First, for the sake of perspective, some history -
From the 1950s through to the 1990s, few British and European actors escaped his tales and certainly none of the most memorable ones. Dean Jagger, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Janet Munro, Herbert Lom, Jackie Collins, Oliver Reed, Jannette Scott, Elke Sommer, Nigel Green, Ralph Bates, Roger Daltrey, Lionel Jeffries, the list is seemingly endless. His stories ensnared American actors like Bette Davis, Stephanie Powers, Shelley Winters, David Soul, Meg Foster, Alex Rocco, Susan Dey, Lynn Hamilton, Stuart Whitman, Gena Rowlands, Richard Baseheart, George Peppard, Dennis Weaver, Darren McGavin, Raymond Burr, William Conrad, Robert Urich, Lynda Carter, Kim Catrall, Katherine Ross, Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck, Morgan Fairchild, Ted Danson, Gary Graham, Elliot Gould, Bill Cosby, Jerry Reed, even William Shatner and Mr. T! Jimmy Sangster's scripts employed more actors and filmmakers than even the stories of Stephen King! And when he wasn't writing, which was nearly every day, he was directing. And when he wasn't directing, he was producing! In his heyday, Jimmy was so prolific it's beyond belief! Hell! He even wrote a documentary called BEYOND BELIEF!
The concept is quite good and so is the way it is played out.
It starts with an opening "Gotcha". Two mountain climbers are taking a break and call out to the third member of their party, Jimmy, who is somewhere above them. They are exhausted but relaxed. Then Jimmy starts shouting and the next thing you know, he falls right past them. Fortunately they are all tethered on the same line so his pals pull him up. Until one of them sees what happened to their friend, NOT from the fall, but from whatever threw him down!
A train goes screaming like a man in terror right into a tunnel. Yep, that's how the next scene starts. In one car are two sisters, Sarah (Jennifer Jayne: DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, HYSTERIA, THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE, THE MEDUSA TOUCH, THE JIGSAW MAN, THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS) and Anne Pilgrim (Janet Munro: THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE) and a stranger to them. Everything seems to be fine when suddenly Anne freaks out for reasons unexplained. The stranger turns out to be Alan Brooks, scientist at large (Forrest Tucker: THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, COSMIC MONSTERS, THE GHOSTBUSTERS [TV]). The sisters are supposed to be on their way to Geneva, but Janet is adamant about stopping in the mountain village of Trollenberg.
The manager of the lodge, Herr Klein (Frederick Schiller) picks them up, surprised but delighted at the arrival of the two unexpected guests. During the car trip though, Anne asks some questions that make the lodge manager uncomfortable and we begin to realize that there have been more than a few unexplained deaths on the mountains.
Once in the lodge all meet the pushy, glad-handing guest, Philip Truskott (Laurence Payne: THE TROLLENBERG TERROR [1956 - TV], THE TELL-TALE HEART, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, DR. WHO [TV]); an inquisitive chap who, at one point, enters Alan's room and asks if he can help him unpack his clothes.
Apparently the gays have a rather clumsy approach in Trollenberg, yet the town name is all the more illuminating.
Shot in 1957, the end of the war with Nazi Germany was only 12 years old. And after the "official" end in 1945, the murder of American soldiers by German citizens continued for about another 12 years. Also toward the end of the war, the alliance between Russia and the U.S. crumbled and by the end of the war, the leaders of both nations knew they were friends no more. The Cold War began and the Iron Curtain dropped and particularly in Europe, spies could be everywhere. This was due to the fact that, in addition to government spies, there were also hoardes of wannabees gang-bangin' for a possible government job. There were also sympathizers from many sides willing to do a little spying of their own on spec. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people through the 50s and 60s, found their lives complicated and even jeopardized due to some ratty jerk slandering them for an attaboy as a CIA, American, Russian, Capitalist, Communist, Socialist, Facist, Former Nazi, what have you. So around the world in various countries, paranoia was high, and we saw the birth of many spy and secret agent movies, the most enduring being the James Bond series. Even Alfred Hitchcock got into the act a few times. So Philip is a real spy, a wannabe spy, a sympathizer, or...?
Down in the bar, Alan meets two genial mountain climbers, Geologist Johan Dewurst (Stuart Saunders: THE TROLLENBERG TERROR [1956 - TV], LADY IN THE FOG, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, WITNESS IN THE DARK, OCTOPUSSY) and his pal, Brett (Andrew Faulds: BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, THE DEVILS). The two friends are climbing the Trollenberg, hoping to reach the halfway point, spend the night in the cabin there, and "attack it" the next day. Johan invites everyone for a round of drinks on him to celebrate his first time up this particular mountain. The seemingly peaceful bonhomie is complicated by Philip showing up, accompanied by Sarah. In 1958, this scene would have been extraordinarily tense, with the audience expecting Gendarmes to come busting the idyll at any moment and arresting the hapless Alan on trumped up charges.
