The Eye Creatures / Attack of the the Eye Creatures (1965) -***½
There’s a good chance that Larry Buchanan is the worst professional director who ever lived. At the very least, he’s a member in good standing of the same cinematic Legion of Doom that includes Al Adamson, Andy Milligan, Jesus Franco, and Ed Wood Jr. Like those übermenschen of crap, Buchanan exists on an entirely separate plane from ordinary bad directors like John Guillermin and Jan De Bont. He makes the kind of movies that a person must be at least slightly mad to create, so far removed are they from even the worst mainstream filmmaking in their total disregard for any accepted standards of quality or entertainment value, as those terms are generally understood. And as befits such a director, Buchanan went completely off the deep end at the end of his career, spending the 1970’s cranking out paranoid, delusional “exposé” films on such topics as the life and death of Marilyn Monroe (Goodbye, Norma Jean), the JFK assassination (The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald), and a supposed government conspiracy to kill off the top echelon of late-60’s rock stars (Down on Us). But most people who still remember Larry Buchanan know him primarily as the man responsible for a string of eight impossibly cheap movies he made for American International Pictures’ new TV division in the mid-to-late 1960’s. 1965’s The Eye Creatures/Attack of the the Eye Creatures was the first of these misbegotten films, and it is in many respects simultaneously the worst and most entertaining of the bunch.
It begins with Lieutenant Robertson of the US Air Force (Warren Hammack, of Mars Needs Women and Zontar, the Thing from Venus) heeding the summons of his commanding officer in a heavily guarded section of whatever base it is that he’s stationed at. The general sets up a crappy little 16mm projector at the back of the otherwise nearly empty room— which, I suspect, we’re supposed to believe is his office— and shows Robertson some spy-satellite footage of a UFO landing. Or at any rate, he says it’s a UFO; frankly, I’m pretty sure it’s really just a yo-yo turned on its side. (And depending on which version you’re watching, the moment when the general spools the film into the projector might also mark the first appearance in this movie of the truly awesome lack of workmanship that characterizes the bulk of Buchanan’s output as a director. Later prints of The Eye Creatures were supposed to have been broadcast with the rather snappier title Attack of the Eye Creatures. But whoever did the actual work of adding “Attack of” to the title failed to notice the “The” in the original logo. Thus these modified prints confront the viewer with a main title display that astonishingly reads Attack of the the Eye Creatures!) In any event, that yo-yo apparently poses a grave threat to life on Earth as we know it, and the lieutenant’s job is to rush out to the little boondocks shitburg where it landed, and meet up with a special top-secret unit trained for the express purpose of dealing with such situations. Before he does that, though, Robertson has to go pay a visit to the pair of enlisted men who monitor the worldwide network of high-tech surveillance equipment that is the eyes and ears of the unit he’s about to join. And would you look at that... these two schmucks are passing the time by using all their snazzy gear to perv on “teenagers” (none of whom is under the age of 25) necking on lovers’ lane! Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honor to introduce... the comic relief!!!! Dear God, make it stop...
As for that lover’s lane, it’s in the same town where the alien space yo-yo is supposed to have landed. It’s also the town where a pair of freeloading drifters named Mike (Chet Davis, who escaped from Larry Buchanan and made a string of minor spaghetti Westerns like Death Played the Flute) and Carl (Bill Peck) have set up shop for the moment, and where they are currently trying to pick up chicks at a ragged-out old diner. ‘Cause, you know— you’re never going to find a finer bunch of ladies than the ones waiting tables at the local greasy spoon. After having their advances rebuffed, the two men get to talking with another customer at the diner, one who swears he saw a flying saucer earlier that night. And because movies like this would be lost without improbable coincidences, Lieutenant Robertson happens to overhear their conversation when he stops in for dinner before going on to meet up with the colonel in charge of his mission (a colonel, incidentally, who will be clad in a sheer, leopard-print robe the first time we see him— eww...). After the flying saucer guy leaves, Mike tells Carl that he’s heading back to the motel— it’s late, and Mike wants to get up early the next morning for no really obvious reason. Carl, on the other hand, isn’t through failing to get laid, and he insists that Mike leave him the car so that he can go out cruising some more. While he’s at it, driving around in the vicinity of the town’s heavily wooded lovers’ lane, Carl spots that flying space yo-yo setting down on the far side of a ridge in a shot cribbed directly from Invaders from Mars.
