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Eegah! Classic movie with Richard Kiel and Marilyn Manning
Remember the neighborhood drive-in theater?
Eegah! A grade-B movie that has become a cult classic
I was a lucky kid - I went to the drive-in movie almost weekly! My dad worked full-time at a regular job, but also worked as a projectionist at local movie venues during the summer. He usually worked at drive-in movies, because they were seasonal and he didn't want to keep those hours all year long.
A small benefit we got from his job, though, was that we could get into the movie anytime we wanted to for free. He would often take one of us with him for the evening - frequently it was me, since I was the oldest and could go to the snack bar by myself and stay up the late hours it took to run the last double-feature film before we could go home.
As a result of this cultural exposure during the 50s and 60s, I saw almost every B-grade movie that ever came out during those years. Once in a while, the drive-in showed something worthwhile, such as the umpteenth release of Gone With the Wind, but usually these were movies you wouldn't see in first-run houses.
Here's a little review of the absolute worst movie I remember seeing. And the night I actually met the star, in person!
Richard Kiel played the main character in Eegah!
Eegah! So bad it's almost good. Almost, but not quite
Eegah! was released in 1962, and was billed as a horror movie. The only real horror about it was that anyone who ever read the script had the nerve to fund and produce it. The premise of the movie is that a giant caveman has appeared in a nearby desert (close to Hollywood, of course, to allow ample excuses for bleached blonds in skimpy bathing suits to be worked into improbable scenes, all of which were created to provide settings for the swimwear shots).
Roxy Miller (played by Marilyn Manning), first spots the main character, Eegah, while driving on a remote highway. She tells her boyfriend, Tom Nelson (Arch Hall, Jr.) as well as her father, Robert Miller (Arch Hall, Sr.) about spotting the gigantic man. Since her father is a writer, he takes an interest in seeing the giant in person. During the next several scenes, Dad goes into the desert and his helicopter return-trip doesn't show, so Roxy and Tom go to retrieve him.
The character Roxy is typical of the overly made-up, teased-hair female leads of the grade-B movie era. As such, Marilyn Manning is suitable for that role, which should be all you need to know about her acting ability and looks. The casting of Arch Hall Jr. as Tom, however, appears to be based more on nepotism than on talent (not, mind you, that talent was a factor in any part of this production). There is little to recommend him for the part, neither in acting ability, nor in looks. Dad Miller (Arch's father) is a somewhat better actor and a bit easier on the eyes, but of course he wasn't cast as the romantic lead.
Which gets us back to Eegah, played by the truly gigantic Richard Kiel. As you've probably guessed, Eegah develops a huge crush on Roxy. How can this be? Where does he get a chance to court her? Don't ask silly questions; I already told you this film was from the waning years of the Golden Era of Hokey Sci-Fi Films.
Love Scene Between Richard Kiel and Marilyn Manning
Richard Kiel's classic role in Eegah!
Back to the desert. As Tom, Roxy and her dad continue to discuss how and where to locate the hapless creature, Roxy at one point indignantly tells the two men, "He's MY giant!" You can see where this is going.
Perhaps the best known line in the film (although I am fond of Roxy's line, above) is uttered by Arch Hall, Sr., who shouts, "Watch out for snakes!" during the desert scene, although there is no visual support or plot element requiring his cautionary remark.
Despite the vastness of the empty desert, and the vast inadequacies of the equally empty plot, they actually locate Eegah, who eventually kidnaps Roxy and, in true caveman style, hauls her off to his lair. Dad shows up, and seeing that Eegah is getting a little amorous, literally suggests to his own daughter that she lead Eegah along for a while to prevent the giant from killing them. Although nothing sexual happens (it's a movie designed for a family audience, apparently) Roxy shaves the man.
We aren't told how she convinced a creature who had never seen another human and therefore wouldn't have known about razors and shaving to allow a frightened young woman near his neck with a sharp object. We also aren't told why Roxy (or the screenwriters) thought a good shave was just the thing to address the presumably life-threatening situation and she and her father were in. As for why Loving Dad wanted to encourage a prehistoric liaison, I don't even want to go there.