Philip can't resist putting everyone on edge by bringing up the most recent deaths on the mountain. Though his pose is serious, Philip revels in the gruesome details of how one of the climbers died, and tells Johan and Brett to "mind your ropes."
Meanwhile, the Pilgrim sisters as it turns out, are entertainers who do a magic act involving staged telepathy. Alan Brooks is a disgraced UN Scientist who has come at the behest of his friend, Professor Crevett (Warren Mitchell: THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF). Crevett runs the state of the art mountain observatory to study cosmic rays. The two worked on a project halfway around the world in the Andes mountains just a few years before. Whatever happened there was awful enough that neither of them feel comfortable discussing it. Suffice to say, Alan called out the military, they found nothing, many people died, and Alan wound up looking like a fool. Crevett has called his friend because, whatever happened in the Andes, is now happening in Switzerland: The same pattern of death.
The Pilgrim sisters put on their show for the lodge guests when Anne is suddenly struck with her freak-out again. She starts talking and while it seems to be babble to most of the folks, it makes sense to Alan and Crevett. The cabin has a phone and Alan calls only to discover that what he is hearing on the phone is the same thing that is coming out of Anne's mouth.
Reluctantly, Professor Crevett confronts Sarah and asks a question he isn't at all comfortable with asking, "This is no stage performance is it? Anne really is telepathic?"
Secret out, Sarah admits to the truth. This is amazing news to Crevett and Cranston, but the most stunning thing is the possible deaths of the two mountain climbers. At daylight a team goes up the mountain to find one man missing and the other dead. That night, the climber Brett miraculously returns on his own but doesn't seem to be quite himself. Is he suffering from shock or...?
Alan gives him a test and Brett fails it spectacularly. So what does this all mean?
Well if you were to ask me, I'd say it has something to do with those damn crawling eyes!
THE TROLLENBERG TERROR has moments of sheer brilliance, biding its time without ever languishing in the story. Coming off a very popular TV show of the period, aided by some of the stars of that show helped (for example, Philip is supposed to be a threat to audiences that haven't seen the show, but fans know that he is the ever investigative Mr. Truskott. This was back when being a Reporter was reasonably respectable). The threat of the something, even in the beginning, is ever present. We know that the villagers are nervous. The outsiders, who haven't seen the bodies, chalk up the recent spate of deaths to amatuer mountain climbers. They scoff at the fears of the villagers, who have seen the bodies and know that these are no ordinary climbing accidents. This is a terror slowly gripping a populated place; the people there are aware of it, and aren't being taken seriously by a world that has its attention elsewhere, which adds to the growing fear that is the THE TROLLENBERG TERROR. Yes, everything is ready for the revelation of just what the terror is.
To be fair, the monsters were probably very realistic for their time. Shown on the giant movie screen, the close-up of the giant eyes encased in balloon brains and staring out in vein-y arterial madness probably scared a generation of young Scifi and Horror writers, directors, and fans. Even now the monsters have a fluid movement as the SFX artists of the day were trying to get away from the ultimately inferior stop motion animation and got involved with men in rubber suits and puppets. The Crawling Eyes are no men in rubber suits. That said, by today's standards they look quite silly. And the more we see them, the sillier they look. The SFX was very experimental, like CGI in its early years. Watching the eyes truck around on their plant root tentacle legs induces chuckles. There are also moments when the human victim is clearly a doll.
There are also a few times when director Quentin Lawrence (THE TROLLENBERG TERROR [1956 - TV], H.G. WELLS INVISIBLE MAN [1959 - TV], THE VOODOO FACTOR [1959-1960 - TV], THE GHOSTS OF MOTLEY HALL [TV]) decided to heighten the tension artificially. Such as when a bad guy prisoner wakes up in his locked room and discovers that his captors thoughtfully left him a machete Right Next to His Bed!!!
Or when a man gets a big gash on his head and it doesn't bleed - and that only elicits passing curiosity from onlookers.
Or when a man who is moving but Clearly Not Alive is stopped by a bullet. You can kill dead people with a bullet? What? Where?*
Or a group of people leave the lodge before the monsters get there, and only much later does the doting mother and father realize that their only daughter is nowhere to be found - Why? Because the tyke ran All The Way Back Down The Mountain to get a toy! What kind of parents are these?
If not for the creature effects and these misteps, THE TROLLENBERG TERROR, which remains a Horror classic, would also be an excellent movie. It's a great story with great characters, a compelling concept and cool plot. This one is ripe for remake land and deserves it. Three Shriek Girls.
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