Tag Arachnids

Stinger (2005)

Stinger (2005)

Terror has surfaced

Following the reappearance of a thought-lost submarine containing a top-secret project, an investigative team is sent to the submerged vessel to find out what happened. After finding the submarine crew dead and ripped to pieces, they soon uncover just what killed them – a swarm of genetically-enhanced scorpions which are loose on board the sub.

 

Even by the low standards that many a horror film reviewed on this site, there always seems to be another one which seeks to lower the stakes. Enter Stinger, a feeble underwater creature feature with about as much venom as a headless snake. Made in Sweden, a country not exactly renowned for their film-making prowess, Stinger bears all of the hallmarks of a low budget American monster movie. Awful CGI effects, cardboard cut-out military characters with token big-breasted blonde scientists (at least the Swedes know where their strengths lay!) and a lot of too-ing and fro-ing in the corridors without a lot happening.

Stinger has minimal plot. There’s a brief pre-credits sequence setting up the events which led to the submarine going missing, then the titles and then the rescue mission is on its way. It’s a vague set-up which on one hand doesn’t insult the viewer by spewing out a load of nonsense but on the other hand, the rest of the film proves to be somewhat plot-less. The film then spends the rest of its running time going around in circles in the submarine, as the characters look around various corridors and rooms, run into the scorpions a few times and meet a crazy survivor, all with little or no purpose. Expect the usual tropes to take place here: instead of bailing at the first sign of trouble, the team finds itself stuck there and need to repair the systems in order to escape.

The film is almost entirely set on board the submarine (and the other bits are on the other mini-sub) and whilst the sets do allow for some claustrophobic elements to come to the fore, the lack of light and low production values really harm the atmosphere. At no point do you ever believe that they’re underwater. The grainy, murky film stock does little to assist the film’s intentions either. Characters’ faces are hidden in shadows, you can’t really see too much of the set (probably not such a bad thing) and there’s definitely no chance of getting a good look at the CGI scorpions which lurk in the shadowy background. The scorpions look bad and at no point will you believe they’re running around the submarine, the animations is just too awful to blend in with the real footage. Their eventual demise happens off-screen, such as the lameness of the plot and the lack of budget that this entire thing shows.

There are no recognisable faces on show and that’s a bonus as none of these sub-par stand-ins do any good. Check out their acting credits on IMDB and Stinger is one of the only films that the majority of them made. There’s little acting range: the marines talk tough and shout orders, the scientists talk slowly and arrogantly, and the psychotic survivor goes overdrive with the ramblings. The token blonde character gets to show off why Sweden is the go-to places for stunning women but it’s so predictable that she’s going to take her top off (and twice for the good of it), it ruins the eventual delights. It’s about the only thrill you’ll get from this, as the rest of the running time is dull and uneventful. Even the ‘action scenes’ fail to raise the pulse as marines fire guns aimlessly at non-existent scorpions.

 

Forgetting its European origins, everything about Stinger stinks of the low budget American creature feature market dominated by Sy Fy and The Asylum. But even their efforts are head-and-shoulders above this drivel.  If you have a burning desire to get a fix of killer scorpions, delve into the archives and watch The Black Scorpion from the 50s. The human elements may just be as bad but at least the scorpions pack a punch.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Arachnoquake (2012)

Arachnoquake (2012)

The world will quake in fear

A series of earthquakes around New Orleans releases a new breed of deadly subterranean spiders that begin to terrorise the city.

 

Sy Fy does its best ten years overdue Eight-Legged Freaks impression with this laughably inept spider invasion flick. To say that they’ve covered virtually every single creature known to man in their Sy Fy Originals, I can’t recall them doing too many about spiders before and then all of a sudden, a couple come along at once. Camel Spiders was first in 2011 (though I haven’t seen it yet) and now along comes Arachnoquake, a film which evidently tries to play on its witty title in some self-belief that it’s different the other genre films. But, with the same old tired routines, clichéd characters, regurgitated scripts and low end CGI effects, it was never going to be anything other than run-of-the-mill. Truth be told, this is by no means the worst that Sy Fy has put out in the last couple of few years but….let’s face it with a title like Arachnoquake you’re hardly expecting The Godfather of monster movies are you?

One look at director Griff Furst’s list of prior credits should read like a warning sign: 100 Million BC, Swamp Shark and Lake Placid 3, the former being one of the worst creature feature films I’ve had the misfortune of reviewing. I’ve heard that Mr Furst has directly responded to fans criticism in the past so if you’re reading this – please stop making films!

