The Film Detective
Release Date: November 26, 2019
2019 Restoration: Peter Conheim (Cinema Preservation Alliance)
Bonus Features: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version (1993), Interviews with Arch Hall Jr. and Joel Hodgson
Liner Notes: Don Stradley, Editorial Adviser, The Film Detective
Running Time: 205 minutes (including bonus features)
Aspect Ratio: 1:66:1
The Blu-ray Edition is super limited to 1,500 copies. If you want to own a copy or gift it as a perfect stocking stuffer – better grab it now.
I Gotta Rock, He’s Got A Rock…
“OMG – It’s in color!” was my immediate exclamation as the credits opened on The Film Detective’s new restoration of Arch Hall Sr’s 1962 caveman movie, Eegah. The last time I saw the film was over 50 years ago on my family’s living room television set, a black and white model.
Back then I was eager to see any film featured in the pages of the monster magazines I was avidly collecting. Local TV was the only outlet. No streaming, not even a VHS tape to rent. So when the likes of Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow or King Dinosaur showed up in the TV Guide I was determined to be glued to the single television in our household to soak up the goodness. Of course it wasn’t all goodness, but I hadn’t taken in enough of the genre to have a critical opinion.
In the mid 1970’s authors Harry and Michael Medved’s Worst of…, Golden Turkey Award and Hollywood Hall of Shame books trained a spotlight on what they believed to be crowning achievements of celluloid ineptitude. Though fueled by humorous ridicule, it appears the saying “words can never hurt” is true, especially when it comes to publicity. The attention drawn to these forgotten films ultimately propagated a “so bad, it’s good” cult, with fans eventually drifting into two skews. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) viewers enjoyed seeing Joel Hodgson and his space puppets lovingly roast the films, while Psychotronic readers followed a more scholarly path, craving technical information about the most obscure films and anecdotes from their creators and stars. This, in part, explains how by the 1990’s a bio-pic about director Ed Wood Jr. could not only get green lighted but prove Oscar worthy, and in 2019 a film like Eegah could warrant a 4K restoration from the original 35mm negative.
Inclusion of MSTK3’s Eegah episode in Film Detective’s package is a great value added feature and offers a fun opportunity to compare an unrestored print. One of the hallmarks of this film is the loopy dialog looping. It doesn’t matter if actors’ lips are moving or not, they are likely to be speaking anyway. In fact, much of Eegah’s mumblings were dubbed in by Hall Sr. in postproduction, and the totally disembodied line “Watch Out for Snakes” became a tour tagline for MSTK3’s 2017 road show.
The visual quality of this new presentation offers a pristine time capsule of California in the pre-hippy ‘sixties. Utilizing locations around Palm Springs and the ubiquitous portals at Bronson Canyon (TV’s Batcave) saves the film from the stage-bound look of many concurrent independent productions. In fact, the poolside scenes, dune buggy perambulations, musical interludes featuring Arch Hall Jr. on an awesome Fender Jazzmaster, not to mention the playfully difficult relationship between leads Roxy (Marilyn Manning) and Tom, make Eegah seem like a missing link between AIP’s beach party films (the first of which would not premiere until the following year) and the rougher juvenile delinquent drive-in theater films of the late 1950’s.
In fact, Eegah served as both a second feature to pair for distribution with Hall Sr’s previous production The Choppers, as well as a vehicle to feature Richard Kiel’s unique 7’ 2” physiology. Kiel went on to play the deadly grill equipped character called “Jaws” in James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. No, he was not Lurch in The Addam’s Family TV series. That was Ted Cassidy.
We’re A Happy Family…
Aside from Peter Conheim‘s spectacular looking restoration there’s a lot to recommend Eegah. The film has a cheesy charm and unexpected pathos in spite of its budgetary constraints. Kiel’s late second act interaction with his desiccated family members – presented by a quartet of scarecrow-like figures – is a wordless rumination about the future of his lineage. Even the desperately DIY nature of the cave interior doesn’t scan much worse than some early Star Trek sets.
Aside from being a beautiful restored print, watching Eegah was a lovely slice of nostalgia for me. Kiel waving his club above his head and hoisting rocks with both hands reminded me of the similarly positioned miniature plastic cavemen I collected as a kid and I clearly remember my Dad walking around the house intoning “Eegah” in a low grumble for some time after we watched the movie together. I laughed to find myself inexplicably doing the same thing this week.