It must have been about ten years ago now, when I was perusing the DVDs in a bargain bin at my local newsagency. One doesn’t expect to find the cream of cinema’s crop in a newsagency bargain bin. I don’t know how they obtain their peculiar selection on Z-grade DVDs, but I assume money laundering and the mob are somehow involved. Amidst a sea of film sequels that I didn’t even know had originals and public domain dreck with transfers akin to the wretched etchings of madmen, I came across the following cover:
This is how the film, ‘EEGAH’ entered my life. At this stage, I was unfamiliar with Mystery Science Theatre 3000, who I later learned resurrected ‘EEGAH’ from the public domain graveyard. I don’t make a habit of blindly purchasing dreck like you may assume. In this case, the grandiloquence of the blurb won me over:
LONG LIVE ARCH HALL JR!
Eegah is one of those rare existential movies that comes but once in a lifetime. Long criticised for its inept amateurishness, Eegah, when viewed in the new millenium with an open mind, is really and avant-garde classic – a film that defies all convention. The minute the hand-drawn credits hit the screen, you know you’re in for a unique experience.
Produced and directed by Arch Hall, Sr. under the pseudonym, Nicholas Merriweather, and starring the one and only, Arch Hall Jr., who (despite taking shots on the chin for his acting abilities) creates the ultimate baby-faced rock and roll hero.
Giant actor Richard Kiel makes his stunning debut as the last surviving stone age caveman. Smitten with a beautiful teenage girl, he invades a rockin’ pool party to steal her away from her guitar-playing boyfriend.
This is the is the third of Arch Hall Jr.’s acting extravaganzas (the previous being The Choppers and Wild Guitar), Arch would go on to star in several more Fairway International films including the unforgettable “slasher” film The Saddist.. Richard Keil went on to play more very tall people including the steel-toothed villain “Jaws” in Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me. Incidentally, cult director Ray Dennis Steckler (Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies) seen with his perennial starlet Carolyn Brandt, is the party guest who gets thrown into the pool during Eegah’s climatic rampage.
I wasn’t naïve enough to believe this was going to be a lost treasure of deep existential cinema, but I was beginning to believe I had stumbled upon a bona fide curio of cult trash, and in that regard, I was right. ‘EEGAH’ is a stew comprised of ingredients most foul that, as a whole, tastes… not completely inedible. As it tumbles down your gullet, you occasionally choke on a chunky bit, and the resultant bowel movement will contain bits of your own brain, but you WILL survive.
With ‘EEGAH’, we have Arch Hall Sr. (under the pseudonym Nicholas Merriweather) directing his Dennis the Menace-looking son, Arch Hall Jr as he sings and fights his way out of potential caveman catastrophe. As the last surviving caveman, Richard Keil terrorisers the bleached California desert, crashing house parties and falling in love. The threadbare storyline, follows a classic Donkey Kong-esque “beast falls in love” trajectory. I don’t know if this is consistent with all prints of the film, but the stock on my version looks as though it were left out in the sun for a good many decades, such is the washed out nature of the cinematography. The way Arch Hall Jr. squints at the camera only exaggerates this effect. But really… all of this talk of plot and storyline is secondary compared to THE MUSIC. And for me… ‘EEGAH’ is all about the music.
In the world of music, Arch Hall Jr. occupies a Shaggs-like place in my heart. He certainly doesn’t possess the complete absence of musical talent that made The Shaggs so astonishing, but, like the Wiggin sisters, Arch Hall Jr. had a father too blinded by nepotism to notice how truly unworthy the music of his offspring was. Listening to Jr.’s ponderous blend of swamp rock, doo wop and surf rock, the word that springs to mind is ‘forgettable’. Despite this, Arch Hall Sr. orchestrated a situation wherein his son became a starring vehicle for several of his films. Each film posited Jr. as a rock and roll hero and possessed storylines that allowed him to slip into song for no good reason. It seems Sr. was trying to position Jr. into a situation similar to Elvis who, as we know, starred in many films that showcased his music. It didn’t seem to matter that Sr. was at the helm of cheaper than charity drive-in fare and that was exceedingly unlikely to place his son’s music before the hungry masses. Outside of the drive-in world, Jr. fronted the band Arch Hall Jr. and the Archers, but it’s safe to say this band didn’t really cause much of a splash.
