ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A.C. Nicholas, who has a sketchy background and hails from parts unknown in Western Pennsylvania, was once a drive-in theater projectionist and disk jockey, Currently, in addition to being a writer, editor, podcaster, and voice-over artist, he contributes to Drive-In Asylum. His first article, “Grindhouse Memories Across the U.S.A.,” was published in issue #23. He’s also written “I Was a Teenage Drive-in Projectionist” and “Emanuelle in Disney World and Other Weird Tales of a Trash Film Lover” for upcoming issues.
I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for regional horror films. After all, some of the all-time masterpieces came from places other than Hollywood: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Bastrop and Round Rock, Texas), Night of the Living Dead (Pittsburgh, of course), and Carnival of Souls (Lawrence, Kansas). And there were oddball regional gems like Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey Pine Barrens), Horror High (Irving, Texas), and Last House on Dead End Street (State University of New York at Oneonta). But until recently, I never knew Wichita, Kansas, had its own 1960s entry in the regional horror market.
When reading about exploitation films, you often see the expression “it had a checkered distribution history” bandied about. You know, that’s the description of an exploitation film that passed from fly-by-night distributor to fly-by-night distributor with multiple title changes along the way before landing in obscurity in the home video market. While I’ve kept up with regional horror films for over 50 years, I’d never heard of The Beast from the Beginning of Time because it didn’t even have a checkered distribution history. It had no distribution history. Although completed in 1965, it was never publicly shown until 1981. Most of what I learned about it, I gleaned from an online copy of a newspaper article in The Wichita Eagle-Beacon dated October 23, 1981.
You see, back in 1965, one Tom Leahy was the KARD-TV Channel 3 in Wichita horror host of Nightmare (he was called, imaginatively enough, “The Host”), as well as Major Astro, beloved host of a kids’ show. (He sounds a lot like the Wichita version of Bill Cardille, who for years hosted Pittsburgh’s Chiller Theater, along with other shows like The 6 O’Clock Hop and Studio Wrestling). One day, Leahy decided it would be cool to make his own horror movie. So using his station’s staff and facilities and about $10,000, he wrote, directed and starred in The Beast from the Beginning of Time.
The film, about rival archeologists uncovering the remains of a preserved prehistoric man who comes back to life and goes on a killing spree, was filmed in black-and-white with interiors shot at the TV station and at a local farm standing in for the archeological dig. It wound up barely feature length at 58 minutes and looks and sounds for all the world like a 1960s shot-on-16mm remote news report. Even with that short running, it’s a dull affair, certainly no lost gem, enlivened only by scenes of gore that were somewhat surprising for the time. If it had been released back in the day, though, it probably would’ve caused at least a minor sensation among the denizens of Wichita, who would’ve enjoyed spotting their favorite local broadcasters in a theatrical film.
But alas, that was not meant to be. The film was never exhibited and forgotten until KARD unearthed it for a late-night broadcast as a Halloween special on October 30, 1981. The station even got NBC’s resident critic at the time, Gene Shalit (he of the bushy hair and mustache and pithy quip), to give it a bad review in an ill-fated attempt to enhance its camp appeal. Leahy, recognizing the poor quality of his film, apparently thought he could position it as a local cult item, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But alas, that also was not meant to be.
And thus, the history of The Beast from the Beginning of Time proved to be more interesting than the film itself. But you gotta love the chutzpah of those scrappy folks from Wichita. Regional filmmaking forever!
You can catch the Beast in all his regional glory on Tubi.