It’s hard to say whether Arachnoquake is better or worse than the others but at least this seems to be intentionally goofy and gets marks for at least knowing how silly everything is, or rather the first half of the film. The earlier scenes at least have a healthy sense of humour to keep them going and for some reason this is put on the back burner at the half-way point. Way to go, discarding the only differentiation between yourself and any number of generic ‘monster on the loose’ movies. Like virtually every Sy Fy Original going, it’s so generic and routine that writing constant reviews for these films gets to be more of a slog than watching them is! Don’t get me wrong – I love repetitive. I’m a massive monster movie fan. I’m a massive slasher fan. They streamline a simple formula and recycle the same things over and over again. But the films only work if they are given life and a spring in their step. When they don’t, it’s because everyone involved, from the cameramen to the writers and directors to the actors, feel like they’re going through the motions because they’re contracted to. Unfortunately that’s what these Sy Fy Originals feel like – they’re not made for love of the genre, they’re made for cheap cash and to fill schedules. So the routine and repetition becomes their undoing, not their strength.

There are small mercies: Arachnoquake wastes little time in getting the spiders out of the ground and attacking people. So you won’t be bogged down with exposition, not that the film needs to expand on its one-note characters any further than the limited back story and characterisation they receive before all hell breaks loose – they even manage to squeeze the father-son love-hate relationship into this as a slacker son who has failed to live up to his father’s expectations is given the chance to redeem himself in this crisis. Yawn.

The narrative is split into three parts, each focusing on a different group of survivors until gradually their paths cross and they join together. Only the Ethan Phillips-Olivia Hardt thread was any good and that was simply because Phillips is a sorely underrated character actor, if somewhat annoying at times, and Hardt is one of the hottest women I’ve ever seen and gets to parade around in a pair of tiny shorts. Regardless of which thread the film follows at any one given time, the predicaments and situations that the characters find themselves in are predictable and uninteresting. Main characters seem to have taken that invincibility potion which spells doom for the minor characters with a handful of lines.

And these minor characters meet doom quite a lot. If it isn’t small spiders scurrying out of the ruptures in the ground, it’s giant spiders climbing up buildings. If you’re familiar with Sy Fy work, then you’ll immediately understand the level of special effects that are on display here. The CGI spiders look alright and that’s about the best I can say about them. You’ll never believe that they’re real but they hop, crawl and drop across the screen on a regular basis. They can swim. They can breathe fire. An interesting idea with the spiders nesting inside human hosts, resulting in bulbous puss sacks on the skin which explode, was introduced but then never really taken any further. And despite the fact that these spiders are supposed to be attacking all of New Orleans, on many occasions you can see down the next street where filming wasn’t taking place and observe traffic and pedestrians going about their daily business as normal.

Edward Furlong – remember him? Falling from grace after his time as John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Furlong fell into alcoholism and drug addiction. Time has not been kind to the man (he’s only a couple of years older than me!) and I didn’t recognise him at first. His bloated appearance and bored-stiff attitude doesn’t help the film when he’s supposed to be one of the ‘star’ names to sell the project to potential markets. It also doesn’t help when he’s given the main role in a side story in which his creepy bus driver is ferrying a school bus full of cheerleaders when they’re attacked by the spiders. This originally promised a lot – cheerleaders + hungry spiders – but failed to deliver anything – nudity, gore or even a decent set piece. Furlong is left huffing and puffing along until he catches up with the other survivors.

 

Inventive title aside, Arachnoquake is hardly a world beater nor is it the coming of the Angel of Death. It’s a film which exists for ninety minutes or so and is content with staying in its own little low scale world despite promising something a lot funnier and more entertaining at the start similar to Tremors or Eight-Legged Freaks. Sy Fy have hardly outdone themselves this time around but it could have been worse – though is that really a criteria to review a film around?

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tarantula (1955)

Tarantula (1955)

Even Science was stunned!

A tarantula, which has been injected with experimental growth hormones, escapes the secret laboratory and grows to enormous size, causing havoc across the Arizona desert.

 

Tarantula is one of the 50s giant monster movies more famous entries and is not to be confused with the later 50s film, Earth Vs The Spider, also about a giant spider on the rampage in a desert town. But whereas that was attracted by rock and roll music, the spider in this one is simply hungry. Jack Arnold, fresh off legendary status with Creature from the Black Lagoon, brings his considerable talent to the table but unfortunately ends up with a throwaway science fiction movie which just so happens to have a giant spider running amok in.

