Richard Kiel was unforgettable as the steel-toothed villain Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979). But 15 years before he put the bite on James Bond, Kiel chomped on the scenery in a delightfully terrible drive-in classic.
In EEGAH (1962), the 7 foot, 3 inch-tall Detroit native plays a pre-historic giant who simultaneously threatens a California town and put the moves on a hot chick. The low-budget horror/sci-fi/musical epic stars pompadoured Elvis wannabe Arch Hall Jr. (WILD GUITAR, THE SADIST) as the crooning, dune-buggy-driving hero Tom Nelson, with Marilyn Manning as Roxy, the object of Tom’s – and the title character’s – affections. But the real creative genius behind EEGAH was Arch Hall Sr., who wrote, produced, directed (using the pseudonym Nicholas Merriwether), and acts in the film (using another pseudonym, William Watters), playing Roxy’s inappropriately pimp-ish father. Hall Sr. also wrote two catchy pop ballads for his 19-year-old son to warble in the film: “Vicky” and “Valerie” (not to be confused with “Vallerie,” the Monkees hit that made it to #3 on the Billboard charts six years later).
If Arch Hall Sr. didn’t get Father of the Year Award for 1962, I hope he at least demanded a re-count.
EEGAH was Kiel’s first major film role after a few years of TV work, most notably the To Serve Man episode of The Twilight Zone, which aired just a few weeks before the movie’s release. Kiel makes the most of a part that might have otherwise been given to an anonymous stuntman, as Eegah grunts his name Groot-style, wields a giant wooden club, and engages in lengthy “conversations” with the calcified corpses of his relatives. Despite his character’s aggressive method of courting his new crush, Kiel deftly manages to keep the audience on his side, and the scene in which he knocks Hall Jr. cold with a right cross undoubtedly elicited cheers at drive-ins across America (assuming the kids were actually watching the movie, which they probably weren’t).
Hall Jr. has to speak actual, scripted dialogue and he, unfortunately, does not fare as well. Despite the good intentions of his dad, the 19-year-old has zero charisma, wandering through most of his scenes like he’s looking for the men’s room. Manning (who was apparently Hall Sr.’s secretary) isn’t much better, but at least she’s given interesting things to do. Hall Sr.’s story (with a script by Bob Wehling) takes Roxy in hilariously unexpected directions, including a scene in which she seductively shaves off the title character’s beard, propositions him in order to save her father, and looks wistfully back at him as she is driven off to safety(?).
And if you had any doubt that EEGAH was aping KING KONG, you need only wait for the scene in which the title character sniffs Roxy’s scarf while whimpering for his lost love. It’s a magic moment, just one of many in this unforgettable movie.
EEGAH first came to my attention in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), Harry and Michael Medved’s seminal 1978 book. Like many other films in that book (and its follow-up, The Golden Turkey Awards), EEGAH is enjoyably awful, and never stops surprising. I wish I could say that for the tragically predictable action blockbusters of today.
In honor of Kiel, who died on September 10 at the age of 74, the nostalgia-themed Retro TV will broadcast the 1993 Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of EEGAH on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET) Retro is available in more than 61 million U.S. homes, in most cases as a free, over-the-air, digital broadcast sub-channel. You can see if you get the channel here. The non-MST3K version of the film is available to stream at Amazon Instant.
Rest in peace, Richard Kiel. And wherever you are, make sure you watch out for snakes.