Arch Hall, Sr. (under the name Nicholas Meriwether) wrote, directed, produced, financed, promoted and co-starred in the Junk Cinema classic "Eegah!" How can we ever thank him?
Greetings, movie lovers.
I have a question for you:
What cost $15,000 bucks, was shot in 14 days and featured an ex-night club bouncer, a secretary and a teenage dune buggy fanatic in the leading roles?
It's "Eegah!", the seminal Arch Hall, Sr. mess-terpiece from 1962, which introduced audiences to the 7 foot, 2 inch Richard Kiel as a caveman named--what else?--Eegah, who develops a fatal attraction for Palm Springs It Girl Roxy Miller (Marilyn Manning).
"Is that Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo or Betty Jo?": None of the above! It's Marilyn Manning as teen queen Roxy Miller.
It all begins one warm summer night as the bouffanted Roxy drives her spiffy yellow convertible over to meet her father, "noted" adventure writer Robert I. Miller (Arch Hall, Sr. as William Watters), over at "the club."
Suddenly, Roxy's headlights pick up a figure crossing the road. She slams on the breaks, gazes in horror and faints dead away. And no wonder: it's the enormous caveman Eegah (Kiel), wearing a drooping tunic and fuzzy boots, a scraggly beard and toting a club.
While Roxy lays motionless in the front seat, Eegah checks out her car--and then proceeds to check her out. Startled by the car horn, Eegah runs off. Seconds later, Roxy's chipmunk-cheeked boyfriend Tommy (Arch Hall, Jr.) drives up.
"Is he gone?!" Roxy screams. "Is he?!"
Tommy, not the sharpest tool in the shed, looks around totally befuddled. He will do that a lot.
Eegah! It's Arch Hall, Jr. as Tommy.
"I saw a giant!" Roxy sobs, collapsing into Tommy's arms.
Next, we're at "the club" (the Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs, California, owned by cowboy star Gene Autry). Here Roxy relates her tale to dad, Tommy and an unidentified elderly guest. Although the elderly guest is scornful of Roxy's claims, Mr. Miller is intrigued enough to visit the desert and check things out for himself the next day.
While Roxy, Tommy and Mr. Miller poke around in the dirt, a voice from nowhere says, "Watch out for snakes!" Then Tommy finds an imprint in the dust.
"It's a foot print!" squeals Roxy. "Look! There's the heel and there's the toe!"--then she throws her arms around Tommy and gives him a big smooch. "That's for finding them!"
Believing he might have stumbled upon the scientific find of the century (and a potential best seller, too) Mr. Miller dons a Safari suit and a pith helmet and has himself helicoptered into "the mouth of Deep Canyon" (no comment) to search for Roxy's giant. Walking along, the adventure writer spots a dying campfire and pauses to snap a picture. As he focuses the lens of the camera, a pair of fuzzy booties comes into view. It's Eegah! The shocked Mr. Miller backs slowly away from the hulking, club-wielding Kiel--and promptly trips over his over night bag. D'oh!
Noted adventure writer Robert I. Miller (Arch Hall, Sr.) suits up for action.
We never know what transpires between Mr. Miller and Kiel because the flick quickly scampers back over to "the club". That's where we find the bikini-clad Roxy frolicking in the pool, while a badly sun-burned Tommy strums a guitar and "sings" a song titled "Vicky".
This is one of "Eegah!"s classic moments. Words alone can't begin to describe the sight of Arch Hall, Jr., slowly roasting in the California sun, surrounded by "adoring" females, yodeling along with an unseen angelic choir to these lyrics: "I love you, Vicky/You know I do/My whole life has changed/Though the first day we met/Was my last day/With youuuu.../If you don't love me/I was a foooool/Oh, Vicky/You are my luuuuv..."
This musical interlude, however, is halted by a phone call from the helicopter pilot: his chopper has sprung a gasket and he's grounded. Roxy is at a loss as to how she'll pick up her dad at Deep Canyon. Luckily, Tommy springs into action.
"No problem!" he chirps. "We'll get the dune buggy and whiz right out there!"
Tommy is VERY proud of his dune buggy, telling Roxy, "My tires are filled with water!" When Roxy is less than impressed, Tommy adds, "Wait till we get off the highway!" When the duo reach the desert, Roxy notices there's no road. "This is what the buggy was made for!" Tommy exalts. "Watch this!" And we're treated to several minutes of Tommy (backed by a groovy sound track) racing up and down the sand dunes and spinning donuts. As Tommy does this, Roxy squeals "Wee! Wee!" over and over again like a stuck pig.
The tires of Tommy's dune buggy are filled with water. Can you stand it?
