Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pick your poison: The Black Scorpion(1957)

One of my great escapes from reality, all while in the comfort of my living room recliner, often involves watching one of my beloved 1950's B movie "monster on the loose" creature features. These generally low(er) budget movies produced during the '50s feature various humans, animals or insects that have been exposed to atomic radiation, growing to enormous size and then becoming an immediate menace to anyone around them which results in climactic and predictable showdowns between these irradiated mutations and those members of local towns and military forces that are actually brave enough to hang around and fight these monsters.

Most of these films aren't broadcast on television much anymore though a handful still make the rounds on Turner Classic Movies(TCM). These kinds of movies make no sense and yet I find myself still as enamored with them today as I was when I was kid. Go figure.

One such film that still appears on TCM is The Black Scorpion, a black and white movie originally released to theaters in 1957, produced by Warner Brothers and directed by Edward Ludwig. The cast includes Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas and Mara Corday.

As 1950's "giant creatures on the loose" movies go The Black Scorpion is IMO above average and will well entertain B movie "creature feature" enthusiasts for ninety minutes, I think.

In The Black Scorpion a geologist and a doctor are studying the effects of volcanic activity in a remote and rugged village of San Lorenzo, Mexico. One effect they hadn't counted on: the volcanic activity has caused a rupture in the Earth nearby and prehistoric, giant sized scorpions have made their way to the surface from their subterranean lair, the enormous arachnids preying on cattle and the local citizenry. The scientist, doctor and local military all quickly get together to come up with a plan to stop the marauding, over-sized scorpions. Their initial efforts fail and even larger scorpions emerge from their underground nest, attacking a passenger train. Eventually the largest of these prehistoric scorpions, a house sized monstrosity, emerges and has a showdown with the military and scientists in a local stadium. (no other spoilers)

Pincer movement: giant scorpions attack each other as well as the locals in THE BLACK SCORPION(1957)

For me the special effects are the reason to watch this film. Richard Denning, who plays geologist Henry "Hank" Scott, is fairly bland and unimaginative...not that he really would realistically be anything else in a movie like this. The only time Denning's character shows any real personality is when he's putting the moves on co star Mara Corday, who plays Teresa Alvarez. The other cast members are also generally likable but uninteresting overall.

The special effects are handled by Willis O'Brien in this film and look, for the most part, fairly good. Like Ray Harryhausen, Willis O'Brien uses "stop motion" to bring the giant scorpions to life and the stop motion sequences look pretty good. There are, to be sure, numerous and redundant close up shots of the scorpions that focus on the facial features of these arachnids. Perhaps to add even more menace to these creatures, the giant scorpions are given jaws with rows of teeth and the ability to roar both of which are anatomically inaccurate. The giant scorpions also seem to have the ability to foam at the mouth and slobber which is of course absurd but no doubt an effect added by the film's producers to try and frighten theater audiences seeing this movie for the first time.

In summary The Black Scorpion follows the same proverbial "recipe" as do other '50's creature features but Willis O'Brien's stop motion effects make this movie a must DVD for any monster movie fan's collection and also worth checking out for more casual fans of giant monster movies.

This movie has been uploaded to YouTube and can be watched there for anyone interested.

The 2003 Warner Home Video R1 DVD of The Black Scorpion is available for sale at Amazon and can be seen by clicking on the above DVD cover art image or this link: The Black Scorpion

The trailer: