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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Trollenberg Terror

This UK sci-fi movie ran as the second feature to Cosmic Monsters. For American promotion, it marketed as "The Crawling Eye" even though the credits retained the original title. The movie was itself an adaptation of a six-part serial aired on British TV in 1956. The original was entitled "The Trollenberg Terror." For a B production, Trollenberg manages to be a reasonable horror/mystery story set in the Alps. Only towards the end the actual aliens appear on camera. For many viewers, this is the movie's downfall. In truth, the crawling eye aliens are not all that bad (compared to say the space bird in The Giant Claw ('57). The quality of the first three-quarters of the movie has raised expectations, such that merely B monsters tend to disappoint. That aside, Trollenberg is actually a fair bit of British sci-fi from the 50s.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Three young men are climbing Mt. Trollenberg, one above them, off camera. He talks of fog and seeing something, then screams and falls. He comrades are horrified to see that he has no head. A young woman on a train gets a vision of the three climbers, then passes out in the lap of Alan Brook, special investigator for the UN. Alan, Ann and her sister Sarah all get off at Trollenberg. Alan visit Professor Crevett at the high mountain observatory. He's tracking a mysterious radioactive cloud on the mountain. The villagers talk of mysterious deaths of climbers and curses. Two other men buck the warnings and climb. That night, Brett leaves the hut. Something returns to to get Dewhurst. Ann sees this too, as a vision. A rescue party finds Dewhurst decapitated. Brett shows up in the village acting odd. He tries to kill Ann, but is stopped. The cloud is coming down the mountain towards the village. It covers the only road out, so everyone must evacuate to the observatory. Hans, now an alien-animated zombie arrives and makes another attempt to kill Ann. The aliens are moving up, surrounding the bunker-like observatory. They start to break in. Alan gets the idea that heat or fire will stop them. They make some molotovs, but they're not enough. Alan calls in a bomber with fire bombs. After a few passes, the fire does stop and burn the aliens. The people emerge safe. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
As a horror murder mystery tale, Trollenberg moves along fairly well. Qhentin Lawrence keeps the mood spooky and the pace reasonable. Though much maligned, the eye monsters are not all that bad, for a 50s B movie. They're actually rather similar to how H.G.Wells describes his martians in his novel "War of the Worlds". Janet Munro is also a pleasure to watch.

Cold War Angle
There is a touch of the venerable "invasion" trope as a tie to the Cold War. This, however, is far overshadowed by the larger (and simpler) horror and mystery story.

Quatermass Formula -- The structure of Kneale's Quatermass stories was popular with British audiences. A mysterious and bizarre creature is terrorizing the countryside. Only our lone take-charge expert seems to know what's going on. Hammer's X-The Unknown ('57) used it, but with a Dr. Royston in the Quatermass role. In Trollenberg, the Quatermass role is performed by Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), special investigator for the UN.

Monster Motivation -- Not much screen time is spent on the aliens as anything other than murderous monsters. There is, one brief scene, however, in which Professor Crevett theorizes about them. He thought that maybe they came from a dying world, in search of a new home. They pick mountain peaks because they're accustomed to lower pressures and cooler temperatures. The clouds, he mused, could be them making their own atmosphere. They appear to multiply by division, as the cloud splits and re-splits. Since they use mental suggestion to murder, they would appear to be a hostile invasion.

Zombie Tools -- The aliens animate and control the bodies of dead people to do their manual labor. Brett dies up on the mountain, but returns to kill (and decapitate) Dewhurst. He then appears in town on a mission to kill Ann. Hans rashly tries to drive out of the village, but is apparently killed by the aliens. His zombie appears at the observatory, again with the mission to kill Ann. Interestingly, in both cases, our heros are able to kill the already dead men.

Geo-Trivia -- There IS a quaint little village named Trollenberg, but it's not in the Alps. It's due north of Zurich, in the German state of Baden W├╝rttemberg. It is in the Black Forest, but there are no alpine mountains nearby.

Bottom line? Don't let the MST3K spoof throw you off. View the original and cut the producers some slack on the monsters. It's a B movie. Get over it. Trollenberg is actually a pretty good B movie.


Mike Scott said...

The original TV version of "The Trollenberg Terror" was shown on Saturday Serial (six 30 min. episodes 12/15/56 to 01/19/57), on Britain's ITV Network. It is uncertain if there is any surviving record of the live broadcast. It doesn't seem likely, though.

Michael Anthony - Petitjean
Raf dela Torre - Prof. Crevet
Sarah Lawson - Sarah Pilgrim
Laurence Payne - Philip Truscott
Frederick Schrecker - Dr. Spielmann
Stuart Saunders - Dr. Dewhurst
Rosemary Miller - Ann Pilgrim

Producer, Director - Quentin Lawrence
Teleplay by Peter Key (pseudonym of George Kerr, Jack Cross, and Giles Cooper)

Unknown said...

Howdy Movie Fans,

When I saw this as a kid it scared me silly.

First off:

Good plot line, even with the obvious holes.

Fine acting - Forrest Tucker is always good, better in this than the "Cosmic Monsters."

Very few slow spots.

Jennifer Jayne and Janet Munro - lovelies.

The monsters, please give them a break.
Some scenes, head in the backpack and so on, that were pretty gory for the time period.

I don't know how many times I have seen it but will watch it again.

See you at the movies,


I will be the balding guy several rows back from the screen.

Don't forget to keep the electric motors for the aerial tram cars warm.