Peter’s Retro Rewind: The Black Scorpion (1957)

June 9, 2011

The Black Scorpion posterby Peter Nielsen

”Don’t be ashamed to scream – It helps to relieve the tension”

The movie starts off with a series of volcanic eruptions in Mexico that wreaks havoc with the countryside. Professor Artur Ramos and American geologist Hank Scott have come to study the volcanic activity and the subsequent aftermath, but no one could have foreseen what later happens. They arrive at a small farmhouse in search of water for their car. The house is partly destroyed and appears to be abandoned. They find a demolished patrol-car, but the officer is nowhere in sight.

Upon searching the surroundings they find him dead with a terrified look on his face and every shot in his service-revolver fired. But at what? In the house they find food still on the stove and also a lone baby. They take the baby with them and head for the nearest village. The villagers blame the recent deaths of farm animals and the disappearances of people on a demon bull. The reality is much worse…

There's something on the tracks.

There’s something on the tracks.

The volcanic activity has caused earthquakes that have opened up large caverns from which giant scorpions has emerged. They’ve been attacking and killing the live stock and the villagers, and the attacks are getting worse.

Professors Ramos and Scott has since met and aided the owner of Hacienda Miraflores, Teresa Alvarez, to whom Hank has taken a liking. This is also where we meet Juanito, the little boy who gives annoying and cringe-worthy a face. I’m sorry but he’s just too damn much, ok? He’s one of two things that bug me about this movie. We’ll get to the other one in a minute.

After a vicious attack on the hacienda and a nearby village, the military decides to find the scorpions’ lair and kill them. After finding a large cave the two scientists are lowered down to investigate. They have a nasty run-in with the scorpions and barely escapes. It is decided to blow and seal the entrance with dynamite and thus killing the beasts… or so they think! Because in movies like this it’s never that easy!

Hey, should we ask it to pose for us?

Hey, should we ask it to pose for us?

Some time later they emerge from a different entrance close to Mexico City. They swarm out and attack a passing train sending them into a killing frenzy in which they end up killing each other so that only one remains. This is the largest of them all.

This sequence is very effective and particularly nasty, by the way. The over-all stop-motion animation effects on the scorpions are very well done, even though the movie suffered from budgetary restraints. That the effects are top-notch is really not that surprising since Willis O’Brian was involved (King Kong anyone?), but talking about the effects brings me to the other thing that bug me with this movie. The close-ups on the faces of the drooling and screaming scorpions. These shots are absolutely ludicrous. I mean, come ON! Drooling! And worse even than a dog with a delicious treat in front of it. OH-MY-GOD!!

Ok, ok… gotta get back on track here! Let’s see… Train wreck! Killing frenzy! Only one left! Oh yes, here we go…

Hey, should we ask it to pose for us?

Hey, should we ask it to pose for us?

The surviving giant heads straight for Mexico City where it causes panic in the streets. Look out for the shot with the Empire State Building in the background! Yup, don’t you just love it?

The military has a plan where they are going to lure it into the stadium and shoot it with a harpoon-like device in the throat and then zap it with 600 000 volts. The throat is its only weak spot, so they have to hit it there. It’s a very dramatic and exciting end sequence that again shows off the brilliance of Willis O’Brian.

I love this movie despite its flaws and can’t get enough of these old stop-motion extravaganzas. It’s a shame that they’re not more appreciated by today’s audiences because there are some truly great ones among them. King Kong, Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Mysterious Island just to mention a couple. I’ve been a fan of the works of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brian ever since I was a kid, so maybe some of them will get a mention further on in these reviews.

The cast in The Black Scorpion is not so well-known perhaps. The American geologist Hank Scott is played by Richard Denning who’s been in Creature from the Black Lagoon, Day the World Ended and roles in the TV-shows Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Hawaii Five-O. Professor Artur Ramos is played by Carlos Rivas (The King and I) and Teresa Alvarez by Mara Corday (Tarantula).

It really is an enjoyable little movie and with a bowl of popcorn and maybe a beer, it’ll go down splendidly. Just remember that whenever you see Juanito on the screen, repeat to yourself that it’s only a movie… only a movie… (Kudos to those of you who know where I got that from)

Until next time my friends…


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