Friday, August 06, 2010

“We're scientists! Is the mayor here?”

You know what we haven’t had in a while? A low budget B Movie filmed in Mexico! 1957’s The Black Scorpion (filmed in English) doesn’t have robots or mummies, but it does have stop motion effects by the guy that did King Kong.


So seismic activity causes a volcano to sprout up overnight in Mexico and two geologists are sent to investigate. Why the rest of the scientific community doesn’t care, I don’t know. Anyway, they find some ruined buildings, a dead cop and an abandoned baby and take the kid to the nearby town of San Lorenzo. The villagers think some kind of demon is at work, but being men of Science, our heroes don’t believe it. Then the MUCH more plausible culprits are revealed: Giant, Prehistoric, Nigh-Invulnerable Scorpions awoken from their ancient, uh…slumber, I guess. Anyway, things go wonky and we get a giant scorpion tearing up Mexico City and knocking down helicopters by the end.

Dr. Hank Scott: Richard Denning plays our American Scientist Hero (Ahh, the Fifties). For all intents and purposes, he is your standard 50s Scientist Hero, complete with a tacked on love interest.

Dr. Arturo Ramos: Carlos Rivas plays the Mexican scientist buddy of Hank’s. Despite being more familiar with local everything and also having a doctorate, he is relegated to sidekick duty. (Ahh, the Fifties).

Teresa Alvarez: Mara Corday plays a rancher in San Lorenzo that meets our Scientist heroes. She’s competent enough, but kind of gets shoe-horned in as Hank’s love interest and sticks around even when the movie leaves San Lorenzo.

Major Cosio: Arturo Martinez plays the military officer who tries to bring the scorpions down with no success.

Dr. Velasco: Carlos Muzquiz plays a renowned entomologist (not etymologist) that our heroes consult with at a few points. They talk about scorpions. And tequila. No joke.

Juanito: Mario Navarro plays the annoying kid who tags along and tries to help but only causes more unnecessary trouble. You know the kind: Where the kid has no real business being there but tags along for a bit, then gets told not to follow the heroes into the dangerous underground caverns but stows away anyway, then proceeds to wander off to be threatened by a monster causing the heroes to go and rescue him in a blatantly annoying attempt to stretch out the tension of the scene even though you know in practical terms the little rascal would’ve been compost a while ago and are kind of rooting for him to bite it? Yeah, that kid.

The Scorpions: Formed in 1965 in Hannover, Germany, they are probably best known for their hit “Rock You Like A Hurricane”--- Oh. Wrong scorpions. Um… These are giant and (presumably) black arthropods that like killing everything they come across and there is one in particular that is larger, stronger and more aggressive that is the “alpha.” The Alpha Scorpion is our badass for the film.

Top of the world, ma!

Directed by Edward Ludwig and stop motion effects supervised by Willis O’Brien. The normal, non-effects shots are all standard B Movie fare with not a whole lot of interesting scenes. The stuff O’Brien pulled off, considering the low budget, is actually pretty good. Well, sort of. The close ups of the scorpions consist of just zooming in on a terrible model of a “scorpion’s” face with drool coming out that they use a bunch of times. However, the actual stop motion critters are actually pretty kickass and there are some cool set pieces, like two guys getting attacked in the desert, a Lionel train (no really) getting derailed by a mob of scorpions, and the fight in Mexico City. And it’s not just scorpions: there’s a spider and some worms too!

Story by Paul Yawitz and written by Robert Blees and David Duncan, and it is pretty damn bland. Nobody and nothing is memorable and the actors are completely outshined by low-budget effects.

Original music by Paul Sawtell which is your standard Monster Movie fare and it’s fine for the bombastic action sequences. Then there’s the sound effects that make the scorpions growl and chirp and make other sounds that I’m pretty sure actual scorpions are incapable of making.

Well, The Black Scorpion is a pretty bad movie across the board that manages to do one, and only one, thing right: Giant Stop Motion Scorpions from the guy who basically pioneered the craft. Even late in his career, Willis O’Brien pulled off some great effects scenes with a tiny budget. The rest of the movie is kind of crap, but those scorpions, man. Those scorpions.

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