November is Mystery Science Theatre 3000 remake month for Lost in Translation, where the column looks at some of the movies featured on MST3K and see where they failed and how to remake better. This week, Eegah!, featured during the show’s fifth season.
Eegah! was originally released in 1962 as a very low budget B-movie. It stars Arch Hall, Jr as Tom, Marilyn Manning as Roxy, Arch Hall, Sr, as Roxy’s father, and Richard Kiel as the title character. The plot is straightforward; a caveman, Eegah, lurking in the mountains near the California desert is discovered by Roxy. Or, Roxy is discovered by Eegah when he comes out to see what strange contraption she’s in. Before Eegah can do anything with Roxy, Tom arrives in his car, scaring the caveman away. Both Tom and Roxy do get a look at Eegah.
When Roxy tells her father, he arranges for a helicopter to take him into the mountains, where he plans to take a photo of Eegah. The caveman, though surprises him, leading to an injury. WHen Roxy hasn’t heard from her father in over two days, she and Tom head out to the desert in his dune buggy to start a search. Tom makes the decision for Roxy to stay in the car and honk if she sees the caveman.
Attracted by the noise, Eegah stalks out. He sees Roxy once again and, like any caveman in love, scoops her out, accidentally honking the horn. He fights off Tom and his shotgun and leaves with Roxy, returning to his cave. Inside, Roxy’s father is alive. His injury was self-inflicted from tripping over his own camera case. Eegah introduces Roxy to the family, long dead ancestors that are still around. The caveman even shows her his etchings.
To stay safe, Roxy does what she can to fend off Eegah’s advances. She even shaves off his beard after he sees her doing the same for her father. Eegah leaves to get flowers for his beloved, and Roxy and her father see a chance to escape. As they do so, they find Tom, and all three make a run in the dune buggy to get back to town. Eegah, though, is not easily dissuaded. He manages to track the trio back to town, searching through malls and streets and ultimately to the country club. Police are called because there’s a caveman threatening members, and before Roxy can stop them, they gun down Eegah.
Eegah! is not a terrible movie. It’s also not a good movie. It’s a solid B-movie with some problems pulling it down. The low budget isn’t helping, but the key problem is an inconsistent tone. The movie was meant to be a horror film, but along the way, the monster gets humanized. That tends to reduce the horror of the situation. Eegah is no longer the mysterious, dangerous other. But humanizing him is the right choice for the movie. It’s the attempt to pull him back to the other that falls flat.
Of course, the horror in the remake is the realization of who really is the monster. Eegah, for all his menace, is still a caveman, without the veneer of society built up over the past few millennia. He doesn’t have to be portrayed as simple; Richard Kiel’s version of the character has an intelligence to him that stands out. Eegah isn’t aware of modern advances, like doorknobs, so expecting him to use them is silly. It’s how everyone else treats him. This can set up the tragic ending that the original had with Eegah’s death by the hands of the police.
Time has not been kind to some of the elements in the movie. Tom will need a new job. The one he has in the original is a gas station attendant, complete with the neatly pressed white suit. Unless the movie moves to Oregon or New Jersey, Tom’s job is long gone. The music will need to be updated. Eegah! took advantage of cars, girls, and rock-and-roll as a draw, and there’s nothing preventing similar additions. “Beauty and the Beast” and even “Samson and Delilah” are classic stories, so tapping into those veins gives a base to work from. The original touched upon “Samson and Delilah”, with Eegah’s tragic course locked in once Roxy shaved him.
The biggest issue the movie had was the budget. The movie doesn’t neem blockbuster levels of money, but a little more would help with tightening the script. creating sets, and adding to the number of extras to make the town feel lived in. Little touches that help make the movie immersive, bringing the audience closer to the characters.
Eegah! is typical of movies featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, not so bad to be unwatchable, but, instead, falling well short of its potential. With work and a real budget, it is possible to pull out the good movie lurking within.