Arch Hall and Marilyn Manning also starred in the movie
Unrequited love: Eegah dies, and a cult film is born
The rest of the movie is, predictably, a series of weakly scripted and plot-less scenes involving gratuitous shots of girls in bathing suits at a pool party and very pathetic singing by Arch Hall Jr. (possibly the only thing in the film bad enough to eclipses his dreadful acting) interspersed with Eegah! chasing the woman he loves.
Richard Kiel's acting, primarily consisting of grunts, lunges and other caveman sound effects is no worse or better than that of Marilyn Manning or either of the Arch Halls in the film. He was obviously typecast for his incredible size. Arch Hall Jr., however, was cast only through the efforts of his father, who backed the film in order to create a starring role for his son and aspired for him to rival Elvis in his music career. Not.
In an effort, I guess, to put the swimming pool scene to use at the end of the film, it creates the setting for Eegah's death. He is left floating in the pool's water, and the audience is left to go look for anti-acids at the snack bar.
The Halls (junior and senior) hoped to achieve fame for Eegah!, and they got their wish. It has a firm spot in various listings of the worst movies ever created. The line, "Watch out for snakes!" became an inside joke on Mystery Science Theater (a Comedy Central production), and fans adored the incredible awfulness of the film. It is still found on TV now and then (rarely, though) and you can get it on Roku through the Drive-in Movie channel.
From a technical standpoint, the film has all the quality of a home movie. The sound is poorly engineered, with either too much noise or the complete lack of ambient noise that signifies post-production dubbing to get rid of bad audio takes. Visually, it is grainy, with the overdone oranges and yellows that marked many low-budget films of the era. Arch Hall Jr's singing is dubbed in with slightly better sound quality (they undoubtedly used a real recording studio for that part, in anticipation of his imminent stardom), but he goes flat, both musically and as an entertainer.
In short, the films has everything bad you want to love about an awful movie.
Richard Kiel (1939-2014), in happier times, and in real clothes
How I met Richard Kiel, who played Eegah!
I danced The Twist with Eegah! Yes, really!
Back to the drive-in movie.
One night my dad asked if I'd like to meet a movie star; he was showing Eegah! that week, and Richard Kiel, poor guy, was making a publicity tour to help promote the film. The fact that the producers would spend money to send someone to a not-that-great drive-in theater in Columbus, Ohio to generate a fan base for the movie should be an indication of how desperate they were. Drive-ins could hold maybe a few hundred cars, and patrons usually spent intermission time(which was used for this sort of Star Appearance opportunity) standing in long lines at the restrooms or fighting the crowd in the snack bar to get some greasy popcorn and a watered-down soft drink before the next feature.
I don't know where RIchard Kiel was before the intermission break, but as soon as the cartoons and trailers came on, my dad announced an invitation over the PA system for everyone to come to the snack bar area and meet the real Eegah in person. The projection booth was right in front of the snack bar, so all I had to do was get out of the car and walk behind it a few feet. And there he was!
He was indeed a giant. I was told he was 7'2" tall, but sources say he was a half-inch shorter than that. He was dressed in his caveman outfit (can you imagine touring the country and greeting the public in a loincloth? Wait - don't answer that).
For some odd reason, it was decided Eegah needed to do The Twist (I can't recall if there was a handler with him, or what), and since I was one of the first people to get to him, he paired up with me and started dancing to the music. Well, I'd seen The Twist on TV, and there wasn't much to it, so even though I was just a kid, I went along with it and began dancing. Then he 'got into character' and acted as though he wanted to haul me off to his cave, at which point I ran off in fear.
Of course, there was nothing to fear. By all accounts, Richard Kiel was considered a nice guy. Born in 1939, his career managed to escape the abyss that Eegah! may have sent it to, and became known as "Jaws" in 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me (a James Bond film), as well as several other more credible movies and TV productions. He passed away from a heart attack, in September of 2014.
To me, he will always be remembered as Eegah!