To give credit—or blame—where it’s really due here, you have to look to the producer—our old pal, the astonishing Sam Katzman, one of the most underrated names in exploitation. Indeed, old Sam may well have been the first truly successful exploitation filmmaker—by that I mean he made a working career out of it. He started, unpromisingly, making serials and westerns in the 1930s, but he came into his own with his Banner Productions in 1940 at Monogram (the first time he had access to actual studio releasing, such as it was). Here he turned the Dead End Kids into the East Side Kids and offered a down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi to star in a series of really cheap movies that offered a lot of Lugosi and very little else.
Contemptuous of everything—including his audience (he once went on record saying there was “something wrong” with the people who went to his movies)—he was the ultimate schlockmeister. Always ready to latch onto a trend, it was hardly surprising that he’d gravitate toward sci-fi in the 1950s. Actually, his 1956 epic Earth vs. the Flying Saucers isn’t bad, but those Ray Harryhausen special effects were not Sam’s cup of tea—meaning they cost money. So he found something cheaper—farming out the effects on this one to a Mexican studio. That the monster was laughable (let’s face it the most horrifying thing about it is that it sometimes looks like a demented Jimmy Durante) was no concern of Sam’s. This may be the origin of outsourcing, come to think of it. More unbelievable is the idea that anyone anywhere at any time thought this creature was acceptable.
This is why no one in the cast—except for the screaming extras who parachuted into the buzzard’s mouth, or rather a rear-screen projection of it—even saw the bird till it was too late to realize that the monster they’d been “reacting” to in stark terror was quite possibly the most ludicrous thing ever put on film. That it managed to embarass actors whose credits weren’t all that spiffy to begin with makes this no small accomplishment. That this was the sine qua non of silliness in the era that saw Bert I. Gordon showing “giant” grasshoppers crawling up photos of skyscrapers is nothing short of mind-boggling.