Written By: Ken Hulsey
Sources: Douglas Bankston / Robert Hood / Avery Guerra
If parody is the sincerest form of flattery, then film maker Douglas Bankston must really love the giant insect movies of the mid to late 1950s. To put it bluntly, his film, "It Came From Over The Mountain", may very well be the best satire of the giant monster genre to come along in quite some time.
It's all there, a giant tarantula, wacko scientists and military types, teens straight out of Mayberry and, of course, the bomb. Everything that made for B movie gold in the era before The Beatles.
Films like "Them!", "The Deadly Mantis", "Black Scorpion", and most notably, the 1955 Jack Arnold classic, "Tarantula" are the obvious influences that Bankston drew upon when he conceived his film.
Though the film maker wanted to make "It Came From Beyond the Mountain" into a feature film, three and a half years, two computer meltdowns, software peculiarities, unforeseen technical difficulties, scheduling disasters, inopportune equipment failures gale-force winds, locusts and the random acts of God later, a short 4 minute and 43 second movie is all he could produce.
Bankston, however, notes that with more funding, he could have made it longer, "....you’re right — ICFBTM absolutely should be a feature film, but I only found so much loose change under my couch cushions. (I really should start inviting wealthier friends over.)"
Granted, you can only go so far with the money in your wallet, or in your furniture, but Bankston really got the most for his money, and though his film may be just shy of 5 minutes in length, it certainly has the feel of a much larger production.
Here is the synopsis:
Man treads on dangerous ground while trying to tame the atom, but power-mad General D.E. Williams doesn’t care — it’s his last day on the job at Pearl Lake Weapons Range anyway. His reckless detonation of a nuclear bomb unleashes an eight-legged mutation that exacts 1950s, B-movie-style revenge on all who get in its way.
A classic! Long thought to have been destroyed in the great vault fire of ‘59, a print was discovered during the police raid of a reclusive collector’s home and can now be seen for the first time in 40 years! Teens are terrorized by a giant rampaging spider mutated in a 1950s atomic test gone awry, featuring a mad general, a freight train and a mind-numb… I mean bending… climax that will make your brain turn into some sort of quivering, gelatinous substance.
As Bankston soon learned, stop motion effects are expensive and time consuming, so he took a page out of Arnold's book and used real tarantulas for his film as well, though, as John "Bud" Cardos learned in making "Kingdom of the Spiders", that presented other problems.
This is how Bankstom explained how conversations between himself and his effects man usually played out:
"… the number of effects shots skyrocketed. Because of this, I turned to visual effects artist Erik O’Donnell, whom I met through a friend, to help out … Our first conversation went something like this:
Erik: This movie sounds great! I’d love to help!
Me: Perfect. I’ll get you the footage.
Erik: How many effects shots are there?
After the number of effects shots reached 40, I had to tackle the remaining effects myself because Erik would pretend he wasn’t home every time I came around."
Don't worry Doug, we all have friends like that.
The film maker goes on to explain how one of the shots, a scene taken directly from the 1957 Edward Ludwig film, "The Black Scorpion", involving a train and the giant tarantula, was achieved.
"Somewhere outside of Mojave, I found the perfect location with the perfect background to shoot the miniature freight train. It had to be in the middle of nowhere because the train would be on fire and it was the height of fire season. I didn’t need any witnesses to my pyromania. I had bought a bunch of HO trains and track off eBay, and the morning of the shoot I set up a stretch of about 30 feet of track and wired the power transformer to my Jeep. Everything was ready to shoot. Then in the span of about 10 minutes, the nice, calm morning turned into 40 mph wind. The small HO-gauge train just spun its wheels because the track happened to be facing into the stiff wind – the angle for the perfect background. The background was unacceptable if I ran the train downwind. I compromised and turned the track somewhat. This helped, but the wind, now coming toward the train at an angle, frequently blew the freight cars off the track. There is plenty of footage of me running into frame chasing after tumbling box cars as I curse the stinging sand, the wind, and even God himself. The footage was useless anyway. I had borrowed an Innovision Probe Lens for the day. Apparently, the Innovision’s adapter that attaches the Probe Lens to the XL1S was loose. The wind shook the Probe Lens violently meaning the image was all over the place and off the camera sensor. I returned the lens at the end of the day and pointed out the problem. The adapter was loose because of one tiny screw that could be tightened with a jeweler’s screwdriver. “You almost never have to worry about this,” I was told by the equipment manager as my jaw clenched and my knuckles whitened. I was in the Mojave Desert. In the middle of nowhere. In 40 mph wind. I did not have a jeweler’s screwdriver."
"For the re-shoot, I charted the wind conditions for Mojave for over a month. Finally, one day, the wind was calm. I raced back to the location, set up and shot the miniature train. My oil fire idea wasn’t working – or lighting – so at this point in the frustrating game I put flame directly to train."
"To put the live-action engineer into the train engine, I basically bought a piece of plywood, cut a square out of it, painted it chroma key green and mounted it between two C-stands, then put a second green piece of plywood behind it. The actor stood between the two pieces. The engineer’s hat flew off when I yanked the black string that was tied to it."
And that's how low-budget monster movies get made folks, with a few bucks and a lot of good old fashioned ingenuity.
As a model train nut, I cringe at the thought of a HO train being set ablaze, but in the spirit of true independent monster movie making, I can forgive.
Update: I was just forwarded an email from Douglas Bankston where he mentioned that he was able to rummage through some wealthy peoples furniture, check local pay phone return slots (do those still exist?) and knock off a little girls' lemonade stand to come up with more funds for an 11 minute, 'extended director's cut' of "It Came From Beyond the Mountain."
So far, however, all of Bankston's attempts to get his, new-and-improved, film online have fallen short of his expectations.
Once Bankston finds a suitable home for his film, I will let you know!
Here is the entire film, not just the trailer, plus some behind the scenes shots from "It Came From Beyond the Mountain":
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