence in virtually every '50s sci-fi retrospective ever produced. Best known as The Crawling Eye, this movie has been released under a variety of titles, including Creature From Another World, The Creeping Eye, and The Flying Eye. It's referred to under two titles on this disc alone, with the cover and theatrical trailer emblazoned with The Crawling Eye, though the uncut European version that comprises the feature is labeled The Trollenberg Terror. But enough with the pointless exercise in trivia -- on with the review!

Anne and Sarah Pilgrim (Janet Munro and Jennifer Jayne, respectively) are two sisters taking a well-deserved break from their exhausting mentalist act, and en route to Geneva, the telepathic Anne feels compelled to hop off at the sleepy hamlet of Trollenberg. Unbeknownst to them, fellow traveler Allen Brooks (Forrest Tucker) is also slated for a stop at Trollenberg, where he had received an urgent communique from Professor Crevett to come at once. Brooks had become a laughing stock in the scientific community for crying 'alien' some years earlier in the Andes, and though some of the tell-tale signs are re-emerging, he's reluctant to stick his neck out in quite that same way again. The mysterious clouds are continuing to descend from the mountaintops, claiming the lives of a number of villagers and hapless climbers. The decapitation-happy alien intelligence somehow becomes aware of Anne's abilities, dispatching the undead to rid the world before descending from the clouds themselves to claim her life and those of the remaining townsfolk.

The Crawling Eye builds an effectively creepy atmosphere in the first fifty minutes, though this portion of the film is rather slow moving and mired in dialogue. The last half hour, which is where many claim that the movie falls apart entirely, actually struck me as moderately engaging. The oft-referenced effects aren't exceptionally awful, with the titular eye creatures standing out as the most blatant shortcoming. These little buggers get such a paltry amount of screentime that the shoddy craftsmanship is tolerable, though the quality seems to get exponentially worse with every second they spend on camera. The distracting rear projection in a number of scenes was actually a greater annoyance to me. The acting is decent enough, if on the hammy side, though it's certainly not in the same league as most agéd schlock. Forrest Tucker's bland Heroic American™ is overbearing and a far cry from the sorts of characters he effortly played in so many Westerns. The centerpiece is unquestionably the lovely Janet Munro, and The Crawling Eye would've been vastly inferior without her presence. She's a few shades from the generic Maiden In Peril that littered these sorts of movies in the 1950's, though her Anne is just frail enough that my patience wore a bit thin by the fourteenth or fifteenth fainting. I probably would've enjoyed The Crawling Eye a hair more if exceedingly positive reviews hadn't raised my expectations to such an unreasonable level. Though this is a movie that's still very much in the upper tiers of '50s sci-fi, The Crawling Eye still falls considerably short of stronger efforts such as It! The Terror From Beyond Space or even the Quatermass series that apparently inspired the film.

Video: This 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer was struck from a uncut British print, as evidenced by the BBFC certificate that precedes the film, as well as the original The Trollenberg Terror title card. The quality of the video is remarkable, offering a nearly indescribable improvement over earlier releases. My previous experiences with The Crawling Eye have been limited to late-night broadcasts growing up and a VCD I downloaded some time ago of the MST3K version. These presentations were riddled with specks, featuring blooming whites and ridiculously poor contrast. A vast improvement over the public domain cheapies bobbing around discount bins, this DVD release of The Crawling Eye is significantly crisper and offers far more in the way of dynamic range. For the first time in decades, more than a couple of shades of gray are distinguishable, and black levels appear deeper and inkier than the pasty grays evident in so many of the assorted screencaps floating about online. Neither the grain nor the amount of dust and assorted specks are particularly distracting, and even what's present isn't a bear once the film gets underway. The occasionally impressive cinematography courtesy of Monty Berman, despite the minimal budget, is well-represented, and only a couple of shots of what's obviously stock footage look at all rough. The Crawling Eye is comparable in quality to Image's other entries in the Wade Williams Collection, such as Teenagers From Outer Space, and that's most assuredly a compliment.

Audio: The Dolby Digital mono audio isn't quite as striking as the quality of the video, though there are still few complaints to be had. Background hiss is relatively minor, and there are no pops or crackling whatsoever. Another pleasant surprise is that Stanley Black's score doesn't exhibit the harsh, tinny quality of most sci-fi of the era. Dialogue is consistently discernable, if a bit muffled, and even this is probably true to its theatrical presentations.

Supplements: Decent liner notes from David Del Valle, one of the foremost authorities on vintage sci-fi/horror, are the most noteworthy extra. On the disc itself are a battered American trailer, obviously snagged from a video source of some sort, and three stills that iterate for fifteen seconds. Trailers for a number of other Image DVDs are hidden on the main menu.

Conclusion: The Crawling Eye is unquestionably worth an addition to the collection of any rabid '50s sci-fi buff, but whether or not this disc warrants a purchase for more casual fans is debatable. This is unquestionably the definitive way to watch The Crawling Eye, with a few moments of footage reinstated and a marked jump in video/audio quality. Anyone with the faintest interest should at least consider a rental, though its $25 list price may be offputting to those more likely to watch this movie once and shelve it.
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