Quentin Lawrence, 1958
Starring: Forrest Tucker, Laurence Payne, Jennifer Jayne
In the mountain town of Trollenberg, panic grows after a young climber is mysteriously killed — and decapitated — in the fog. A recently arrived UN agent, Alan, works with a local scientist to study a strange cloud hovering above the mountain that might be radioactive. A young woman, Anne, has been touring Europe with her sister and is inexplicably drawn to the area thanks to her psychic powers. It seems that alien beings reliant on the cold have come to the area and their intentions are far from friendly — particularly towards Anne. As they begin to prey upon locals, the team works to stop them in time.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the convention of the unreliable narrator — popular in novels and films — where you realize at a certain point in the story that you can’t trust what the protagonist/narrator has been telling you. In the case of The Trollenberg Terror, I’m basically the unreliable reviewer in the sense that I’m not pretending to have any foundation of rational bias as I write this review and you might even not want to believe I word I say. I am absolutely gaga for ‘50s sci-fi horror films and The Trollenberg Terror aka The Crawling Eye, as it is known to US audiences, is a solid example of the type of trash I go wild for.
Inspired by Hammer’s work turning the Quatermass TV serial into the hugely influential film, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), the relatively forgotten Southall Studios adapted the TV serial The Trollenberg Terror into a feature-length film retaining the same director, Quentin Lawrence, as well as some overlapping cast members. Fortunately there’s a script from Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster, though I can’t pretend that the film is flawless — but the flaws are critical to its charm. The film is admittedly overly talkie and wastes a lot of potential in not revealing the Lovecraftian monsters until the last ten minutes. They’re delightfully tentacled beings with a giant, central eye that sometimes seems to jiggle, though I think that was not particularly intentional but is more a result of shoddy effects work.
Despite dialogue-heavy moments and a desperately low budget, there is plenty that The Trollenberg Terror has going for it. The snowy mountain setting is used to great effect and can be found in some of the decade’s more enjoyable sci-fi horror efforts, including The Thing from Another World (1951) and Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957). There’s a particularly excellent opening sequence where three young men are climbing the mountain. Two are visible, while the third, their friend, is out of frame, lost in the fog. He screams that is something is coming and is violently killed while his friends listen helplessly. They soon glimpse his headless body, which falls down the mountain.
There are also some great scenes where the titular “terror” is able to possess the dead. In one of the film’s most chilling scenes, a man believed to be lost on the mountain returns, but he is not quite the same. He stumbles awkwardly and doesn’t have full control over his limbs. It turns out he’s deceased and has been reanimated and sent back with the task of killing Anne. The film is actually unclear about why the creatures want her dead. She is drawn to the mountain because she can sense them psychically, but the film fails to really develop this angle. Not much ado is even made over the fact that she’s psychic — she and her sister have a traveling mind reading act, which many believe to be a clever gimmick — and this complete lack of exposition winds up being sort of comical. Despite these setbacks, Janet Munro (The Day the Earth Caught Fire) is adorable as Anne and keeps the character captivating.
The film really should have ended with Anne’s power being instrumental in defeating the creatures, but instead it’s totally swept under the carpet. Ultimately, there’s no reason for her to have psychic powers at all and they just function as a sort of interesting oddity. The film uses the old ‘50s standby of military assistance in its overblown conclusion. Randomly, jet planes and firebombing are a suddenly available option — with some ridiculous stock footage thrown in for good measure — and they also hilariously attempt to use Molotov cocktails against the monsters. Things sort of come off the rails in the last few minutes thanks to some laughable effects, but as I said earlier, this is just part of the film’s charm.
Should you watch The Trollenberg Terror? Absolutely, it’s fantastic. John Carpenter cited it as an influenced on one of my favorite of his films, The Fog. It’s also a great example of the highs (and lows) of ‘50s sci-fi horror. Though there are some terrible effects and lackluster direction, there’s some nice cinematography from Monty Berman and effectively creepy sound effects. Plus, you get such slices of delight like the scene where a woman from the inn is fleeing from the monsters and just happens to forget her child. Alan, the protagonist who just happens to be a UN agent and has “seen this sort of thing before,” offers almost every single other character alcohol and cigarettes at various points in the film. Also known as Creature from Another World (1958), The Creeping Eye (1958), and The Flying Eye (1958), you can and should pick it up on DVD from Image Entertainment.