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The Trollenberg Terror (Import)

by Glenn Erickson Sep 02, 2023

The old TV Guide blurb nailed it: “Hidden in a radioactive cloud, a creature from outer space awaits its next victim.” CineSavant braves the freezing heights of the Trollenberg to wildly over-analyze this curiously fascinating bit of Brit Sci-fi, made on the cheap yet an over-achiever for imaginative suspense and jolting Jump Scares. Forrest Tucker stars, and Janet Munro steals the show as an anxious telepath haunted by alien thought-waves. Jimmy Sangster’s adapted script mixes Alpine scenery, gothic horror and eerie aliens worthy of H.P. Lovecraft. Gotta love it.


The Trollenberg Terror
Listed as Die Teufelswolke von Monteville — standard release.
Blu-ray
Anolis Entertainment GmbH
1958 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 84 min. / Street Date August 18, 2023 / Die Teufelswolke von Monteville / Available from Amazon.de / £29.94
Starring: Forrest Tucker, Janet Munro, Lawrence Payne, Jennifer Jayne.
Cinematography: Monty Berman
Art Director: Duncan Sutherland
Special Effects: Les Bowie, Brian Johnson
Film Editor: Henry Richardson
Original Music: Stanley Black
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster from a teleplay by ‘Peter Key’: Giles Cooper, George F. Kerr, Jack Cross
Produced by Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman
Directed by
Quentin Lawrence


Everything you didn’t need to know about a creepy-crawly favorite.

Earlier this year the German disc company Anolis released a special Media Book edition of Die Teufelswolke von Monteville (literal translation, ‘The Devil’s Cloud of Monteville), which by now everyone knows is the 1958 English production The Trollenberg Terror, released here in the U.S. as The Crawling Eye. This essay reviews the less fancy follow-up keep-case release, which has the same video extras but no Media Book goodies. More information is below but I’ll confirm right away that the street copy we received played fine in an ordinary domestic Blu-ray player, Region A.

The Trollenberg Terror emerged from a flurry of Brit Sci-fi TV production inspired by the success of Nigel Kneale’s 1953 BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment, a frightening story of an invasion by an alien organism. The odd UK film productions Immediate Disaster and Devil Girl From Mars, not to mention Fire Maidens of Outer Space, were all forgotten in the wake of Kneale’s two Quatermass TV follow-ups and their corresponding Hammer Films screen adaptations.

The popularity of the BBC’s Quatermass teleplays can be measured by an Associated Television ‘alien invasion’ miniseries The Trollenberg Terror that aired for six Saturday nights beginning in December of 1956. The scripts are credited to Peter Key, who Wikipedia identifies as a pen name used by George F. Kerr, Jack Cross and Giles Cooper. Cooper had earlier adapted for radio John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, and wrote the original play for Unman, Wittering and Zigo.

ATV produced a second Sci-fi miniseries in ’56, the less ambitious The Strange World of Planet X. Producer-director Quentin Lawrence was in charge of both miniseries, neither of which seems to have survived; UK TV companies didn’t preserve all of their original productions. Among the missing are most of the first Quatermass serial, all of Nigel Kneale’s original TV show The Abominable Snowman, and most of a miniseries that introduced actress Julie Christie, A for Andromeda.  As for Lawrence, his later career would be capped by his direction of Hammer Films’ superb suspense thriller Cash on Demand.

 

Not a great deal is known about the lost TV version of The Trollenberg Terror. The story was basically the same. The aliens acclimatizing themselves to Earth conditions atop an Alpine peak were identified as Ixodes. (I’ll keep that name for them, even though the feature version doesn’t use it. ) Actress Sarah Lawson (The Devil Rides Out) received top billing as Sarah Pligrim. Leading man Laurence Payne (Ill Met by Moonlight,  Vampire Circus) is one of two TV actors who also appear in the film version.

Hoping to tap into Hammer’s Quatermass audience, a company called Eros Films licensed both of ATV’s sci-fi miniseries for the big screen. They retained Quentin Lawrence to direct Trollenberg, giving him his first theatrical credit. The feature adaptation invents a new ‘heroic investigator’ role, for American star Forrest Tucker. Laurence Payne’s character is given a demotion — his Phillip Truscott is now just a reporter, who does support service on the story’s margins.

