For most of his life, Evan Dossey generally avoided horror films. The genre made him profoundly uncomfortable. This meant he had enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Over the years, he has asked family and friends which essential horror movies he needs to see and spent the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those folks — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
Bob Bloom is a founding member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association who reviews movies, 4K UHD, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. You can email him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter (@ReelBobBloom) or Facebook (/ReelBobBloom), or find his reviews online at Rotten Tomatoes.
Forrest J. Ackerman, the late founder and publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland and other publications, nicknamed filmmaker Bert I. Gordon “Mr. B.I.G.,” a pun of Gordon’s initials as well as his propensity for creating giant monster movies.
Honestly, most of Gordon’s movies can be categorized as schlock; they were cheaply made with special effects that were comprised of rear-project and very bad matte shots.
Gordon’s moves included King Dinosaur, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast and The Spider (aka Earth vs. the Spider). My favorite among Gordon’s output is Beginning of the End, in which mankind battles man-eating locusts (in their swarming phase as short-horned grasshoppers).
The grasshoppers were mutated by radiation that scientist Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves) was using in experiments to grow gigantic vegetables. Supposedly, the pesky grasshoppers were able to get into the greenhouse for a nosh … and soon began to grow. It seems they also grow hungrier and hungrier, so they start munching on people — more specifically the residents of Ludlow, a small Illinois town.
Stumbling upon the now-destroyed town is photojournalist Audrey Aimes (the lovely Peggie Castle). Aimes notices that the fields around the town are barren, as if stripped bare by locusts. She travels to a nearby Department of Agriculture experimental station run by Wainwright. Soon, they conclude that the locusts had eaten radioactive wheat stored in the station’s silo.
Sure enough, the locusts start rampaging throughout the countryside, devouring anything in their path. The National Guard is called out, but the troops are overwhelmed by the insects.
The movie’s special effects are rudimentary at best, consisting mostly of scenes in which badly photo-matted locusts are on one side of the screen and soldiers are on the other.
Beginning of the End is a bloodless creature feature. Gordon’s schtick was the pan-in on an advancing monster, then a cut to a soldier, a pan-in on him and his horrified reaction, then a cutaway as the victim screams and is devoured. The effects are similar to teenagers making a home movie, except that Gordon had a few more dollars to spend on a cast and a ponderous and loud musical score by Albert Glasser.
The climax is set in Chicago, where the locusts overrun the city and the military considers dropping an atomic bomb to wipe them — and the city itself — off the face of the Earth. However, Wainwright saves the day by devising a fake locust mating call to lure them into Lake Michigan, where the big bugs drown.
The sequence of the locusts piling up in the lake is ludicrous; they appear as normal-sized insects instead of the giant creatures we have been watching for the first hour-plus of this 73-minute opus (which ends with Wainwright and Aimes wondering if any other animals had eaten other radioactive crops).
To me, one of the movie’s head-scratchers is the casual-like decision to nuke Chicago. Haven’t these military bozos learned anything? It was the use of radiation that created the insects, now the military wants to use nuclear weapons to destroy them. And what happens to the waters of Lake Michigan after the locusts swarm into its waters? You would assume some sort of fish would begin munching on them and begin to grow. Apparently not, as Chicago was never threatened by giant minnows.
Still, Beginning of the End is campy viewing that will have you screaming — mostly with laughter.