However, when the cuddlemates arrive at Mr. Miller's pre-arranged pick-up spot, he's nowhere to be found. So Roxy and Tommy set up camp, have some dinner and begin to wonder what's keeping Mr. Miller. While Roxy's getting edgy, Tommy's unconcerned.
"He's not comin' on a bus, you know," Tommy shrugs. "You can't expect him to be right on the dot."
"That's what you said two hours ago!" Roxy gripes, flinging her spoon to the ground.
OK, now it's dark. What do our dynamic duo do next?
Roxy climbs into the dune buggy and snuggles into a sleeping bag. Tommy nestles down a few feet away and--Yes! No!--"sings" another ditty, this time called "Valerie". A sample of the lyrics:
Before Richard Kiel was "Jaws" from "The Spy who Loved Me" and "Moonraker", he was Eegah from "Eegah!"
"I wish I had a billion dollars/and a banker's salary/ I would buy up all the flowers/to give to Valerie./ A vitamin is good they say/and so's a calorie/But I feel like a tiger/With one kiss from Valerie..."
No wonder Eegah, tramping around near by, is so revolted by what he hears that he heads off in another direction.
The next morning, Mr. Miller is still AWOL. Tommy and Roxy continue their search, but stop when they reach a rocky passage too narrow for the dune buggy. Foolishly insisting Rox stay behind, Tommy hikes up the trail to see if the coast is clear. Meanwhile, as Roxy combs her hair and freshens her make-up, Eegah's big, beefy hand appears out of nowhere and clamps down on her shoulder. Roxy screams and faints (again). Eegah slings her over his shoulder and trudges off. The sound of the dune buggy's horn (hit by Roxy's purse) causes Tommy to race down the trail yelling "Roxy! Roxy!", but his girl and Kiel are long gone.
Draped in black rubber sheets, with "primitive" paintings on the walls, Styrofoam "boulders" and the desiccated remains of his ancestors scattered about, Eegah's man cave is quite a sight to see. It's here we find Mr. Miller sprawled out on the floor, his arm in a sling.
"Through the Cave Darkly?": Robert Miller and daughter Roxy in Eegah's crash pad.
Delighted to have additional company, Eegah deposits Roxy next to her dad. Rubbing his elbow, Mr. Miller tells Roxy, "I think I broke my collar bone." When Eegah looks at Roxy, Mr. Miller points at himself and says, "She's mine." "He understand you!" Roxy exclaims. "Oh, we have a beautiful friendship going," Mr. Miller deadpans.
Introductions over, Eegah starts sniffing Roxy like a bloodhound and checking her hair for lice. Mind you, Roxy is draped over her father's lap while he's doing this. (Ewww). When Roxy objects to this pawing, Mr. Miller encourages her to "take it easy" and reminds her to "think of the alternative." (Ewww.) Realizing his duties as host, Eegah presents his guests with a meaty bone to chew on and plenty of helpings of sulfur water.
"A pre-historic gentleman, huh?" Roxy observes.
As the Millers eat, Eegah ventures over to the mummified remains of his "tribe", grunting and pointing at his visitors.
"He's telling them about you," Mr. Miller explains. "He told them about me last night."
"Doesn't he know they're dead?" Roxy asks.
"And this is Uncle Zeno...": Eegah introduces the Millers to his family.
"I think so," Mr. Miller reasons. "He (just) can't make himself accept it."
"Think how lonely he must be," Roxy sighs.
Mr. Miller agrees, adding, "I know whatever he is, he's a human being."
Is he talking about Eegah or Richard Kiel? (Rim shot.)
The following morning, Eegah leaves the cave early, but makes sure a "huge boulder" prevents his guests from leaving. Eager to lessen her father's pain (he has a broken collar bone, after all), Roxy decides to give her father a shave. Shortly thereafter, Eegah arrives (bringing Roxy some flowers) and, fascinated by the procedure, demands Roxy shave him, too.
Eegah lathers up. Ewww!
"Anything to please the customer," Roxy replies, as she slathers cream all over Eegah's face. It only takes one or two strokes of the razor to remove Eegah's beard; the hard part is keeping Kiel's huge slippery, icky, tongue from lapping up the shaving cream--and licking Roxy like an ice cream cone. (Ewww.) After Eegah is clean shaven, Roxy combs back his hair and shows him his reflection in a pocket mirror. "You're handsome!" she declares.
Then things turn dark. At her father's urging, Roxy plays on Eegah's infatuation with her to sucker him into letting them out of the cave. To do this, she allows Eegah to sniff her arm again and asks, "Do you like pretty smells?" Roxy then hands him her scarf. When he gets bored with that, Roxy shows him her ring. That doesn't impress Eegah, either.
"Give him something else!" Mr. Miller commands.
"I don't have anything else!" Roxy wails, before showing Eegah a button from her sundress. The cave man is briefly interested, but then starts fondling Roxy's breasts.
