Cinema Sunday: The Black Scorpion (1957)

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Title: The Black Scorpion

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Writers: Robert Blees, David Duncan

Director: Edward Ludwig

Producers: Jack Dietz, Jack Melford

Starring: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro

Released: October 1957

MPAA: PG

 

Continuing on with my giant bug/creatures theme, there’s no way you can have one without including this gem! Not only does it have solid actors, but it has one of the most beloved, and talented people to ever work in the film industry, Willis O’Brien! To say that this man was an innovator wouldn’t be giving him half of the credit he deserves. He was one of the best and earliest to use stop-motion animation, as you saw in the 1933 classic, King Kong. He had a young understudy later in his career you may have heard of…Ray Harryhausen! The two worked together on Mighty Joe Young (1949), and Ray’s career took off after that film. O’Brien’s career started to slow down though, but he still had enough in the tank to lend his genius to this movie!

This film is one that has a few Mexican actors in it, but it was filmed in Mexico, so it made total sense, unlike some movies of the times that are supposed to be taking place in a foreign country, yet all the actors are clearly Caucasian. Another interesting fact about this movie is that you don’t get the typical “radiation” answer for the rampaging creature(s) either. Alright, let us now proceed to the film.

 

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The movie begins with a volcano exploding, and subsequent earthquakes, that shake a rural area of Mexico, causing all sorts of destruction and mayhem. A narrator tells us that this has been going on for a long time in this area, and that it is getting worse. We next see the opening credits roll, followed by two men in Jeep, making their way towards the Mexican rural area that has been affected by the volcano. The two men, Geologists,  Dr. Hank Scott (Richard Denning), and Dr. Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas), remark about how desolate and empty the area looks. At one point, they stop and ask directions from a couple of telephone company workers. As they forge on, they hear a strange noise, that scares both men, but they move on towards the volcano.

 

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Eventually, they come upon a home (or business of some kind), and look around to ask for some water. They find a police car, that looks like its been ripped apart by something incredible. They hear a call come across the radio, and they answer it, telling the police on the other end that there’s been an accident, and that the policeman is nowhere to be found. As the two men walk around, they hear a rattlesnake, and investigate. They soon realize that it’s no snake, but rather a baby shaking a rattle. Hank picks up the baby (after pointing and waving his gun around in its face a few times), and they both get in the Jeep, and head for the nearest village. As they get ready to leave, something catches Arturo’s eye, and the two men make a hideous discovery. They find the policeman, dead, and his face looks as if he’s seen a ghost. They go back to the police car, and tell the other cops that they found the one officer, and that he’s dead, and that his gun was empty.

 

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The next day, they arrive at the village and are greeted by Father Delgado, who’s keeping track of the village until the government arrives to help. They have a meal together, and the priest talks about the locals, their situation, and the disappearance of some of the villagers. The following morning, the duo set out to see the volcano, even though the military warns them not to go to the site. As they near the site, Hank uses the binoculars to and spots a beautiful woman riding a horse. She falls off, and the two men go to help her out. They find out her name is Teresa Alvarez (Mara Corday), and that her family has lived here for many years (yet, she has a terrible accent). As Teresa cleans up, Arturo finds some Obsidian, but she couldn’t care less.

 

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Back at the village, hank and Arturo visit the local doctor/mad scientist guy, Dr. Delacruz  (Pascual García Peña). he’s doing an autopsy on the dead cop, and finds out that he died from some poison. he then shows them a plaster cast of a footprint that is absolutely huge, but not very recognizable. Teresa rounds up a few dozen villagers to help with the relief effort, and then she brings them to her home. After a meal, Arturo shows them something he’s found inside the Obsidian. There’s a scorpion inside it, and they break it open, and it’s still alive! Arturo wants to investigate why this happened, but Hank only wants to investigate Teresa. He’s just about ready to put the moves on her, when her telephone rings. She answers it, the telephone repair man who gave Hank and Arturo directions earlier, tells her that the line is fixed now. Just as he’s ready to hang up, he and the other two repair guys hear a bone-chilling shriek. Before they can even react, a giant scorpion emerges from the shadows, and devours both of them! It even picks up a car, and throws it down an embankment.

 

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The creature then makes its way to Teresa’s home, and the villagers, Hank, and Arturo try to stop it but their pistols and rifles are useless against the giant beast. They round everyone up, and head for the village in fear of the creature. The volcano erupts, and another earthquake devastates a few homes in the area. The couple of military guys that are present also attempt to shoot the creature, but once again, bullets prove to be ineffective. Night ends, and the creature retreats. The next morning, another official from the government shows up. Dr. Velasco (Carlos Muzquiz), and he theorizes that this creature has been kept alive, living under the volcano for centuries. The team sets out on an expedition to find the creatures lair. They do just that, and then Arturo and Hank descend into the cave, using a crane.

 

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Once they arrive in the depths of the cave, Arturo and Hank witness wonders never seen before by mankind. A giant worm, that looks prehistoric, then a spider the size of a Volkswagen appears, and nearly kills a little boy who stowed away with them. Initially, Dr. Velasco believes that they can use poison gas on the scorpion, but they eventually go a different route. Back down in the cave, Hank and Arturo see that there are more scorpions down there, and that they just haven’t fully matured yet. Then, suddenly, the big daddy shows up and tries to kill both of them! They barely escape, but then formulate a plan that they hope will work!

 

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Can Hank and Arturo solve the puzzle of how to stop the behemoth? Or will it destroy Mexico City in its next rampage? You must check it out to find the answers!

