Another cult film from the 1950’s Beginning of the End was, OK. At least with this film I can see its cult appeal, even if I can’t get into it as much. The production as a whole is pretty laughable, from the premise straight through to the effects. Like a lot of films from the 50’s this film’s focus is on fears of atomic power. With the villains of this film being giant insects mutated by radiation. Giant insect were a common sub-genre popular during this film with films such as THEM, The Deadly Mantis and Tarantula to name a few.
Beginning of the End opens with a pair of kids parking in classic 50s fashion when they get attacked by some unseen force. A short while later two police officers making the rounds come across the car, which is now wrecked. Fearing foul play they radio it in, one is instructed to stay with the car until Detectives arrive and the other to head to the nearby town of Ludlow. When the officer arrives at Ludlow he finds the town destroyed and all its inhabitants missing. The next day the military have the roads to Ludlow blocked while they investigate and keep what’s happened under-wraps. Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle) an investigative photojournalist is stopped at the roadblock and her camera is confiscated. She goes to the military and uses her connections and clout to get her access to Ludlow, along with her camera returned. She starts investigating what could have caused the destruction in Ludlow, which leads her radiation. Though the only people using radiation are the Department of Agriculture. She goes to them meeting the team lead Dr. Ed Wainwright (Robert Graves) an Entomologist and his assistant Frank Johnson (Than Wyenn) a Botanist. The pair are using radioactive isotopes to grow giant vegetables and would be unable to cause the destruction seen in Ludlow. Aimes later learns of a grain storehouse, that was destroyed the month prior, much in the same fashion of Ludlow. She convinces Ed and Frank to take her out there to see it for herself. While investigating the trio are attacked by a giant Locust, or simply put a grasshopper. Frank is killed, though Ed and Aimes mange to escape to warn them of danger. While not taken seriously, they head out to investigate in an attempt to humor them. Which proves their undoing when they too fall under attack from multiply giant grasshoppers. Once again the heroes barely escape and when they do they head to Washington to warn them. But again the grasshoppers are underestimated and break through the military’s lines. Once they do, they start heading straight for Chicago…
I like the high level of camp that’s present in this film. Which isn’t surprising as it’s about giant grasshoppers laying siege to the city of Chicago. Which is nice since it does make the stakes feel high, though the battles with the grasshoppers leave much to be desired. As yes they are huge, but they defeat entire tank battalions. Which is laughable.
The acting is what’s to be expected. Fun and entertaining, but nothing outstanding or memorable. Well, other than Than Wyenn who does the best job in the film and is both memorable and endearing. Being the only character I cared enough about to feel sad when he gets eaten. Then again he’s the only character that has more than fifteen seconds of screen time before getting killed off.
The effects are simply awful, but in a way that infuses a lot of charm into the film. Towards the end you can really start to see the strings show. Like when they’re crawling on the buildings and its blatant that they’re crawling on miniatures or at times simply photographs of buildings. But the scenes where they’re shown alongside actors the effects aren’t as bad as I thought they would be and its apparent that the filmmakers learned a few things from the giant monster films that preceded it.
Final thoughts, Beginning of the End is cute. But far more of a science fiction film over that of a horror film. Mostly this has to do with the warm feel good ending. Beginning of the End spends a large amount of time building up the level of dread, but it never leads to any kind of payoff. Leading to a lackluster ending that just doesn’t sit well against the film that preceded it. 6/10