One night, a car is found in a lovers lane which has been crushed, but there is no sign of the driver or passenger. Then the investigating police hear over the radio that the smalltown of Ludlow has been mysteriously destroyed. Reporter Audrey Ames (Peggie Castle) is driving through that part of the country when she gets halted at a roadblock; sensing a big story, she starts to investigate, leading her to the laboratory of Dr Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves) - could an atomic explosion have destroyed the town?
No! Because this is a giant monster movie! Yes, it's the one with the giant locusts in it. Written by Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn, Beginning of the End is one of producer/director Bert I. Gordon's archetypal monster movies, with all the expected elements in place: science gone wrong, incredulous military powerless in the face of the threat, and special effects on a low budget, in this case magnified grasshoppers and an abundance of back-projection.
As usual, your fifties monster epic has a suspicion of science, while relying on it to solve the problem it has created. This time around, we have genetically modified food to blame for the menace, because Dr Ed and his huge staff of one deaf mute assistant and, er, nobody else are using radiation to grow giant fruit and veg to solve the world's hunger problem. Now, what use could a giant tomato be? You can't fit it in a sandwich for a start. Anyway, once this stuff gets into the food chain via the locusts, the bugs get big and try to satisfy their appetites.
Audrey is a dedicated reporter with a nose for news, and a telephone in her car (or at least a telephone handset in her car). Early on in the film, she gets a distant look in her eye and reminisces about her experiences in war zones, and the horrors she has seen; she also acts as the conscience of the story, musing that deaf mute Frank is a victim of the experiments due to the accident that gave him his condition. But this thoughtful aspect is thrown out the window in favour of non stop action when the locusts attack, leading to much footage of explosions and machine gunning.
The bugs are on their way to the Windy City, and shots of the deserted Chicago streets work well (that type of thing always does) but Beginning of the End is a silly film, really, and its insistence in taking itself deadly seriously effectively prevents you from doing the same. They may make allusions to Biblical plagues, and stress the inhuman horror of the invasion (the locusts might even resort to cannibalism!), but grasshoppers just aren't scary, especially when there are only about three of them onscreen at a time until the very end. It still entertains, though, and that's what matters. Music by Albert Glasser. The Swarm ripped off the ending of this, incidentally.