Tarantula runs according to the well-embedded 50s atomic monster formula but a formula done reasonably effectively when the film wants to put the effort in. In this case the cause of the problem isn’t atomic radiation but an early form of genetic experimentation. It matters little in the long run though – either way there is a huge hungry spider on the loose. The film runs almost entirely without the spider as the plot regarding the scientists and the experiments takes the majority of the screen time. It’s a race against time for Professor Deemer to find a cure for his acromegaly which killed his partner and is now starting to kill him. It’s nowhere near as exciting as it sounds, if it sounds exciting anyway. At least there is some decent make-up effects on both characters as the slow effects of the syndrome begin to take their toll.

But we didn’t come for guys in make-up, we came for giant spiders. Tarantula is dreadfully dull. It’s almost fifty minutes into the film before you get a look at the giant spider. That said, the first shot of it climbing over the hill in silhouette form is pretty spine-tingling and there is another awesome shot of it slowly creeping up behind a couple of prospectors sitting by a dawn campfire. I may have lambasted special effects in similar 50s giant bug movies but here they look like they’ve had some time and effort devoted to them. The spider even casts a shadow across the background that it’s been superimposed onto. I mean its hardly groundbreaking stuff but the effects at least manage to make the spider look like its real, even if it seems that plenty of the shots are re-used. I just wish they’d have made more use of the spider instead of relegating it to background duty.

The spider doesn’t do an awful lot except toddle around the desert. Many shots of it walking across highways, climbing over rocks or traversing hills are inter-cut with the rest of the film. Nothing flash, just a ten second clip of it walking around to make you remember that it’s still out there. It doesn’t really get well fed (if you don’t take into consideration a herd of horses that it snacks upon) but then it hasn’t really done much to get its appetite worked up. When it does get around to attacking people, it’s the same scenario over and over: close-up of the spider bearing its fangs and going in for the kill and then a zoom-in shot of the unlucky victims(s) covering helplessly on the floor with some super-imposed legs either side of them. Hardly the most exciting attack scenes you’ll see.

On a final note, Clint Eastwood makes an uncredited appearance as one of the pilots who bomb the spider in the finale. Well, even greatness had to start somewhere.

 

Tarantula gets way more acclaim than it deserves but is still a fair way to spend time. There are far superior examples of the 50s monster movies but when this film wants to show off, it does so in style with some excellent special effects.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Arachnid (2001)

Arachnid (2001)

It’s coming from another world… TO STAY!

A group of scientists and their military escort travel to a village in the middle of a remote island to find the source of a new virus which has killed numerous people. When they arrive there, they come face-to-face with a giant spider.

 

To say that it is timid is quite an understatement and you will probably find more menace from tiny money spiders than you will in this monster flick. Arachnid came out in the shadow of big budget spider fest Eight Legged Freaks, no doubt as a quick cash-in on the public’s sudden need to get their fix of giant spiders. But Ellory Elkayem’s cheese fest will no doubt remain in the conscience for a lot longer than Arachnid will, destined to fade into the bargain bins at charity shops all over the world.

Arachnid is the sort of film which is immediately forgettable. If I didn’t write a review within an hour after watching, I’d have completely forgotten what happened, who the characters were and what I would talk about. Director Jack Sholder has made a few genre films in the past (most notably A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) but it seems like he’s learned nothing since his earlier outings, keeping everything as sedate as possible. Arachnid isn’t terrible by all counts but it is so ordinary and pedestrian that it’s hard to think of any set piece or moment which really gets the pulse going. It doesn’t help the film that the group doesn’t even get near the spider throughout the first half of the film. There is a lot of talking, trekking through the jungle and then they meet some killer centipedes and bugs which bury inside the skin and then burst out (ala Alien). It’s a good way to kill off half of the running time before getting to the film’s main story. The spider seems to be more content lurking in the background.

When the film does eventually come around to the spider, it doesn’t look that bad for the most part but tends to differ in quality as the shots change from mechanical spiders to CGI and even some stop-motion if I believe my eyes. The mechanical spider moments do at least give the film an old school 50s vibe so it was appreciated. Unfortunately, the spider doesn’t actually do much barring kill off a few of the characters in some pretty lousy death scenes. There is some blood but this mainly comes during the bug scene as previously mentioned (arguably the best death of the film and the spider was nowhere to be seen).

