The Trollenberg Terror (1958)
Director: Quentin Lawrence
Starring: Forrest Tucker, Warren Mitchell, Janet Munro
Aka The Crawling Eye. With Jimmy Sangster on writing duties and Les Bowie on SFX, The Trollenberg Terror marked another foray, like the Quatermass films, into the world of the BBC television serial adaption…
Switzerland, home of the Toblerone and the stuffed bank account. I should also point out that Trollenberg is in Germany, not Switzerland, but never let geography get in the road of a mental ‘B’ movie. But what’s this? Climbers are disappearing on a regular basis. Not good. The latest “accident” turns out to be the worst of the lot when a young mountaineer is decaffeinated! Oops, sorry – decapitated. In the words of one of his companions, “Didn’t you see him? His head… it was torn off!” UN investigator Alan Brooks rolls in to hit the hotel bar – errr, meet up with an old pal, Crevett, a resident scientist working in a mountain observatory studying “cosmic rays”. They’ve worked together before, on a trip to the Andes no less. Crevett has employed a false pretence to get Alan up here because there’s a problem, in the form of a cloud, a static radioactive cloud parked up there on Mount Trollenberg. And something similar happened on the Andes trip… Told you, not good. Not good at all.
Also swinging by are two sisters, Sarah and Anne Pilgrim, who happen to be a famous mind-reading act. On their way to Geneva, Anne has a fainting episode (all over Alan, by coincidence) on the train and demands they stop off at Trollenberg. She is oddly affected by the area, seems to know all about it though she’s never set foot in the place before. Quite why this should be a source of bemusement to Sarah I don’t know – she’s well aware her sister is psychic. Is Anne sensing the cloud on some kind of telepathic level, or should that be whatever’s inside the cloud? When two more climbers, Dewhurst and Brett go up the peak it triggers the cloud into making a run at the village and its innocent populace and, who knows, maybe even the WORLD!
Yeh, that’s right, ending a sentence in capitals – my old English teacher told me it’s a grammatical outrage, got me up in front of class and terrorised me about it. Well, Mr Honeyford, if yer reading this, I bloody well WILL. Whenever I bloody well WANT.
Anyhoo, The Trollenberg Terror does have a few problems, not least an apparently crucial plot thread gone AWOL. We’re told that Anne (Janet Munro) is perceived to be a threat to the cloud creature due to her powers of clairvoyance. So much so, humans are being zombiecated and sent to rub her out. Indeed, a bit of back story (depending on which version you watch, some US edits have this scene excised) tells us that during the Andes expedition, a local psychic soothsayer recruited by the team was murdered in this way. Obviously there’s a specific threat but unfortunately even by the film’s conclusion Alan (Forrest Tucker) is muttering, “she can’t help us now…” Mate, we didn’t know how she could help you in the first place! I mean, what, by her being able to ‘see’ what the cloud is doing? Shit, there’s an observatory on the mountain monitoring its every move, no need for ESP chicanery. Furthermore, why is the alien cloud creature here in Germ… errr, Switzerland? What’s its purpose, its plan? We never find out. If this thing’s landing on top of a mountain because, as Crevett (Warren Mitchell) says it may require a thin atmosphere to survive, that’s hardly a springboard for world domination. Two words for ya, Cloudy: sea level. But, y’know, rather than do a lazy MST3K on an easy target like Terror, I’ll have a go at raising its profile…
I like the opening credits, the train to Trollenberg speeds into the blackness of a tunnel, groovy animated arrows point out cast and crew and when that’s done with, we emerge from the tunnel once again. Cool. The film really gets into a rhythm when Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders) and Brett (Andrew Faulds) reach the shelter of a hut at night. There’s a sense of the Lovecraftian about the sequence. As Brett goes wandering into the fog, the scene is intercut with Anne giving an impromptu demonstration of her talent back at the hotel. She correctly guesses a hidden object as a snow globe paperweight, then the psychic flash hits her and she begins to commentate on the sinister events unfolding at the hut before finding her way back inside the snow globe – “mountains, snow…” It’s not quite deft enough in director Lawrence’s hands but kudos for the attempt. Shortly after, fat boy Dewhurst is set upon by an unseen intruder. In daylight, a search party hike up to the hut to find a single body, minus head, on the floor. A spotter plane locates Brett (you can tell Brett’s an experienced climber, he blarts out climbing wisdom like, “A mountain’s a mountain…” No way, really?) on an outcropping, alive. Two rescuers converge on his location and find a rucksack, bloodied. Inside the pack is Dewhurst’s severed head. At which point they are attacked by the deranged, pickaxe wielding Brett. Eventually, he fetches up in the hotel bar where first, he has trouble getting a drink into his face. Having just about managed that, he appears to be so inebriated he almost lights the end of his nose rather than a proffered cig! Then he gets proper nasty when he claps eyes on Anne. From the hut to here, it’s a very tense and effective section of the film. A pity, then, that they squander a couple of following set-pieces.