The movie actually opened in America a couple of months before its U.K. premiere. It was one of the last releases from the distributors DCA, who retitled it  The Crawling Eye.  Most U.S. fans remember it from countless Million Dollar Movie airings in the early 1960s. It was mysterious, exciting and scary, with a number of ‘Boo!’ shocks. Even better, when the monsters are revealed we discover not someone in a rubber mask, but impressively stylized creatures, tentacled eye-things that ooze along the ground preceded by bassy electronic sound effects. The movie became a perpetual late-night creature feature, and TV Guide’s blurb synopsis (as best I remember) was pure poetry:

“Hidden in a radioactive cloud, a creature from outer space awaits its next victim.”

 

The story unspools like a precursor to The X-Files. Ostensibly on vacation, special United Nations paranormal science agent Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker) comes to Switzerland to investigate some grotesque deaths on the cloudy slopes of the Alpine mountain The Trollenberg. In one poorly explained incident, a climber’s head was torn off. Alan fears that he’ll encounter a repeat of his earlier research in the Andes, in which he theorized that extraterrestrials were involved. Alan arrives at a friendly chalet, which is connected by aerial tramway to an observatory run by Dr. Crevett (Warren Mitchell). Crevett is concerned that the deaths may be related to a radioactive cloud that clings to the Trollenberg and doesn’t shift with the wind. Also at the chalet is Philip Truscott (Laurence Payne), a friendly/solicitous guest who noses around Alan’s luggage.

The showbiz ‘mentalists’ Sarah and Anne Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne & Janet Munro) are passing through when Anne is stricken by a strange telepathic presence from the Trollenberg, and insists on staying over. In a spooky night at the chalet, Anne receives a clairvoyant vision of mountain climbers in peril. Alpine guide Brett (Andrew Faulds) and his client Dewhurst (Stuart Saunders) are indeed high up in a mountain stopover hut. Anne is disturbed by visions of them being menaced by unseen things coming out of the darkness — which she perceives from the things’ point of view. Anne’s wide-eyed, nervous speeches have the effect of a chilling ghost story.

 

The second half of Trollenberg introduces more grisly elements, including another decapitation. A frightening ‘living dead’ attacker seems intent on eliminating the troublesome ‘women who know too much.’  Trollenberg the movie makes excellent use of telepathy with Janet Munro’s sympathetic and vulnerable Anne. The zombie assassin is pitched in full gothic horror mode — the bloodless killer stalks the night-gowned heroines brandishing a wicked hatchet-knife.

The final act brings on a full-scale extraterrestrial onslaught, beginning with a shocking reveal of the monstrous Ixodes. Few sci-fi monsters can match them for xenomorphic weirdness. The veined, pulsing eye-globs deliver a surreal shock because they look like living tissue.  People are naturally anxious about eyes, the vulnerable sacs of liquid that manage the miracle of sight.

The big reveal pushes this creature feature into a more expressive horror mode. The author H.P. Lovecraft expended pages to describe the indescribable, a sensation that the Ixodes capture in a single glance. The unexplainable nightmares push a potent Lovecraftian charge right in our faces.

Eros executives Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman had specialized in crime thrillers before taking a serious detour into Hammer Films territory. They poached the newly-minted Hammer scribe Jimmy Sangster to both adapt Trollenberg and to write an original gothic thriller, Blood of the Vampire. Having sole screenwriting credit on the smash game-changer The Curse of Frankenstein and Hammer’s own Quatermass clone X the Unknown made Sangster a hot item for the next few years.

Did Sangster introduce the gorier elements in this Certificate X thriller?  One flash of a shredded, headless corpse is almost too strong for an ‘X’ in 1958.

 

The story construction has good architecture.

The Crawling Eye’s modest ’50s-era production values were always apparent, but when we saw it as adults we appreciated elements that gave it an edge over the competition. We liked Forrest Tucker and loved the wonderful Janet Munro, who we knew almost exclusively from Walt Disney films. Walt surely discovered her in this picture, perhaps when researching ‘climbing’ pictures for his Third Man on the Mountain.  Ms. Munro’s beautifully-played clairvoyant provides an extra element of spooky mystery.

