Beginning of the End (1957)
"New thrills! New shocks! New terrors!"
As the remains of a crushed car are found with no sign of the occupants, the police also receive a report that the nearby town of Ludlow has been completely destroyed. Sensing a big story, reporter Audrey Ames decides to investigate further and finds out that radioactive material at a nearby government testing station has caused vegetables to grow to enormous proportions – and the local locust population has been feasting upon it, in turn making them grow to gigantic proportions.
After the success of Them! in 1954 with it’s giant ants, everyone quickly tried to find the next best thing: scorpions (The Black Scorpion), spiders (Tarantula, Earth Vs The Spider), praying mantis (erm, The Preying Mantis), molluscs (The Monster That Challenged the World) and wasps (Monster from Green Hell). Yeah granted molluscs was pushing it a bit, though to be fair the film did a reasonable job of turning them into a threat. Perhaps the least frightening of the lot is the sound of a horde of giant grasshoppers which, let’s face it, sound about as scary as a giant mushroom. Bert I. Gordon, famous for some atrocious (some would consider cult) sci-fi films he made in the 50s (The Amazing Colossal Man and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast) and then later in the 70s (Empire of the Ants, The Food of the Gods), is the man at the helm of this one, a late and wholly feeble entry into the 50s ‘atomic monster’ movies cycle.
Gordon does little to convince the audience that these grasshoppers exist in the same universe as everyone else, let alone turn them into some sort of threat. His notoriously appalling special effects are in abundance in Beginning of the End (he does them himself) and the sad thing is that over the years with his later films, they never really got better either. The grasshoppers consist of a copious amount of magnified stock footage clips and some lousy low-budget rear projection. This is all fine and good when the stock footage army is trying to destroy them in the middle part of the film (even this gets boring because there’s no interaction between either humans or bugs at any point). But when the grasshoppers finally get stuck into Chicago, the special effects consist of little more than real grasshoppers crawling over photos of the Windy City! You heard that right – photos! The effect is as terrible as it sounds. Gordon couldn’t even be bothered to make a model of anything to allow his grasshoppers to crawl over.
Having said all of this, dialogue is the most devastating weapon that Beginning of the End has in its arsenal. Instead of showing things like the destruction of Ludlow for instance, the film resorts to dialogue and the shocked reactions of the actors to convey what it is happening. Headlines and voiceovers tell us that towns are being wiped out and the army is being destroyed by the grasshoppers but we rarely, if ever, get to see anything happening. At first, you think that the whole film could end up going this direction and not show anything at all but thankfully (or maybe not considering the quality of the special effects) the grasshoppers do eventually show up and at least the pace is picked up after a dreadful opening.
Beginning of the End fails to grab hold of your attention at any point, monotonously trotting out the usual array of scientific jargon, forced love interests between hero and heroine and lots of military guys running around telling people what to do. If you've already seen one or two of these 50s films, you'll know exactly how this is going to play out. Only this time, you haven't got actual models of giant ants or goofy-looking puppets to contend with, just a never-ending slew of stock footage. There is a certain goofy charm, a sense of "well that's how they made them back in the 50s" resignation to the whole shenanigans on-screen to Beginning of the End and I guess that's the main appeal here. Things were bad in some of the aforementioned films above, but they're never quite Beginning of the End bad. And at a slender seventy-six minutes, you won't have to endure too much.
Peter Graves, who would later go on to find fame in the TV series of Mission: Impossible and even greater infamy as Captain Oveur in Airplane!, plays it deadly serious as the scientist. In fact Graves’ stern deadpan delivery makes everything else seem all the more silly. He’s not alone in this respect. Try and keep a straight face when regular rent-a-general Morris Ankrum (the same role he played in The Giant Claw and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers) suggests that the only solution to the crisis is to drop an atomic bomb onto Chicago. Talk about over-reacting.
I shouldn’t feel aggrieved about watching a film with giant grasshoppers that features special effects as bad as this – some would say I get what I deserve and that is correct. Beginning of the End is a low budget Z-film which clearly and ineptly cashes in on the atomic monster craze of the 50s. Maybe if you have a grasshopper fetish or want to see how not to create special effects, there might be something of interest here otherwise you’re better off sticking with the more famous 50s monster movies.
Beginning of the End
Director(s): Bert I. Gordon
Writer(s): Fred Freiberger (screenplay), Lester Gorn (screenplay)
Actor(s): Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum, Than Wyenn, Thomas Browne Henry, Richard Benedict, James Seay
Duration: 76 mins