The almost obligatory Child In Peril Scene™. Soon as you see the bouncing ball you know the kid is going to slip away from the retreating villagers and head back to the hotel to retrieve it. The sequence cranks up well enough, tendrils of mist creeping under the doors, then the doors crashing inward and we finally see the monster – a grotesque tentacled eyeball. The little girl runs in to scoop up her ball, remarkably unperturbed by the sight of a giant tentacular one-eyed ballsack (and it’s a bit worrying to see where it shoves a tentacle). But never fear Alan is here. In reality, he gets there too quick and out too easy losing all tension in the process. Then they waste a hazardous cable car journey; the cloud begins to freeze the lines but rather than have the car maybe stall completely a metre from the platform, or show the steel cable starting to fray and snap, the car jolts rubbishly a couple of times before reaching safety. They don’t even have the car fall into the ravine just as everyone gets off in time. Boo! For some reason, the camera lingers on a dropped teddy back at the other platform. Would’ve been darkly funny had they all been trundling along in the cable car only to discover the kid had sneaked off again…
The finale is quite enjoyable, scientists and townsfolk packed into the observatory as the cloud creatures multiply and crawl inexorably toward their din-dins. Again, Anne is a specific target even though by now her telepathic skills are completely redundant and the boys are reduced to lobbing petrol bombs at the monsters. That is until Alan calls in an airstrike… Actually, there’s a funny moment when heroic Alan runs out to chuck a Molotov missile. He gives clear instructions to a beaky bloke in a peaked cap to open the door and once he’s out, to close it again immediately. Beaky swings the door open, out goes Alan – and in the reverse angle a short, speccy bloke closes it! What happened to Beaky, I liked him! Also look out for a mercifully brief and ludicrous shot of a Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne) ‘action figure’ being hoisted into the air and throttled by a tentacle.
The main players do okay; Tucker makes for a decent hero, initially reticent to put his credibility on the line after the ‘Andes incident’ but eventually taking a firm hand of the situation. Warren Mitchell puts on a smirk-worthy accent but does the scientist-y thing pretty well, despite some awkward moments (I’m thinking particularly of when he’s telling Tucker how much the lab cost – he keeps chuckling like a simpleton). Laurence Payne as the journalist is reprising his role from the series. You get the impression of him as a snake-in-the-grass sort early on, if that was intended it never goes anywhere. Jennifer Jayne as Anne’s sister Sarah finds herself in a thankless role really, her character doesn’t serve any purpose beyond being there.
Then there’s Blackpool girl Janet Munro… She’s lovely. When I first saw her in Terror it was love at first sight. Then I saw her in The Day The Earth Caught Fire (which I’ll also be reviewing at some point) and fell in love with her all over again. I don’t mind admitting I used to lie back in the bath and fantasise about taking Janet up the Trollenberg… Oi! You filthy minded swine, that’s not what I meant! She plays vulnerable really well, it’s a shame she didn’t get a chance to follow the telepathic arc through to a heroine moment, instead having to be rescued by the lads all the time. Janet, I’d love to have made the moon our mirrorball, kid. Tragically, after a couple of marriage breakdowns and a brush with the nasty booze, a heart condition saw her off back in 1972. 38, she was.
And on that sad note… I can say The Trollenberg Terror is a passable distraction. The snow-capped peaks make a good setting, plus there’s some nice matte and miniature work as well. Yeh, it’s utterly, utterly silly but definitely worth a LOOK.
Check out the daft trailer here: http://tinyurl.com/ycpy43p
You’ll have to look around for a full movie link. There’s one here http://tinyurl.com/36rrpd4 but you’ll need to register I think.
ThereWolf, October 2010.