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Posts Tagged ‘Beginning of the End’

31 Monsters #19: The Giant Grasshoppers That Ate Paxton, Illinois

October 19th, 2009 No comments

My survey of monsters has taken us around the world, into outer space and even to the nearest convenient parallel dimension. However, today’s entry will bring things close to home. And by that, I mean my own home. Because it’s time to look at the only monster movie, so far as I know, that begins in Champaign County, Illinois.

The 1957 film Beginning of the End was produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon, whose initials (B.I.G.) apparently served as career inspiration. Of his 21 movies, ten involved photographically enlarged people or animals. (Eight were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which should tell you something else about Mr. Gordon’s body of work.)

Proving its somewhat tenuous grasp of Illinois geography, Beginning of the End‘s pre-credits sequence was set amidst the scenic mountains of Central Illinois. That’s right, we’ve got mountains. Go north on I-57, take a left on County Road 3100 N. Can’t miss ’em.

It was there that a couple of necking teens were devoured, as necking teens so often are, by an off-screen terror. Discovering the car, police soon traced the registration to the nearby town of Ludlow, only to find the entire community leveled and its residents missing.

Intrepid woman reporter Audrey Aimes, on her way to the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, was stymied by a roadblock set up near the (fictional) Illinois National Guard base in (all too real) Paxton. Learning about the devastation in Ludlow, she investigated possible sources of radioactivity in the area. (It was the ’50s, remember.)

The one such installation was a Department of Agriculture research lab which, although it was never stated, almost certainly had to have something to do with the University of Illinois. (Stupid university, always growing atomic mutants.) She met Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves) and his deaf-mute associate Frank, whose experiments created colossal fruits and veggies. Although they’d had such a problem with insects…

Before you could have said “rear projected giant grasshoppers,” Audrey, Ed and Frank were checking out some destroyed grain silos. Then a horrid screeching sound erupted behind Frank. (Deaf-mute, remember?) In one of two scenes always mentioned in any review of Beginning of the End, poor Frank mouthed a silent scream as he was chewed apart by an oversized locust.

Paxton’s fearless National Guardsmen poured into the woods, only to be routed by a swarm of hungry Jiminy Crickets. With things not looking good for “Tree City, USA,” Peter Graves hopped a plane to Washington, D.C. to convince Army brass of the threat posed by the rapidly breeding monsters.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until word came that Paxton had been overrun (off-screen) that General Hanson decided to mobilize the Army. With Paxton gone, surely Loda would be next!

beginningoftheend02The U.S. military proved insufficient against the munching menace which moved inexorably toward Chicago. (Because anything in Illinois inevitably has to be about Chicago. Or Abe Lincoln. But mostly Chicago.) On the way, they chowed down on Peoria, never mind that Peoria is some 90 miles to the west of Paxton. Perhaps the trip over the mountains left them confused.

Soon came the other scene that every review of this film mentions, when the live grasshoppers swarmed up a photograph of a Chicago skyscraper.

beginningoftheend03

With the military threatening to drop an atomic bomb on the Windy City, it was up to science to save the day. Peter Graves realized that the locusts’ own mating call, magnified by loudspeakers, could lure the sex-crazed hoppers into Lake Michigan.

And so it was that Chicago was saved. Pity about Paxton.