OK, here are my thoughts:

This is no exaggeration, when I say that Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon), Carlos Rivas, and Mara Corday (image below) are all great in this flick! Of course, you get your moments of the time where the “helpless” woman needs the men to come and save her, but overall, it was still a pretty good performance by these three lead actors. I felt that the little boy was more annoying than endearing, but he’s really inconsequential to the story anyway, so it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a lot of cigarette smoking in this one, which is astonishing actually.

 

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The crown jewel of this film though, is without a doubt, the stop motion work by Willis O’Brien. When the scorpion is crawling around, killing or terrorizing people, it looks fantastic. It does look fairly cheap up close (the face shots), but it was a very low-budget movie, so you have to give it a break. Seriously though, this is the best film so far of the movies I reviewed this month. It really is a strong film for one of this genre and budget. Richard Denning is one tough customer, and Mara Corday is absolutely gorgeous in this one!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Tarantula (1955)

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Title: Tarantula

Distributor: Universal Studios

Writers: Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley (screenplay), story by Jack Arnold

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Lewis G. Carroll, Clint Eastwood

Released: December 14th, 1955

MPAA: Approved

 

After showcasing one great director (Bert I. Gordon) from the sci-fi genre last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate to his counterpart, Jack Arnold, this week! The giant bug/animal craze started with THEM! in 1954, and really hit its stride the following year with last week’s film, and this one. Of course, what would a sci-fi movie be without a leading action hero? Not so great, and that’s why we have none other than B-movie legend, John Agar, to save the day in this movie!

The quality of this film is better than the Gordon film, but probably had a bigger budget as well. And let’s not forget you have a better cast, and that makes a huge difference. The movie follows the typical plot lines of the times, but definitely has some cool moments. OK, let’s get right down to it!

 

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The film begins with a man (in his PJ’s) wandering around the desert of Arizona. We eventually see that he’s been mutated from something, and really bloated looking. He falls to the ground, and seemingly dies. The scene then switches to a plane landing, and a doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar – 2nd image below), steps out, and tells the technician to check the plane. The doc then checks in at his office…that’s in the local hotel (yeah, don’t ask). He then receives a call from Sheriff Andrews (Nestor Paiva – 2nd image below), and heads out to see him. Once he arrives at his office, the sheriff explains that they need to check out a body that found along the highway earlier in the day. The sheriff can’t explain what’s wrong, because he doesn’t know what happened to the man and he needs Doctor Hastings to examine the body.

 

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Once they arrive at the coroner’s office, they talk with doctor that was working with the deceased man. Professor Deemer (Lewis G. Carroll), seems distraught about his friend’s death, but also troubled about something. They theorize that the man died from Acromegaly but that’s typically a disease that takes years to process, and this man was seen days earlier, with no signs of the disease. Later, Professor Deemer retreats to his lab, and we see why he was anxious when the others were questioning him about his assistant. He’s been using a secret formula on animals, that increases their size exponentially! The last one we see is a giant Tarantula (about the size of a medium dog)!

 

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The next day, Professor Deemer is at it again, but a figure shambles in through the back door. It’s another man who looks like he has the same disease, but this one has some life left in him yet. He creeps up behind the Professor and attempts to murder him. As they struggle, the glass gets smashed to some of the cases, and the tarantula escapes! The disfigured man chokes him out, then injects him with the serum. A fire breaks out, and it looks as if the Professor is doomed, but then he wakes up (conveniently), and escapes the flames. He then finds the body of the man outside, slumped over, dead. He buries him out in the backyard, and we see the shadow of a spider the size of an elephant.

 

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Dr. Hastings has a conversation with the sheriff, and attempts to convince him that Professor Deemer might be up to shenanigans. He’s not very responsive at first, but he does ponder his next move. Outside, a bus arrives, and a beautiful lady steps off, and heads into the hotel to ask for a cab. You see, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday – image below), has come to town to aid Professor Deemer in his experiments. Since Dr. Hastings is heading out that way to question Deemer, he gives “Steve” a ride to his place. Once they arrive, a local newspaper reporter is there and taking pictures. This angers Deemer, and he tells him to hit the road.

 

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As Steve and Professor Deemer begin their work, over time, she notices that his face begins to be deformed. The serum is finally getting to him, and he eventually succumbs to the same fate as the others. As the story moves on, large animals are found with the absolutely nothing left but bones! They’ve been sucked dry of all living tissue. Hastings finds some fluid near the bones, and eventually finds that it’s spider venom. He then surmises that Deemer’s new formula must be mutating animals, and that a giant spider is the culprit for the dead animals and destroyed homes.

 

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Can Mr. B-Movie, John Agar stop the giant beast? Or will a barely recognizable Clint Eastwood (image below) have to get the job done? Watch the film to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one that I first watched with my son a few years ago, and loved from the very first minute. Maybe it has some sentimental value to me, and that raises it up slightly, but Agar and Carroll are fantastic in this film. This is actually one of the few films from this era that doesn’t use atomic radiation as a MacGuffin. There are a couple of moments of absolute hilarity, where blatant sexism occurs, but again, this was 1955. Plenty of cigarette smoking as well. I think Agar must have owned stock in R. J. Reynolds.

The sets were pretty good for the time, and the desert shots definitely stood out. Of course, the special effects leave a lot to be desired in this day and age, but for back then, they were pretty cool. Even now I can imagine little kids in a downtown movie theater, screaming their heads off when the tarantula attacks. Watch these films with a lens of nostalgia, and you’ll definitely enjoy them. Thanks to people like Jack Arnold, we’ll always have these classic “B” movies to give us laughter, and good times!

 

Click here for the trailer!