What makes the music in ‘EEGAH’ so extraordinary is its stark juxtaposition with the film’s subject matter. There is no good reason for a film about a wayward caveman to tangentially slip into song and yet, ‘EEGAH’ does it anyway… several times. Arch Hall Jr. croons his little ditties with disembodied backing tracks of no discernable origin. The women swoon, Arch scowls, the song ends, and the storyline continues as if nothing ever happened. It is the opening credits that introduces you to what I believe is probably the most successful piece of music. A lurching avant-garde swamp rock instrumental, infused with lethargy and an odd sense of space, introduces you to the film. The sound of howling wind accompanies the swamp rock and culminates with a cry of “EEEEEEEEGGGAAAHHHHH”, which is so tinny, it could have been created with an Atari 2600. This music repeats throughout the film, which leads me to believe it may be something akin to an ‘EEGAH’ theme. Listen to the embedded track below and ask yourself, ‘what sort of film could this possibly be?’.
Now we’re getting down to business… the ‘score’ of this film is the standard b-movie orchestrated kind and was composed by a chap called André Brummer under the pseudonym, Henry Price. Brummer has several composer credits to his name, but there is nothing exceptional. If the totality of ‘EEGAH’s’ music was composed of Brummer’s work, there’s no way I’d be talking about it right now. What we’re looking for is the musical talents of Arch Hall Jr. It isn’t too long before we’re presented with teens by a pool in the Californian sun. Frivolity is afoot, and our good friend Arch, electric guitar sans any discernable amplification source in tow, begins to croon the following:
Okay… so the caveman hasn’t really started wreaking havoc just yet, so you can write off this musical interjection as a byproduct of carefree teenage decadence. Who doesn’t like to sing to groups of their scantily clad friends on a fun summers day? As the story unrolls, these interjections become more difficult to justify, and it’s to Arch Hall Sr.’s credit that he proceeded to do it anyway. In the following scene, things aren’t quite so calm. Faced with the prospect of spending the night in the desert, Jr. settles back and sings the following:
That whistling still haunts my dreams. If I could summon ethereal female backing vocals at will, I know I’d overuse it. I doubt a situation would exist without a ‘doo de doo’ interjection (or forty). It’s like having an orchestra hit sound effect on your Casio keyboard – you MUST use it. All things considered, Arch is to be commended for using it so sparingly. What I particularly like about this song is the unflinching attention paid to this mysterious ‘Valerie’ woman, especially when the solitary woman listening to the performance in question is called Roxy. I can’t tell whether Arch is trying to seduce Roxy or enrage her… you know… because being stranded in the desert isn’t quite frustrating enough. The final musical number makes a little more logical sense in that Arch performs it with a band. Why you’d have a pool party in the midst of immanent caveman danger is beyond me, but I guess stress does strange things to people.
“LIKE NOBODY LIVES THERE… DIG?” I will never stop loving that closing line. I wasn’t even questioning him. I’m not sure if the band Arch is playing with in that clip is the infamous Archers. I think it’s worth noting the inexplicable reverb that permeates his voice. Given Arch isn’t even using a microphone, this is remarkable. As you might have gathered, this scene takes place toward the conclusion of the film and, as you’d expect, adds absolutely nothing to the story arc.
So that’s ‘EEGAH’. I may have mocked the the hell out of it, but I genuinely have a soft spot for this tour de farce. It’s a film that exists to exhibit the minimal musical talent of its leading man. By placing this intention within the framework of tale about a rampaging, lovelorn caveman, it becomes a delightful absurdity. In a paradoxical sense, this film works so well because it doesn’t work at all. As it’s a public domain film, you can very easily find it freely available to stream online, and if you want 90 minutes of perplexing fun, I highly recommend it.