Look, I know The Crawling Eye is cheesy. I know this film is so dumb that it was literally featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000…. but I don’t care.
The Crawling Eye is a good movie.
I like The Crawling Eye. The film was made in 1958 but somehow it still possesses that pre-War British black-and-white thriller atmosphere I adore. It’s no The 39 Steps but The Crawling Eye has good plotting, no-nonsense dialogue and a fantastic suspenseful build-up that even now in 2023 can keep your attention glued to the screen.
Does the movie have flaws? Yes, of course. The climax, when the audience gets to see the crawling eye, is a bit disappointing. I won’t deny that. The fuzzy close-up of the gooey disgusting eye is passable but the limp string-controlled “tentacles” are ridiculous. They have all the fearful energy of overcooked pasta.
I still snicker a bit at the child actress, completely devoid of fear, calmly standing with a supposed “tentacle” around her waist while the adult actor tries to desperately rescue her.
The Crawling Eye (aka The Trollenburg Terror in the UK) was made during an era where no audience members were truly fooled by monster effects. Folks don’t know about the pre- Star Wars era of movies where being scared by the monster on the screen required a hefty suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. It was a lift-with-your-thighs-not-your-back level suspension of disbelief.
Did scary movies exist before computerized special effects? Oh heck yes! Watch M and see if you don’t get scared. But those movies relied on acting and plotting and dialogue and lighting and editing to give chills. If make-believe monsters were involved, they would have little screentime.
The Crawling Eye opens up with several climbers huddled together on a cliff face while mountain-climbing in the Alps.
Automatically this setting gets my happy adventure endorphins pumping.
Yes, it’s dumb to think that you can have a glorious mountain-climbing experience six thousand feet above sea level while wearing only a turtleneck. To the twelve-year-old boys raised on media like The Adventures of Tintin comic books, however, a good woolen sweater is all you need for a climb. Read any boy’s adventure tale where hypothermia is just a passable condition that can be cured with a swig from a hip flask and you’ll know what I mean. The opening shot of The Crawling Eye looks like a regular, rugged, exciting trip.
Unfortunately things go wrong for our turtlenecked alpinists. One of the men gets his head torn off by an unseen menace. We then cut to a train whooshing through a tunnel as the opening credits roll.
On the train are two beautiful sisters, Anne and Sarah Pilgrim, who are part of a clairvoyance sideshow act. As the train approaches Mount Trollenburg, the mountain where the alpinist lost his head, Anne suddenly gets a creepy urge to get off the train. She becomes agitated and insists that she and her sister stay at the mountain. Anne cannot explain why she has such a sudden urge to visit the mountain but only states repeatedly that they have to go to Trollenburg.
Anne’s unnatural and sudden urge to visit the mountain is a well-placed suspenseful setup. The Creeping Eye has excellent plot pacing and knows how to keep the audience engaged.
Anne and Sarah get a room at the Hotel Europa, a small inn at the base of Mount Trollenburg. We meet a few more characters, including a scientist from the UN named Alan Brooks. Brooks has also arrived at the Trollenburg mountain at the request of a researcher, who is worried about an odd cloud that has formed around the mountain’s peak.
The inn has very few guests because of the mysterious decapitation deaths that have been occurring to alpinists on the Trollenburg. The creepy atmosphere hangs thick around the place.
Sarah Pilgrim meets two friendly British mountaineers, Guilhardt and Brett, who are prepping to climb up to a small hut on the Trollenburg.
Later that evening at the inn Sarah and Anne give a demonstration of their mind-reading act. Anne has to psychically visualize certain objects Sarah hides behind a screen. Anne first accurately describes a snow globe with a model of a mountain and a hut. Then Anne falls into a trance describing the mountain and the hut and Alan Brooks realizes that Anne is describing the actual hut on the mountain where the two British mountaineers are currently staying. Anne describes one of the mountaineers named Brett leaving the cabin in a trance.
It’s a satisfyingly spooky scene in a cheesy horror movie sort of way.
A rescue party leaves to climb up the mountain to rescue Guilhardt and Brett. Brett suddenly arrives back at the inn, acting strangely. Brett is shaky and talks about how the inn is too hot. When Anne shows up in the inn’s lounge where Brett is having a drink, Brett tries to kill her.
Another man rescues Anne and punches Brett unconscious. Brett falls to the floor, splitting open his scalp in the process. Sarah then notices that Brett isn’t bleeding from his wound. His body apparently has no blood.
I can’t explain why, but that image of Brett’s open, wide, bloodless wound is one of the creepiest shots in cinematic history. It just hits a very scary nerve with me.
Later it’s found out that Brett has been dead for awhile. The crawling eye creature killed Brett, reanimated him and sent him back to the inn to kill Anne. The crawling eye didn’t like how Anne’s clairvoyance was giving away the crawling eye’s actions.
There’s a bunch more stuff that is admittedly less interesting for me. Like most cheesy horror movies, the action gets dull once the delicious build-up ends and we’re left with actually fighting the stupid rubber puppet.
But you know what, go ahead and roast me because I like The Crawling Eye. I love the mountain setting. I love the idea of a Swiss inn tucked away at the foot of a haunted crag. I find the characters- especially the Pilgrim sisters- surprisingly likeable. I absolutely adore the exciting, suspenseful slow-burn set up of the film. I have no problem late at night popping in my DVD of The Crawling Eye and watching it as visual comfort food.
Because, like I said before, The Crawling Eye is a good movie.