Seeing this gives Carl an idea. He rushes back to the motel, and tells Mike that they’re about to get filthy rich as the exhibitors of the world’s first confirmed flying saucer. Mike (wearing a horrifying striped nightshirt— what is it with the men in this movie and effeminate sleepwear?!) figures his friend is just drunk, and insists on being left alone to go back to sleep. So Carl drives back into the woods to go looking for the alien vessel alone.
Meanwhile, Stan Kenyon (John Ashley, who played the singer in How to Make a Monster’s rock-and-roll-movie parody scene and later ended up making flicks like The Mad Doctor of Blood Island for Eddie Romero in the Philippines) and his girlfriend, Susan Roberts (Cythia Hull)— two of the oldest overage teenagers on record— are at lovers’ lane making plans to elope between kisses. Evidently Susan’s father, the local district attorney, doesn’t like Stan, and wants Susan to stop seeing him. They soon set off on their elopement adventure (driving with their headlights off in order to avoid attracting the attention of the short-tempered and heavily armed old man who owns the property where lovers’ lane is located), but on their way through the woods, they run down some large animal. Getting out of the car to see what they hit, Stan and Susan are confronted with a lumpy, gray humanoid with a gaping, lamprey-like mouth and glassy, yellow eyes dotted seemingly at random all over its body. I’m guessing this is one of the Eye Creatures. The two kids are too busy retching to notice, but one of the thing’s hands was severed in the crash, and this hand crawls under the front of the car and slashes one of the tires with its claws. Stan and Susan are thus forced to walk back, but they make a brief detour in order to call the police about the flattened monster from the old curmudgeon’s phone. The cops don’t believe their story, or course, but they do believe the old man when he calls them to come deal with Stan and Susan. And when that happens, the two teens are in a world of shit, because the aliens have, in the meantime, waylaid Carl and left his dead body in their fallen compatriot’s place. Stan and Susan find themselves charged with vehicular manslaughter when they meet up with the police at the site of their crippled Thunderbird.
So what’s Robertson doing while all this is going on? He and his unit have surrounded the alien ship, and are trying to find a way inside it. First, they bellow at the flying saucer through megaphones in the hope of communicating with its pilots. Then when that fails, they try to cut their way through the ship’s hull with oxyacetylene torches. This is a bad idea, because the Eye Creatures apparently buy their ships from the same manufacturer as the cellulosic vampire in The Thing from Another World; applying open flames to the hull causes the ship to explode.
This turns out to be a good thing for our teenage heroes, because when most of the neighborhood cops go speeding off to see what in the hell that explosion was about, it gives them an opportunity to escape from the embarrassingly low-security station house and seek out Mike, whose name they picked up on while the police were discussing the matter of Carl’s death with Susan’s dad. The similarity between their story and Carl’s ramblings about a flying saucer convinces Mike that Susan and Stan are on the level, and he (thank you, Jesus) changes out of his I-wanna-be-your-bitch nightshirt to go with them out to the woods. They soon find themselves surrounded by Eye Creatures, and though the beam from the spotlight on Susan’s car inexplicably destroys the aliens, the fact that Susan’s battery is just about dead leaves her and the guys unarmed in just a few moments. The only way they can salvage the situation is to high-tail it back to lovers’ lane, and get all of their friends to interrupt their heavy petting to strike back at the aliens with the deadly power of their combined high-beam headlights.