"Don't get the idea that I don't like you," a panicky Roxy explains, "but my father!"
"I never kiss on a first date!": Roxy tries to handle an overly amorous Eegah.
Suddenly Eegah smiles, unhands Roxy and grabs his club, preparing to bash Mr. Miller's skull in. Roxy screams, stops him and begins stroking Eegah's chest. She entices him to go outside so they can "be alone" and Eegah readily agrees. However, once the caveman senses Roxy is trying to escape, he rips her top (revealing her black bra) and prepares to assault her or eat her--probably both. It also doesn't help when Mr. Miller marches out of the cave and bonks Eegah on the head with his over night bag. However, Roxy's hysterical screams manage do bring forth an unlikely savior: Tommy!
Hearing his girlfriend shrieking like a dental drill, Tommy races over to Eegah's cave. Brandishing a shot gun, Tommy fires a few warning shots to frighten Eegah away ...but Eegah merely grabs the gun and snaps it in two. Undeterred, Tommy punches Eegah in the gut, which only pisses Kiel off. Thinking quickly, Tommy crawls between the giant's legs (don't ask) and conks him on the head with "a boulder." With Eegah down for the count, Tommy, Mr. Miller and Roxy head for the dune buggy. No sooner do they rev up the engine, however, than the buggy stalls in the sand--and a furious Eegah is heading their way! Tommy finally manages to get some traction and hits the gas. Away they go, leaving Eegah (still clutching Roxy's scarf) in the dust.
"So long high pockets!" Tommy jeers.
Whew! The events described thus far would be enough for any movie, but "Eegah!" isn't just any movie. To complete the surreal nuttiness we've already endured, director Hall, Sr. crafts a perfectly surreal, nutty conclusion. Hang on!
Although she's back home safe and sound, Roxy is still struggling with her emotions about Eegah.
Roxy Miller insists Eegah isn't a bad egg, even though he tried to kill her (among other things).
"What will happen to him?" she wonders.
"I don't know," Mr. Miller admits. "But I'm certain we're doing the right thing...if we were to reveal that a giant actually exists, there'd be a whole army tracking him down like an animal."
"No!" Roxy insists. "We wouldn't let them!"
"He's from another age, another eon," Mr. Miller reminds her.
Suddenly Tommy arrives to take Roxy and her dad to a pool party.
Mr. Miller ponders which is the better man for Roxy: Tommy or Eegah.
"Wowie wow wow!" Tommy declares, looking at Roxy in her pink party frock. Then he turns to Mr. Miller and announces, "I have my dad's wheels tonight."
"Really?" Mr. Miller replies. "Do they fit on your car?"
"You're funny, Mr. Miller, real funny!" Tommy replies, before turning to Roxy and going, "Grrrrr!"
Off our happy campers go, blissfully unaware that Eegah (guided by the sent of Roxy's scarf) is hot on their trail.
His first stop is a dress shop, where Eegah gets briefly distracted by a mannequin. Next, he shows up at the Miller's house, punching through a "sliding glass door"(the sound of shattering glass was obviously added later). Because nobody's home, Eegah ambles over to "the club", where he barges into the main dining room and makes a b-line for the buffet. The hysterical guests (all 10 of them!) run for their lives, while the server completely loses it after Eegah grabs a hunk of meat and chows down.
"Look everybody! I shaved my arm pits!": Roxy twists the night away.
Meanwhile, over at the pool party, Tommy and his "swingin' combo" are belting out "Nobody Lives on the Brownsville Road". Roxy, working through her trauma, twists the night away with a variety of partners. Unfortunately, that irritates Tommy and one of his band mates, who proceed to get into a fight over who, exactly, is Roxy's date. This kerfluffle is still going on when--Yes! No!--Eegah hops over a wall and joins the party.
As pandemonium erupts, Eegah knocks over Tommy and his buddies like bowling pins in order to grab Roxy. Seconds later, two very young looking cops--alerted by their radio stating "A large man or giant is causing a disturbance!"--burst in, guns a-blazin'
"No! Don't shoot!" Roxy hollers. "He doesn't understand!"
Too late. Eegah is pumped full of lead and crashes into the pool. As his body floats to the surface, the stunned guests ask, "Where did he come from? Was he real?"
"Yes, he was real," Mr. Miller says sadly. "It says so in the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter four, verse 32: 'In those days, giants walked the earth.'"
"Ready! Steady! Go! Far Away! Just Go!"": Tommy and a member of his swingin' combo.
Uh, no. Chapter four of Genesis has only 25 verses and makes no mention of giants--I looked it up myself. Yet this fake, fatuous quote is perhaps the perfect way to end this perfectly astonishing movie.