The movie’s spatial schematic is a big aid to narrative clarity. The chalet is in a valley. An aerial tram connects it to a rather heavily fortified observatory. Up from there hikers can ascend The Trollenberg, with those mysterious clouds that appear to move independently of the Alpine wind. The clouds are very cold and radioactive, so every kid watching knows they’re the source of the menace. When a moving cloud cuts off the escape road, every 9-year old hits the panic button: “It’s a trap!” Sure enough, the alien creatures next attempt to freeze the tramway lines.

The observatory is rigged with multiple closed-circuit TV cameras, ‘the Better to Track Monsters With.’  Depicting the cameras was surely a costly part of the production budget. They are fairly progressive for 1958 … two years later, Fritz Lang would fully exploit paranoid surveillance cinema in his prophetic The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse.

 

Much that’s written about this show amounts to scoffing at the quality of its special effects.

So do you reject Casablanca because its airplanes are so fake?

We know that’s not a 100% apt analogy, but no apologies!  Trollenberg’s spectacular finale is far too ambitious for the limited resources of Les Bowie’s little special effects unit. In the 1950s, few film effects could be described as photo-real. Yet we don’t let technical limitations spoil imaginative filmmaking. The first Big Reveal of an Ixode is an obvious composite matte trick — and it’s still awesome.  The unforgettable shot is the angle on an Ixode eye as it creeps forward in the smoke and mist, its tendrils waving to and fro.

The observatory assault is unfortunately dominated by obvious miniatures and stiff monsters puppeteered with visible wires. The budget was not there to construct more of the observatory exterior full-sized, so as to show less miniature work. The fire and smoke are not filmed in slow motion, to impart heft and scale. It’s actually a wonder they look as good as they do. The sequence does manage a number of very effective shots. Considering the approach, credited effects man Les Bowie did very well. . . except maybe for a groan-inducing flash of a passing fighter jet.

 

Les Bowie’s assistant Brian Johnson says that the miniatures were filmed on a tiny shop-stage, while the film’s many traveling matte set-ups were filmed in an established studio. The sharp Blu-ray image shows that no rear projection was used on the film. Composite shots instead use an automatic matting system to optically place actors into the remote locations. Second-unit location footage is used, but also a great many paintings that match the not-particularly-convincing scenic paintings on the live-action sets.  Composites occasionally allow a background image to bleed faintly through the foreground element. Audio commentator John Carpenter points out these flaws; he says he saw them when the film was new.

The most-seen and least adequate painting is a standard view of The Trollenberg. The new clarity reveals the matte-work underpinnings for the mountaintop prologue. There’s also a flub having nothing to do with optical work. When one of the climbers throws himself backwards, the entire rock face ‘dimples’ as if made of some soft material. Once seen, it can’t be forgotten.

“Didn’t you see his head?!  It was torn off!”

 One oft-repeated false story about Trollenberg’s visual effects comes from a Les Bowie interview quote, attributed variously to John Brosnan and Jonathan Rigby. Bowie claimed that he simply nailed a puff of cotton onto a photo of a mountain to represent the Ixodes’ moving cloud. Bowie must have been exaggerating to make a point — the mountain is a painting and the cloud is not a cotton puff, thank you very much.

Aren’t Tucker and Munro excellent?

This reviewer clearly has little interest in picking away at The Trollenberg Terror. But others aren’t charmed, and lump The Crawling Eye in with 101 less-achieving monster wannabes. One contributor to the always-interesting Classic Horror Film Board is bothered by unanswered questions in the storyline . . . for instance, the hiker’s hut with the decapitated corpse is introduced as a classic locked-room mystery.  Spoiler: The Ixodes must have commanded Brett to stuff the body under the bed, and the head in a sack — but when he left, how did the door end up barred on the inside?  We openly admit that we never questioned that; our evasive response is to note that Jimmy Sangster’s later Hammer psycho mysteries aren’t very elegant, either.

We were also a little disappointed by the late, great Bill Warren’s take on The Crawling Eye. He spends much of his article digging at unresolved details: Why does Alan Brooks carry a gun?  How did the oversized Ixodes enter the tiny hiker’s hut, leaving the whole interior so frozen that things are brittle?  After their presence has been revealed to all, why do the Ixodes persist in targeting Anne?  Why does the zombie-agent turn into a skeleton?  Why do the Ixodes need to rip off human heads in the first place??

