Color, 1962, 92 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Arch Hall Sr.
Starring Arch Hall Jr., Marilyn Manning, Richard Kiel, Arch Hall Sr.
The Film Detective (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Rhino (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Actor, stunt man and all-around movie jack of all trades Arch Hall Sr. took his career in a fascinating direction in late middle age when he decided to start courting the drive-in teenage market by writing screenplays (sometimes under the name "Nicholas Merriwether") mixing adolescent thrills with other genres. First up was The Choppers, a juvenile delinquent hot rod saga starring his son, Arch Hall Jr.; when that proved difficult to promote on its own for very long, he wrote and directed his own co-feature, a slice of caveman insanity called Eegah! with the younger Hall on board again as the hero and musical entertainment. Both Halls kept working together on more films written by dad including Wild Guitar, Deadwood '76 and The Nasty Rabbit, though Eegah! remained the elder Hall's only directorial effort. Arch Hall Jr. also hung up his acting career and went into the military after the mid-'60s, though he did at least star in one bona fide masterpiece without his dad around, The Sadist.
Featuring one of the greatest goofball titles in movie history, Eegah! has been a regular staple of bad movie festivals and lists for decades thanks to its bizarre premise, insane dialogue, and reworking in a drastically condensed form into an all-time legendary episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993. This is one of the great Bronson Canyon epics (you know, where they have all the scrub brush and caves) along with Robot Monster, Teenage Caveman, Killers from Space, and Teenagers from Outer Space. Richard Kiel, who later went on to fame as Jaws in the 007 films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, stars as the title character, a gigantic caveman first seen stumbling in the dark and nearly getting creamed by young Palm Springs débutante Roxy (Manning) in her car. Later she talks about her encounter with her adventure novelist dad, Robert (Hall Sr.), and her guitar-playing singer boyfriend, Tom (Hall Jr.), who likes to serenade her at the swimming pool. When Robert goes off to investigate for artistic inspiration and doesn't come back, Roxy and Tom go in pursuit only for her to end up in a cave where she discovers that there's a lot more to Eegah than meets the eye.
Complete with two Arch Hall Jr. musical numbers (whatever you do, don't miss "Vicky"), a bit role for trash movie god Ray Dennis Steckler, and staggeringly quotable dialogue including the much-loved, very dubbed "Watch out for snakes," Eegah! is a truly singular cinematic experience shot in that wildly colorful style common to cheap genre productions around the time (a la H.G. Lewis and Ted V. Mikels). The attempt to jam a teen movie and prehistoric monster film together results in some truly strange moments throughout, paying off in a delirious climax when Eegah infiltrates the modern world and crashes a pool party. Unfortunately the film's sorta-public domain status has done a lot of damage over the years with shabby copies making it look a lot more ugly than it actually is thanks to faded color, print damage, and poor contrast, and its inclusion on MST3K and Elvira's Movie Macabre has made it a continuing punchline for decades for better or worse. Both of those versions have been released on DVD and are readily available all over the place, but the original uncut, unaltered film is a trickier proposition with loads of terrible bargain bin PD copies out there from too many labels to list. The better option for years was the DVD from Rhino, who at least managed to do their own transfer from a passable print, but it still wasn't any great shakes.
Fortunately(?) we now have a truly impressive edition of Eegah! complete with a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative (provided by byNWR.com, believe it or not). In what amounts to a home video first, The Film Detective has teamed up with Something Weird Video, Cinema Preservation Alliance and Shout! Factory to deliver a special edition of this cracked gem on both Blu-ray and DVD, the former extremely limited to only 1,500 units. (And yes, it's definitely a commercially pressed Blu-ray, not a BD-R.) The transfer looks ridiculously good if you're familiar with this film's history, complete with gorgeous primary colors you've never seen before including bright bursts of red, luminous blue in that swimming pool, and rich earthy golds out in the desert. Aside from one patchy scene at the 10-minute mark with some emulsion scratches, the negative has been kept in very good shape and makes for great eye candy here even if the actual filmmaking artistry isn't up to the same level. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also in great condition and sounds a lot more healthy than the scratchy prints we've been stuck with to this point. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided, and of course, the usual MST3K version (92m11s) is here in all its goofy glory as well. A video interview with Arch Hall Jr. (13m29s) is a nice recollection about his history with his father, the genesis of this film's concept after an encounter with the non-actor Kiel, his musical gigs around the L.A. area at the time, the creation of Eegah's skeleton-filled cave, the location scouting in Palm Desert, and plenty more. And yes, he's clutching a guitar. Finally you get an affectionate interview with MST3K's Joel Hodgson (6m58s) about his own first encounter with the film, the totally fabricated (and "super judgmental") background they made up for the Halls, the dialogue catchphrase that caught on without their involvement at all, and his later experiences with Hall Jr. that impacted his impression of the film. The disc also comes with liner notes by The Film Detective's Don Stradley, who offers a solid thumbnail sketch of the film's history and points out an appropriate aesthetic tie to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The Film Detective (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on October 30, 2019.