From the video box: They’re big. They’re bad. They scuttle along in caverns miles beneath the Earth’s crust – until a devastating earthquake opens up pathways to the surface. Now, inflamed by the smells of human flesh, these monsters of the genus Arachnida are here to stay! (1957, b&w)
Mark says: Hoping to duplicate the success of Them!, Warner Brothers followed the same formula while producing The Black Scorpion. Unfortunately, the film fails on many levels.
Richard Denning (Twice-Told Tales, Target Earth) plays the hero, Dr. Hank Scott. Denning’s portrayal is adequate, but he is much more believable as a bad guy. Watch him in Creature from the Black Lagoon to see him in a more appropriately cast role. Hank is a geologist sent to Mexico to study the effects of an enormous volcanic eruption/earthquake in a remote village.
Hank’s assistant is Dr. Ramos, played by Carlos Rivas (The Beast of Hollow Mountain). Rivas seems uneasy with his part, and his acting comes off as stiff and unconvincing. Dr. Ramos is a geologist on the Mexican side of the border. On their journey, Hank and Dr. Ramos realize they have more to worry about than just an active volcano.
When the pair of geologist reach their destination, they meet a wealthy landowner, Teresa Alvarez, played by B-movie regular Mara Corday (The Giant Claw, Tarantula). This is not my favorite role for Corday, but her acting comes in at about par considering the poor script quality and small budget. Miss Alvarez and Hank, not surprisingly, fall in love.
The Black Scorpion also features one of those annoying kids that so often mar these films. Mario Navarro plays Juanito, a boy who pulls several stupid stunts from which the adults have to rescue him. Mercifully, Juanito does not have scenes in the final segments of the film.
What strikes me as particularly silly about this film, is that it tries to make a mystery of something that is obviously implied in the title. We are given clues as to what may be causing the damage, but we know darn well that it’s a giant “black scorpion.” The mystery aspect of Them! works because the title does not give away the monsters’ identity, but here, all the clue gathering seems a waste of time.
Now that I have dissed the acting and the story, let me tell you why you should watch this movie: The fantastic stop-motion animation created by Willis H. O’Brien (primarily known for his work on King Kong) and Pete Peterson is immensely fun to watch.
The scorpions are genuinely creepy in their movements. They are powerful beasts that sting and devour their prey in a most unseemly (yet entertaining) manner. There is an incredible sequence where the two geologists find themselves in a deep cavern. They discover not only a nest of giant scorpions, but a menagerie of other repulsive creatures as well. One of these monsters, a giant trap-door spider, is reportedly a leftover from the famous deleted spider scene in King Kong. All of the beasts are shuddersome, yet utterly fascinating to watch.
Unfortunately, even the scorpions have their drawbacks. The most apparent issue is the use of a giant, drooling, scorpion head (see image above). The drool is disgusting enough, but the head looks nothing like the head of a real scorpion. Furthermore, the prop doesn’t even match the heads of the animated monsters. Even worse, the same shot of the head is used ad nauseam throughout the film.
Another problem is that by the time the giant black scorpion was to attack Mexico City, the producers ran out of money. So instead of the superb stop-motion animation by O’Brien and Peterson, we are subjected to simple traveling matte shots of a featureless beast. It’s more like the city is under attack by the shadow of a giant scorpion. Thankfully, during the finale, the stop-motion process is preserved. It’s a real treat to watch the giant scorpion battle tanks and helicopters in a supreme and satisfying cornucopia of carnage.
The excellent stop-motion work makes The Black Scorpion worth your time, and though the acting and story are sorely lacking, there is enough camp value here to keep you moderately entertained between scenes.
Directed by Edward Ludwig.
Scene to watch for: Hank, even after realizing the noise he heard was just a baby with a rattle, keeps his gun pointed at the infant.
Line to listen for: “We interrupt this program to bring you a news bulletin: The express train from Monterrey has been derailed outside of Mexico City. Early reports indicate an appalling loss of life. There are eyewitness accounts which state that monster scorpions have swarmed around the wreckage, creating havoc!”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.