Now my guess is that plot synopsis started to sound awfully familiar about halfway through the second paragraph, even to those of you who didn’t witness the merciless beating The Eye Creatures received on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” This is because The Eye Creatures is, incredibly enough, a remake of AIP’s own Invasion of the Saucer Men. In fact, the majority of Buchanan’s output for AIP-TV consisted of remakes of old (one hardly dares call them “classic”) theatrical releases from AIP’s first flowering in the mid-1950’s. The Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, The She-Creature, and Voodoo Woman all got similar treatment over the following two years. The trick was that AIP head honchos Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson were giving Buchanan far less money than they had handed out to the likes of Roger Corman and Edward Cahn. For example, The Day the World Ended had cost something like $60,000 at the end of 1955. Its remake, In the Year 2889, was budgeted at somewhere around $30,000. Adjust that for ten years’ worth of inflation (admittedly a smaller factor in those days than in the 70’s or 80’s), and you’ll see that Buchanan really did face a nearly impossible task. Not only did that not stop him, though, he actually went and stacked the deck even further against himself by insisting on shooting his new versions in color at a time when Nicholson and Arkoff were perfectly content to let Leonard Katzman film Space Probe Taurus in black and white. The Eye Creatures and its successors would probably have come out as pieces of shit even if a director with talent had been assigned to them; with Larry Buchanan at the helm, they didn’t have a chance in hell.
Just how big a mess is this movie, you ask? Well, I’ve already mentioned the flying saucer, the rather forlorn so-called military base, and the staggering typo in the reissue prints’ main title display. But those, impossible though it may seem, are only the beginning. The day-for-night cinematography is probably the worst in all of history— it isn’t just that the toggling between “day” and “night” with every change of shot from soundstage to location footage and back again is glaringly obvious, but that the day-for-night shots themselves are so poorly done that it looks like somebody just stuck a pair of sunglasses in front of the camera lens. The fact that these scenes were quite obviously shot at around 12:00-1:00 in the afternoon doesn’t help matters any, either, nor does Buchanan’s ill-considered decision to aim his camera directly at the sun in an effort to create a substitute for the ever-popular “moon emerging from behind the clouds” image. The day-for-night shooting also serves to draw the maximum possible attention to the corners Buchanan cut in creating the monster costumes. The costumes are a remarkably varied bunch. To begin with, only a few of them have the multitudinous eyes that we see on the first alien— not a trivial concern in a movie called The Eye Creatures. But worse still, the majority of the extras portraying the monsters are outfitted only with the headpieces of their costumes! From the shoulders down, they’re just wearing black tights and fucking tennis shoes!!!! You can tell from the way he uses these half-costumed extras that Buchanan thought he could get away with this cost-cutting measure by keeping the guys in the tights mostly concealed behind foliage, and that strategy might even have worked were it not for two things. First, Buchanan seems not to have conveyed his intentions to all the monster-suit extras, and a couple of the heads-only monsters keep jumping out into the center of the frame. Second, by filming all the outdoor shots at high noon, he ensured that it would be perfectly easy to see his extras’ black leotards between the branches of the supposedly concealing shrubbery! And as the final kick in the ass, the sound quality is horrible, and the color film stock for which so much else had been sacrificed turned out so washed out and grainy that a number of scenes almost look like they were filmed in black and white anyway.
But there’s still more wrong with The Eye Creatures. The acting here is among the worst in the world, and at no point is it ever possible to believe that any of the people on the screen are who or what we’re supposed to believe them to be. This is especially true of John Ashley, who faces the further handicap of being some fifteen years older than the character he plays. The biggest flaws, though, come to the fore only when The Eye Creatures is looked at in context, as a remake of Invasion of the Saucer Men. The first point that stands out is the greatly increased emphasis on the soldiers, who primarily function as comic relief. Not only are these guys given easily three or four times as much screentime as their counterparts in the original, they somehow manage to be even less funny! This film is also much slower-moving than its model, which is perhaps understandable in some sense. After all, it had to be a good fifteen minutes longer in order to fit a standardized TV timeslot, but it uses virtually line-for-line the same script for most of the action. And it is this last point that is responsible for the most surreal thing about The Eye Creatures. Despite having been made in 1965, its handling of most of the characters is exactly the same as that in Invasion of the Saucer Men, made in 1957. The military is very much a 50’s military, the hypothetically smooth-talking drifters are another outdated archetype, and most glaringly, Stan, Susan, and the other “teenagers” seem to have been frozen somehow in time, right down to their dorky little suits and gravity-defying hairdos. I can only imagine how people must have reacted when stumbling upon The Eye Creatures by accident on late-night TV back in the 60’s— they must have thought somebody had slipped some of those new drugs the media people had just started talking about into their drinks!