If you're new to Junk Cinema, you may be unaware of the esteemed place "Eegah!" holds in the hearts of bad movie lovers AND its treasured spot in the Hall of Cinematic Shame.
Arch Hall, Sr. had been a stunt man and radio announcer before he set his sights on making movies. The exploding youth culture, the popularity of dive-ins and the success of such teen singers as Ricky Nelson inspired "Eegah!"s plot. At first, Hall, Sr. planned on having his son Arch Hall, Jr. be the star of the show. However, after he met Richard Kiel (then a bouncer at a cowboy bar), the elder Hall quickly changed his mind.
"Eegah!" was budgeted at $15,000 and took two weeks to film. Ray Dennis Steckler, of "The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mix-up Zombies" fame, was the assistant cameraman. They shot in Bronson Canyon (the same location as "Robot Monster") in scorching temperatures. The glitches made during the filming have become part of Junk Cinema legend: sand got in the film, crew members got sun stroke and the sound-man mixed up "Play" and "Record", losing a big chunk of the soundtrack. In the end, most of the dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Besides writing, directing, producing, financing and co-starring as Mr. Miller, Hall, Sr. provided the voice of Eegah, tossing in Sioux Indian phrases with the grunts and growls. Indeed, it's Arch Hall, Sr. who utters the immortal line "Watch out for snakes!"
The rest of the cast had little or no background in film making. Marilyn Manning (Roxy) was a receptionist for a chiropractor who rented office space from Hall. Arch Hall, Jr. was only 16 when he played Tommy and told his dad up front he couldn't sing (how right he was!). Nevertheless, pops reassured him that "a lot of people had done well who didn't know how to sing" (true, true), so he should just relax. For his efforts, Hall, Sr. bought his son a car.
Dennis the Menace and Arch Hall, Jr.: Separated at birth?
After his debut in "Eegah!", Arch Hall, Jr. went on to star in "Wild Guitar" (1962), "Deadwood '76" (1965) and "The Sadist" (1963), all for his dad's production company, Fairway-International. Unfortunately, the younger Hall's acting (and singing) never improved and his hapless performances have delighted bad movie fans for years. When MST3K riffed on "Eegah!", they were especially caustic to Hall, Jr.: one of the "Host Segments" featured Tom and Crow trying to surgically alter Joel's face so he would resemble "the butt-ugly teen star of today's movie" and thus force him "into (the) career of a wimpy B-movie actor!" After serving in Vietnam, Hall, Jr. retired from show business and became a successful pilot.
Another crucial name attached to "Eegah!" is Ray Dennis Steckler. He was Hall, Sr.'s apprentice and had bit parts in "Wild Guitar" and "Eegah!" (he's the sap Eegah throws into the pool). His experiences with the Hall family paved the way for Steckler to write, direct, produce and (under the stage name Cash Flagg) act in his own Junk Cinema Jewels: "The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies", "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo" and "The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Green Grasshopper and the Vampire Lady from Mars", among other titles.
Saving the best for last, "Eegah!" just wouldn't be "Eegah!" without Richard Kiel. Born in Michigan, Kiel worked several jobs (such as a night school math teacher) before "Eegah" made him a star. His extreme height and physical strength made him perfect for the part of love sick Eegah and paved the way for appearances in TV shows like "I Dream of Jeannie", "The Night Stalker", "The Monkees" and "Emergency!" He was the head alien in the classic "Twilight Zone" episode "To Better Serve Man". He was also one of the finalists (along with Arnold Schwarzenegger) to play TV's Incredible Hulk, but lost to Lou Ferrigno. A sample of his film roles include "The Human Duplicators", "The Nutty Professor", "Skiddo" and "Happy Gilmore". Of course, Kiel is best known to mainstream audiences for his Bond villain role as "Jaws". However, it was Junk Cinema that discovered Kiel first. When he passed away in 2014, he was remembered for his contributions to film and TV in this very blog.
As you can see movie lovers, the influence of "Eegah!" is vast indeed. Many careers and films can be traced to its humble beginnings. "Eegah!"s debut screening was at a drive-in in Omaha, Nebraska, where it took in $15,000 dollars in business--enough to cover the original costs of filming. "Eegah!" has been dubbed into foreign languages, been a regular on late, late TV and has been written up in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, The Son of Golden Turkey Awards, The Offical Razzie Movie Guide, The Worst Movies of All Time and Video Hound's Cult Flicks and Trash Pics. Arch Hall, Sr. reportedly made a million dollars profit off the flick and told the authors of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (the Brothers Medved),"It was always sort of a subject of laughter that the darned thing did so well."
But Arch Hall, Sr. laughed all the way to the bank--and into Junk Cinema history.
Until next time, SAVE THE MOVIES!
Movie poster for "Eegah!"
Tom and Crow trying to make Joel look like Arch Hall, Jr.