Our take is that we accept the film as it plays. We don’t mind the rough edges on the drama — the teleseries likely gave Anne and Sarah and Truscott much more to do. We don’t need full explanations for everything. The Crawling Eye doesn’t need Simon Oakland to show up at the finish to put it all in psychological perspective:

“Anne Pilgrim had a Father Fixation with the aliens.” “Dewhurst wasn’t killed by an Eye, he was killed by the eye’s MOTHER.”

The Crawling Eye/Trollenberg Terror always worked for this viewer. The pacing of the thrills is good, the characterizations are pleasing and director Quentin Lawrence works up good suspense in key scenes. The nervous camera and eerie sound effects leading up to the first monster reveal are excellent — we really want to know what’s behind those chalet doors. The film did what we wanted — it stirred our imaginations.

 


 

Anolis’s Blu-ray of The Trollenberg Terror is a beauty. We’ve been waiting for this show on Blu for ages. The 2001 Image DVD, which carried a copyright notice for Wade Williams, was a real treat. Previously we’d only seen a blurry TV copy with rough splices, damaged scenes and censored gore. Image delivered a widescreen-matted presentation, uncut, with the Trollenberg main title and the British censor card. We were grateful for everything in the package, including old liner notes by David Del Valle.

The new Blu-ray is a vast improvement, which makes us scratch our heads at a few online notices saying that it looks the same as the old DVD. The transfer and encoding are superior, the image is stable, and the old flurries of white dirt are all but eradicated. The much sharper image allows a close inspection of the traveling matte effects — showing us that no Rear Projection was used. The ‘Eros Films’ logo isn’t sharp, but everything that follows is.

The additional 1:37 transfer — accessed through the extras menu — hasn’t been given the full digital scrubbing of the 1:66, but it’s far cleaner than the old DVD. It’s an actual German release copy, with no BBFC card, different distributor logos and original main titles in Deutsch. It seems complete and uncensored. The bad news for domestic flat-screen junkies is that its only audio is a German-language track.

We like Stanley Black’s music quite a bit — the nervous title composition reminds us of Georges Auric’s creepy score for the old Dead of Night. Elsewhere, the sound designers come up with remarkably evocative noises for the Ixodes — before they arrive on screen and after. Only their screams seem a little weak.

We judge the extras as excellent — quite a few things we see here are brand new to us. The disc is of course aimed at the German market, so we can’t fully enjoy the German commentary by Ingo Strecher and author Pelle Felsch. They sound engaged and informed.

The second commentary is by director John Carpenter, who normally weighs in only on films that mean a lot to him, like his track on last month’s 4K disc of Rio Bravo. Carpenter saw this show in a theater as a kid, and believes it was a direct inspiration for his The Fog. But much of what he says criticizes the film as too slow and too conventional, qualities abundant in old films being judged today. Trollenberg’s visuals are at all times better than average for 1958. He says a lot was accomplished for little money, but keeps harping on the technical inadequacies. From his movies we know that John C. was moved by the old ‘sense of wonder’ ethic, but his praise runs a little thin. This is the most dispiriting track I’ve heard since Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett on The Giant Behemoth.  I wouldn’t want to hear Muren talk about Trollenberg.

 

Then again, Carpenter’s sparse commentary does make some very good observations. When the little girl loses her ball, to motivate her close call with a monster, Carpenter recalls that Jimmy Sangster has copied a situation from his own X the Unknown. It’s a verbatim lift.

Anolis’s video extras have variety. Effects veteran Brian Johnson won an Oscar for 1979’s Alien but began by working for Les Bowie. He describes being a camera person as well. Rather than go over his extensive career, Johnson describes what he can remember about the Trollenberg shoot — the stages used, and the hours spent manipulating Ixode tentacles with fishing poles. He says that the automatic matting process for B&W utilized a Blue Screen.

 

The buzz about Brian’s talk is his statement that the Ixode eyeballs, the orbs that swivel to and fro, were animal parts collected from a slaughterhouse — the eyes of bulls. Could that possibly be true, with ‘eye wranglers’ manipulating oozing viscera under the hot lights?  The celebrated Brian Johnson was there where when it happened, so my default setting is to defer . . . especially after spending ten years scoffing at the idea that Caltiki was largely constructed from slaughterhouse Tripe.   I had to eat my words on that one.

