Shitty Movie Sundays: The Beast of Yucca Flats

Pound for pound, Coleman Francis might be the worst filmmaker in the history of cinema. He wrote and directed only three movies, but all three are so bad, so devoid of quality, that they stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the giants of shitty movies. And not the watchable ones, either.

The first of Francis’s trilogy of futility is The Beast of Yucca Flats, in which Tor Johnson plays a scientist mutated by a nuclear test blast into a mumbling, stumbling monster with grabby hands who terrorizes the people of the southwestern desert.

Before we get to the main story, however, there is an intro scene of a woman being strangled that never fits into the rest of the movie. What’s notable about the scene is that it features a little gratuitous nudity, which audiences didn’t get a lot of when this film was released in 1961.

Anyway, back in the plot, Tor plays Joseph Javorsky, a scientist defecting from Eastern Europe. He, and a briefcase full of secret files, are being transported to safety in the States when he and his guards are waylaid by a pair of communist agents, who engage the good guys in a gunfight that resembles a bunch of kids playing with cap guns in the backyard. The chase leads into the Nevada Test Site, where Javorsky and the commies are exposed to a nuclear explosion. The commies are killed, while Javorsky becomes the beast.

His first victims are a pair of motorists. The bodies are discovered. Two local patrolmen, Jim and Joe (Bing Stafford and Larry Aten), take on the task of chasing down the killer, who has fled into the desert. They don’t know who did the killing. They just know that he’s somewhere in the desert.

This leads to the film becoming an unintentional commentary on lazy policing. Thwarted on the ground, Jim takes to the air with a rifle in a small plane, intent on raining justice from above. The Beast of Yucca Flats movie posterHe shoots at the first person he encounters, Hank Radcliffe (Douglas Mellor), who has gone off into the desert in search of his two sons, who went and got lost while exploring (the kids are played by Francis’s sons, Ronald and Alan).

Tor is making only scattered appearances by this point. He doesn’t return for serious screen time until the film’s climax. What viewers mostly get are Jim and Joe scrambling over rocks and through the brush, the two kids doing the same, the father doing the same, and the nervous and fidgety mother (played by Francis’s wife, Barbara), waiting by the side of the road for the film to resolve itself. All of this to a constant narration that takes the place of most dialogue, and handles 100% of the exposition.

This flick is a masterclass in poor storytelling. The pace is somnambulistic, the narration is self-indulgent and pretentious. The actors barely do more than shuffle and walk around, sans emoting. Even the photography, by John Cagle, is bad, being mostly underexposed.

The Beast of Yucca Flats is an idea worthy of Roger Corman or Bert I. Gordon, who could have given viewers a b-movie with a little life to it, and maybe even some accidental quality. Coleman’s production, however, can barely be called a movie. It resembles one, but does little to entertain. It exists. That’s it.

The Beast of Yucca Flats is on top ten lists of the worst movies ever made all over the internet. The Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index works a little differently. We rank bad movies not just on objective quality, but on watchability. Are viewers entertained? Are they bored? Etc. This flick fails the basic tests of watchability. As such, it falls way down into the nether regions of the Index, displacing The Human Centipede at #428. It would rank even lower, but this flick’s sole saving grace is its 54-minute running time. Tack on another 15 minutes of this nonsense, and it would have been a contender for the bottom spot. The Beast of Yucca Flats is for the curious and the b-movie completists, only. Otherwise, stay away.

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