The Trollenberg Terror’ or — The Hills Are Alive…?

Julie Andrews might’ve had to deal with nuns, Nazis and a grumpy Christopher Plummer whilst she was spinning about in the hills like some centrifugal maniac but in ‘The Trollenberg Terror’ (1958) poor old Warren Mitchell has to combat giant, radioactive, psychic, one-eyed monsters although the jury’s still out as to who got the worst deal between the two (at least these aliens don’t attempt to sing ‘Edelweiss’).

It seems mountaineers are being decapitated on the Swiss alp of Trollenberg by some mysterious presence. This mystery is compounded further when a young woman called Anne, travelling through Switzerland by train with her sister Sarah with whom she performs a mind-reading act, seems to make an overwhelming psychic connection with the mysterious presence as they pass by the foot of the mountain. It is so shocking that Anne faints. Fortunately U.N. troubleshooter (whatever the hell that is) Alan Brooks is on-board to help and as the sisters rest in a nearby hotel Alan visits the Trollenberg observatory where Professor Crevitt informs him that a strange, unmoving radioactive cloud dwells on the mountain’s southern face. How mysterious.

Back at the hotel Anne is showing off her mind-reading skills when she suffers another psychic attack whilst doing so, calling out that there are two men in danger at Trollenberg base-camp. Is something lurking at the top of the moutains attempting to make contact with Anne? A rescue party is sent out and when they arrive they find the place completely frozen along with the body of one of the men… with his head missing. But what happened to the other guy?

This missing climber has descended the peak and is now approaching the hotel… and attempts to kill Anne! Alan tries to stop him and, in doing so, discovers the mountaineer is now a zombie as, despite sustaining a massive head wound, no blood flows after he is violently struck. This reminds Brooks of a similar situation that happened in the Andes a few years beforehand, although no one believed him at the time. The fools.

Meanwhile, back at the observatory, Professor Crevitt observes that the strange, misty cloud has broken up into four distinct pieces as is heading down towards the hotel. Eeek! Everyone’s only hope of survival is to take refuge in the heavily fortified observatory and wait for the British airforce to, er… start carpet-bombing Switzerland?

‘The Trollenberg Terror’, based on an ITV television series, was written by Hammer Horror writer Jimmy Sangster and is a sort of mix between paranormal horror and Quatermass sci-fi with a touch of Lovecraft cosmic terror. And it all comes together in a surprisingly entertaining way, even more remarkable given how low the budget must have been for this. So sure, the special effects are cheap and creaky but there’s bags of ambition here and some of the matte paintings contain a real sense of charm.

Sangster was also very good at letting his descriptive dialogue do a lot of the heavy lifting, giving his characters lots of portentous speeches that could slow other films down but, here, add a nice bit of scope and scale to the apocalyptic proceedings. It’s telling not showing but what’s in the telling is pretty cool.

I also suspect this film must have had an influence on Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’ (I know he was aware of its existence), what with the story of a strange, mist-like cloud containing unimaginably horrible monsters descending on poor, helpless humans, as well as Mario Bava’s ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959) made the following year. The biggest difference between ‘Trollenberg’ and Bava’s film is that Bava was way more successful in executing a low-budget giant monster attack for his movie’s climax with Trollenberg’s creatures being more laughable than anything else and certainly lacking the verisimilitude of scale that Bava could pull-off with better effect (but that’s also one of the reasons Bava fans love Bava).

As a cheap, late 50’s, British cosmic monster movie ‘The Trollenberg Terror’ worked better than I was expecting and is almost worth checking out for Warren Mitchell’s highly entertaining performance as enthusiastic Swiss astronomer Professor Crevitt alone. If you’re in the mood for an atmospheric, creaky creature-feature that’s an exercise in ambition over actual resources then this is worth checking out.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.