of the End
= Highest Rating
mutant grasshoppers overrun Chicago!
Following in the successful wake of Them!
(1954) and Tarantula
(1955), 1957 was a banner year for movies about humongous insects.
It saw the release of The Deadly Mantis
(featuring, naturally, a gargantuan praying mantis) and The
Black Scorpion, about behemoth scorpions terrorizing
Mexico. Bert I. Gordon, indie auteur of such bargain basement
sci-fi fare as The Amazing Colossal Man
of the Puppet People, made his contribution
to the '57 Bug-a-thon with the ominously titled Beginning
the End. Since the notion
of king-size earwigs or boll weevils wasn't particularly horrifying,
Bert hit upon locusts. (Somehow he missed cockroaches. Unless
you're a Third World crop farmer, what's so scary about locusts?)
Wisely, neither the film's title or original theatrical poster
(see above) gave away the true identity of the beasties. Gordon's
vision of a grasshopper apocalypse will have you laughing and
shaking your head in disbelief at the same time.
Radiation is again the culprit, only this
time not because of any nuclear fallout. (There weren't many
A-bomb tests conducted in the Midwest, apparently.) Actually
it's Peter Graves' fault. As Dr. Ed Wainwright, square-jawed
scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he's been
experimenting with radioactive plant food growing basketball-sized
tomatoes and such. Unfortunately he and his deaf-mute partner
Frank Johnson (Than Wyenn) were pretty lax when it came to keeping
insects out of the lab. Some locusts hop in, eat the atomic
nutrient, and before you know it the entire population of Ludlow,
has disappeared, the town flattened as if by a tornado.
(Insert stock footage of actual tornado damage here.)
When units of the National Guard cordon off
the area around Ludlow, intrepid news photographer Audrey Aimes
(Invasion U.S.A.'s Peggie Castle)
faces a total press blackout concerning the incident. In pursuit
of the story she meets Dr. Ed, who proudly shows off his giant
veggies. Before a connection can be made, however, the monsters
show their hand er, foreleg by gobbling
up Frank in a hilarious scene wherein the mute scientist pitifully
attempts to scream. (You'd think the character was blind as
well... How'd he not see that giant critter?)
Not believing Ed and Audrey's wild tale ("Oh
now, Ed!"), National Guard commander Colonel Tom Sturgeon
(Thomas B. Henry, The Brain from Planet
Arous) nevertheless accompanies the scientist to the site
of Frank's death with a squad of riflemen. Again the grasshoppers
get the drop on the humans as the grunts on point fail to spot
the boxcar-sized insects until it's too late. Half of the squad
gets eaten before the survivors 'bug' out in a truck, the .30-cal
man blazing away at the pursuing monsters. (Sorry about the
pun.) No longer the doubting Thomas, Sturgeon orders artillery
brought up while Ed And Audrey fly to Washington D.C. to brief
Pentagon brass. Skeptics there are swiftly brought 'round when
an urgent message comes in declaring that another Illinois town
has been destroyed, the defending Guard units routed. No more
is seen of Col. Sturgeon in the movie I assume he died
with his boots on.
The locust horde continues to devastate the countryside
on its march toward Chicago. This is conveyed through expository
dialog rather than shown, as it's much cheaper that way. The
armed forces, coordinated by Gen. Hansen (Earth
vs. the Flying Saucers' Morris Ankrum), try valiantly to
hold the threat at bay but to no avail. In a howlingly ridiculous
sequence, stock footage of army training maneuvers are intercut
with scenes of soldiers running around in the foreground behind
fake trees while close-up shots of real locusts — supposedly
"8 feet tall, even bigger" — are projected in the background.
Not a frame of it is in the slightest way convincing, despite
the actual immolation of some the stunt locusts involved. (Poor
dears!) It certainly doesn't help matters that battle sounds
often don't match the onscreen action or that guns being used
by the actors don't even fire half the time. Was Gordon too
cheap to spring for enough blanks? Seems that way; I've never
seen so many jammed weapons in one movie. No wonder the U.S.
military is getting its butt kicked by oversize grasshoppers!
Meanwhile, Wainwright and other scientists are desperately
trying to come up with some way of stopping the creatures. Chemical
sprays aren't working. When the locusts reach the Chicago suburbs
Hansen gives Wainwright's team 24 hours to find a solution before
an atom bomb is dropped on the city. Ed and Audrey are astonished
by this development, arguing against it, but Hansen is resigned.
"If we don't drop the bomb, Chicago will almost certainly fall,"
he grimly informs them. (Huh? Drop an A-bomb and there won't
BE a Chicago, dumbass!) Ed comes up with one last theory yet
to be tested. He and Audrey bravely stay behind in the evacuated
city, working feverishly to make a go of it before it's too
As bad as the special effects are up to this point, you'll
be astonished at those on display in the film's climax. Gawk
in wonder as live (if somewhat lethargic) grasshoppers crawl
about on photo cut-outs of Chicago buildings! Yep, Gordon
was too cheap to use even a single model in this picture — it's
amazing how stupid it looks. What in God's name were they
thinking? Still, the principal actors have to be commended.
They all turn in decent performances; Graves and Henry are particularly
good in the scene in which Wainwright tries to convince Col.
Sturgeon of the impending crisis. ("Giant locusts are responsible
for all of this!") The cast's straight-faced seriousness
in the midst of ludicrous dialog and laughably bad FX should
keep you entertained. I certainly was.
End has been released
on disc before, as part of Rhino's line of Mystery Science
Theater 3000 DVDs. The uncut, 'un-riffed' version of the movie
was available on the flip side of that comedy disc but the fullframe
transfer it used was rife with grain and fairly ragged. Image
Entertainment's spanking new edition is a revelation in comparison.
Shown letterboxed at 1:66.1 (the film's correct
ratio), BOTE has never ever looked
like this before on home video — the original camera negatives
were used for this DVD. The presentation isn't perfect, as there
are fleeting moments of nicks and speckling, but it's pretty amazing
how good the flick looks. The mono audio track is clear and relatively
distortion-free. (There's a bit of hiss now and then but nothing
out of the ordinary for an almost 50-year old low budget B picture.)
of a brief poster/lobby card gallery and an audio commentary.
Participating in the commentary are actor-composer Bruce Kimmel
(who acts as moderator), Flora Lang (special effects artist for
director Bert I. Gordon and also his former wife) and Susan Gordon,
Flora and Bert's daughter. It's a breezy, lighthearted discussion
that provides more of a general outline of Mr. B.I.G.'s career
rather than focusing on BOTE in particular.
(The ex-Mrs. Gordon, who must be getting on in years, doesn't
actually remember a whole lot.) Kimmel, perhaps in an attempt
to be ingratiating, praises the movie wildly out of proportion
to its actual merits. Anecdotes about the grasshopper wrangling
required for the FX shots are the most amusing. (Turns out they
all died during production — mostly by killing each other!)
This Image DVD was discontinued sometime in 2008, and has been
fetching up to 75 bucks (used) in the interim. On 22 April 2010,
Hen's Tooth Video is reissuing what is apparently an identical
edition for the much more reasonable price of $18.