Flag on the Moon: The Beast of Yucca Flats | By Bradley Bazzle
When I was a kid and my parents tried to read to me from storybooks, I wrested control of the operation by telling my own story based on the pictures. Many writers do this as children, I think. But then we learn to read and it’s all over, at least until we start writing. What a shame, those wasted years. Lucky for me, I was left alone in front of the television for hours each day and invented a new, related practice: muting the sound and narrating what was happening on screen. My version of The Beverly Hillbillies probably had a lot in common with the actual Beverly Hillbillies, but it didn’t sound nearly as stupid to me. Today, though I’ve moved on artistically (I hope), I still take a special interest in voiceover narration. I can’t think of Days of Heaven without hearing that little girl’s tough voice, or of Goodfellas without hearing Ray Liotta (“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster…”). Sunset Boulevard, The Piano, The Shawshank Redemption—these are the classics of the genre.
Or so I thought.
It turns out one film stands above the rest: The Beast of Yucca Flats. This 1961 creature feature had so little money that the director, Coleman Francis, scrapped sound altogether. He told his crew he’d add dialogue later, maybe do a voiceover. And did he ever do a voiceover. The film’s narration is so dark, so bleak, so transmogrifying with regard to the footage it describes, that I wish it could stand on its own so you could read it as prose. But it can’t. There are too many holes. So what I’ve done, in order to encourage you to see the film as soon as you can, is a summary that incorporates italicized fragments of the narration. I hope it captures this bleak, dazzling slice of wretchedness. For full effect, real aloud in a dour monotone:
A young woman in a towel is strangled in a motel room. A small plane touches down in the desert. An obese Russian disembarks. Joseph Javorski, recently escaped from behind the Iron Curtain, wife and children killed in Hungary. His aide carries a briefcase, secret data on the Russian moon-shot. Destination: Yucca Flats. A meeting with top brass at the A-bomb testing grounds. Flag on the Moon. How did it get there? Men in suits drive up and start shooting. Javorski staggers into the desert. Mushroom cloud. Javorski screams. Touch a button, things happen. Joseph Javorski, respected scientist, prowling the wastelands. A prehistoric beast in a nuclear age. Kill. Kill. Just to be killing. Javorski, his face covered in fleshy looking burns, gently strangles a young couple then drags the woman to a cave. Young Joe Dobson, Desert Patrol, caught in the wheels of progress, finds the man’s body and calls his partner, Jim Archer, wounded in Korea, another man caught in the frantic race for the betterment of mankind. Progress. Together they climb some rocks and find the woman barely alive. Vacation time. People travel east. West. North or south. The Radcliffs travel east, with two small boys. Adventurous boys. Not yet caught by the whirlwind of progress. Their car breaks down and the boys go behind a decrepit gas station and feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs. They see a coyote roped to a tree. Coyotes. Once a menace to travelers. Missile bases run them off their hunting grounds. The boys wander off. Their father, Hank, goes looking for them. Hours in the boiling desert sun. Joe and Jim are still searching for the killer. Twenty hours without rest and still no enemy. To put Jim Archer’s paratroop training to good use is the only answer. A trip up into the skies. Shoot first, ask questions later. From the plane, Jim sees Hank. A man runs, somebody shoots him. The pilot dropped his man. Hank rolls down the hillside. An innocent victim, caught in the wheels of justice. In the blistering desert heat, Jim and Joe plan their next attack. Find the Beast and kill him. Kill or be killed. Man’s inhumanity to man. The Beast returns to his cave and, finding his victim gone, unleashes his fury by throwing a rock. He sees the boys and chases them. They outrun him. Jim appears, shoots at the Beast. They wrestle. Jim is getting strangled, slowly and sensuously, when Joe shoots the Beast point-blank. Jim and Joe leave with the boys. The body remains. Joseph Javorski, noted scientist. A rabbit hops around then nibbles at the Beast’s chest and face. The Beast caresses it then dies.
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Openflix features The Beast of Yucca Flats on YouTube. Bradley Bazzle’s story “Gift Horse” appeared in NER 31.4. Others appear in The Iowa Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Cold Mountain Review, Splash of Red, Phoebe, and Opium. Bradley has an MFA from Indiana University and lives in Athens, Gerogia, where he’s working on a PhD (and a novel). If you enjoy comedy videos, check him out on Trophy Dad’s Youtube channel.