Throwback Thursday: 'The Beast of Yucca Flats' (1961)


The science fiction films of the 1950s and 1960s played into society’s fears at the time, either with musings toward the Cold War or delving into the new territory of atomic energy. The latter of those – atomic energy – proved very fruitful in the eyes of filmmakers, pondering the possible horrific side effects of exposure to radiation. Thanks to those writers and directors, today we have such classic monsters as Godzilla, the Amazing Colossal Man, giant leeches, giant gila monsters, giant grasshoppers – you name it, someone probably made a film featuring a giant version of it.

Every once in a while, though, something a little… questionable managed to make its way to the big screen, such as actor/writer/director Coleman Francis’ entry into the atomic monster genre, ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats.’

In the film, Russian scientist Joseph Javorsky has defected to the United States, carrying with him a briefcase full of secret documents that he hopes to pass on to the Americans. Traveling through the Nevada desert, he runs into two Russian agents determined to bring the briefcase back to the motherland – with or without Javorsky. After a short car chase, Javorsky flees from the car during a shootout between the Americans and the Russians, walking as fast as he can into the desert. He unknowingly walks into an atomic bomb test, transforming him forever into a vicious killing machine.

It’s actually not a bad premise for a film. And Francis hired Tor Johnson (of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ infamy) to play the title character. So, for ’60s standards, so far so good… right?

With some movies, being poorly made can sometimes be a good thing, turning them in to cult or camp classics, such as the aforementioned ‘Plan 9.’ Too bad ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats’ doesn’t fare so well. I stared at the screen in amazement for the entire film film, wondering how – or rather, why – it ever became a reality.

Contrary to what my short synopsis of the film abvoe may seem to indicate, there is nothing presented on screen that’s even close to being believable. The actors stop and start as if directions are being shouted at them from off-screen. The majority of the dialogue is dubbed, and even then, the voice actors sound bored. The setting is hard to be believed: the atomic testing site is incredibly close to the highway as well as the town, and the townsfolk run amok through the test site without any adverse effects. Nothing seems to have been impacted by the radiation – even the little unscripted jackrabbit that wanders through the test site at the end of the film seems unaffected.

What starts as a promising premise becomes muddled very quickly with nonsensical scenes, such as the opening sequence featuring a woman in a motel room being strangled that doesn’t fit anywhere within the timeline of the story. A general lack of cohesiveness and interest spells doom for the film.

The film is narrated, which wouldn’t be too bad if this were a documentary. Unfortunately, the dialogue we’re forced to sit through is hackneyed and stunningly bad. For example, as a car drives down the road, the narrator says: “Flag on the moon. Where did it come from?” I almost shouted at my TV screen, “What the Hell does that have to do with the movie?” Thank goodness no one else was home with me at the time. And poor Tor Johnson as the Beast, with nothing more than a torn shirt and some prosthetic or latex pieces glued to his face – it’s sad, rather than scary, to watch.

‘The Beast of Yucca Flats’ is considered one of the worst films ever made, and after sitting through all 54 minutes of it, I can understand why. Bored characters, absurd scenes, almost entirely dubbed dialogue, gratuitous semi-nude females, and a Beast that wasn’t all that beastly – it should serve as a lesson on how not to make a film.