Very much appreciated are three full theatrical trailers — German, English and American. They all come from the same ‘stem cut.’ The American trailer is shorter, has a cruder voiceover script, and adds a couple of close-ups of eyes.

A fourth trailer is a combo designed to promote the double bill of Crawling Eye with the American cut of Eros Films’ Strange World of Planet X — re-titled Cosmic Monsters. Just as Bill Warren once reported, more confusion reigned — the text title reads ‘Cosmic Monsters’ but the voiceover just says ‘Cosmic Monster.’

A 16-minute Derann Super-8 sound copy is a dreadful blurry mess that looks worse than a mimeograph of a photo. It’s not a digest, but a single chunk of the last couple of reels of the movie.

The extensive poster galleries include one German ad mat that 100% rips off the Allied Artists key art for a very specific Roger Corman classic.    The confusing detail is that Corman’s poster depicts an Eye Monster that very much resembles a Crawling Eye creature.

Two pressbooks are included, for those that can read Deutsch. The synopsis in one of them says that ‘Brooks is travelling to the town of Trollenberg at the foot of Monteville.’ That, and dialogue heard in the movie, indicate that the mountain with the mystery cloud is called Monteville, not Trollenberg. Do the German speaker commentators explain the name switch?  Did the actual German Trollenberg town not want a horror connection?  You know what they say: ‘Everything that happens in Trollenberg, stays in Trollenberg.’  Especially HEADS.

Knowing how German distributors did weird things with imported movies, we’re grateful that the word ‘Frankenstein’ wasn’t slipped in there. German posters for Japanese Kaiju pictures abound with Frankenstein slipped into the title.

We recommend Mark Throop’s spirited take on Eye at Movies ala Mark.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


The Trollenberg Terror
as Die Teufelswolke von Monteville
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good +
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent German and English on the 1:66, German only on the 1:37
Supplements:
Audio commentary with Ingo Strecher and author Pelle Felsch
Audi commentary with John Carpenter
Video interview with effects specialist Brian Johnson
The full German version of the movie, in 1:37 full-frame with Deutsch- only dialogue
8mm cut-down version
Trailers for German, English and American releases
Trailer for American double bill
Two full pressbooks, still and poster gallery.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0;
Subtitles: German only
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
August 30, 2023
(6986eye)
CINESAVANT

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Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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Beowulf

Who wrote this review and what have you done with Glenn?
Your writing has always been impeccable and finely tuned, but now you seem relaxed and full of good humor. What a delightful piece, Daddy-O! Now if only this damn wonderful disc was less expensive.
I’m NOT a robot monster but I might be A.I.

Beowulf

Brett is stiff and unnatural — like a re-animated corpse or the leader of the U.S. Senate. Brett: “Yes… I am oh-kay…I am not…a killer.”

david smith

I love this film and the era it came from. The monsters only add to the charm and brit viewers always enjoy Warren Mitchell

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[…] and shotgun, it proceeds to wipe out the party, biting off arms and legs and ripping off heads Ixode– style. The bizarre mayhem is handled like a Monty Python skit, grotesque but not gross. One […]

Thomas Tiernan

This reminds me of a Classic Doctor Who serial. All you need to do is sub in Jon Pertwee for Forest Tucker. It works well.

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[…] Very nicely organized is a commentary with editor Thelma Schoonmaker and critic Ian Christie, who cover most Edge details in fine form. As Powell’s wife, Schoonmaker can speak to the director’s personal thoughts on things like his love for Scotland as a place for elaborate hiking trips. Christie mentions some of Powell’s collaborators in the 1930s. Future director Vernon Sewell worked uncredited on Edge, captaining a supply craft. The commentary also incorporates audio excerpts of actor Daniel Day-Lewis reading from Powell’s book about the filming experience in the Shetland Islands. Not mentioned is that co-cameraman Monty Berman later became part of the ‘Baker-Berman’ producing team, yet remained behind the camera for an odd horror or action picture. […]

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[…] original widescreen theatrical aspect ratios. These offerings are from just the last two years: The Trollenberg Terror,  The Brain Eaters,  Robot Monster,  The Head,  Giant from the Unknown,  Battle of the Worlds, […]

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[…] like shape-shifting monster to life in gruesome detail. Much the same as his commentary for The Crawling Eye, Carpenter’s best remarks center on his childhood matinee experiences. His thoughts about his […]

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