March 18, 2018

Blu-Ray Review: THE BLACK SCORPION (1957)

Starring Richard Denning, Mara Corday (mee-ow!), Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Muzquiz, Pascual Garcia Pena, Pedro Galvan. Directed by Edward Ludwig. (1957/88 min).

There's an early scene in The Black Scorpion when our heroes search a mysteriously abandoned house after hearing suspicious noises. Guns drawn, they get to the last room and discover it's just a baby cooing in his cradle. Relieved, Dr. Hank Scott (Richard Denning) smiles, chuckles to his partner and repeatedly points at the little bambino...with his pistol. This doesn't have anything to do with the plot, but remind me never to hire Dr. Scott as a babysitter.

Elsewhere, The Black Scorpion sees an angry nest of enormous arachnids unleashed in Mexico after a massive earthquake creates a new volcano. Dr. Scott is an American geologist sent down to study the eruption, but spends more time flirting with cattle rancher Teresa Alvarez (played by beautiful B queen Mara Corday, so who can blame him?). When these supersized scorpions begin attacking a nearby village, Scott and colleague Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) put their research on hold to become epic exterminators.

Best. Halftime show. Ever.
The scorpions only come out at night, so after blowing up the cave where they hang-out during daylight, Scott & friends think they're in the clear. They're gravely mistaken, of course, because what's the point of a giant bug movie if the title creature isn't allowed to attack a major city? In this case, its Mexico City, and the last remaining scorpion is the biggest mother of them all.

For the most part, The Black Scorpion is your garden variety low budget, big-bug flick, complete with recycled action footage and actors accustomed to dealing with nature run-amok. However, the film is noteworthy for featuring some of the last stop-motion creature work by Willis O'Brien, who once brought Kong to life and taught Ray Harryhausen everything he knows. Despite working with obviously limited resources, his monsters are creepy creations, though the misguided decision to give the title creatures human-like faces makes them all look like Edward G. Robinson.

"Listen, you crummy, flat-footed copper!"
Additionally, the movie is a lot of fun. It's got a decent story that moves along nicely and the special effects are pretty neat (though repeated...a lot). Considering its budget, a sequence where the title creatures attack a passenger train (train wreck...YEAH!!!) is particularly impressive. The plot even includes the obligatory, cute child character who only exists to put himself in peril by being stupid. Though not among the best of its genre, The Black Scorpion is a nifty little nugget from the golden age of monster movies. 
"STOP-MOTION MASTERS" - Special effects legend Ray Harryhausen talks about learning from and working with his mentor, Willis O'Brien.
FOOTAGE FROM "LAS VEGAS MONSTERS" and "BEETLEMEN" - FX test footage from two unproduced films O'Brien worked on.
DINOSAUR SEQUENCE FROM THE ANIMAL WORLD - This was an Irwin Allen 'documentary' Harryhausen worked on.


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