There is quite a big cast of characters to boost up the body count and they’re all throwaway, one-dimensional cut-outs. The usual array of characters shows up: the character with a hidden past; obligatory geeky scientist guy; primitive native guides; the male hero who wields a gun and what would a horror film be without a token black guy. The only thing missing is a slimy villain which is a surprise turn of events for a genre film like this – you know, someone who comes along and then suddenly turns against the rest of the cast during the film for whatever reason (usually because they want to preserve the creature for scientific or financial gain) before being devoured by the *insert monster here* in a ‘get their comeuppance’ moment. Alex Reid does her best Lara Croft impression in a carbon copy costume but there’s no real spunk from any of the cast who all seem more worried about where their next pay cheque is coming from as opposed to the quality of the script.

 

Arachnid is a cheap and lacklustre giant spider flick, ultimately indistinguishable from the next spider flick and where the only bite is the amount it’ll gorge from your wallet.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Spiders (2007)

Ice Spiders (2007)

Hell Has Just Frozen Over.

An Olympic ski team head to a remote ski-lodge in order to train in peace and quiet. However what they didn’t expect to encounter was a bunch of giant mutated spiders which have escaped from a nearby laboratory and are killing everyone on the slopes.

 

This is yet another Sci-Fi Channel original feature so before watching it, I could quite easily have written this review and been about 90% accurate in what I say. Originality isn’t their specialty and it shows once again. Ice Spiders is a cross between spider-fest Eight-Legged Freaks and ski slasher Shredder only without half the budget of Freaks and half the gore of Shredder. Come on though, if you’re going to watch a film called Ice Spiders then you know what you’re in for. There’s going to be ice. And there’s going to spiders. The title actually intrigued me a little and the front cover looks pretty kick ass but don’t let it fool you – no spider in this film grows to that size….unfortunately.

The spiders are pretty feeble. Actually they’re not just pretty feeble, they’re uber-feeble. There are red and green spiders. Not just multi-coloured or shaded, these bad guys are completely one colour as if the computer guy just clicked on ‘fill colour’ when he was creating them. I guess it’s supposed to allow you to tell them apart (so you know which one can jump, which one is the black widow etc.) but it just looks like something from an old PS2 game and not a good one at that. The other major problem is that you see them right from the very beginning. Usually in these flicks, the monsters are slowly revealed throughout the film so you see an eye or a leg at first and then get the gradual reveal. As soon as you see the spiders, you’ve got to make a snap decision – do you keep watching now that you’ve seen how dreadful there are or do you switch off and save your time? Obviously I kept on watching in the hope that it would improve and it did, although not in the way I was expecting.

Ice Spiders is just so cheesy. I’m debating whether or not it was intentionally made as bad as this but I don’t think it was – I’d be giving the writers way too much credit if I thought it was a parody. The script is peppered with lousy one-liners. The acting in the film is dire too. Patrick Muldoon has his ‘ski bum’ rap down to a tee but delivers every line the same way so whether he’s angry, hitting on some chicks or just being a total douche, his voice doesn’t change one bit. Taking it separately, it’s a shocking performance but you know what – it actually makes the film more goofy and cheesy and somehow slightly better. Also worth noting for the laughable performance is Stephen J. Cannell as Frank, the older owner of the resort. As soon as this guy opens his mouth, he’s acting like he’s in a commercial for some hair replacement products (and he looks like he’s used them too).

There’s lots of skiing and snowboarding. And I mean lots of it. Even the finale involves the main character shredding down the side of the mountain in order to lead the spiders into a trap that the military has set up. Let’s see, what else do we have? Oh yes, the obligatory science and military team. The scientists are fodder for the spiders before the film begins and we see a few dismembered corpses lying around in the lab. I don’t know about you but I didn’t think spiders were picky and took off random limbs instead of sucking their victims’ bodies completely dry. The generic military team filled with lifeless grunts doesn’t actually get sacrificed to the spiders: it’s just all of the poor schmucks at the ski resort. To top it all off, we get some clichéd Predator-esque POV shots from the vision of the spiders. It’s totally pointless and adds nothing to the film except another couple of special effects credits for the guys who did it.

 

Ice Spiders is the type of monster flick that I should love but its way too cheesy and poorly made to take seriously. However it’s great to watch if you are missing the Winter Olympics – the constant skiing and snowboarding will keep you entertained for hours! It’s a pity that these spiders won’t.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tail Sting (2001)

Tail Sting (2001)

A Tail of Terror

A charter plane is carrying a cargo of genetically engineered scorpions. One of the passengers is actually a secret agent working for another company who have hired him to steal the research. During the theft, he accidentally frees scorpions and they make their way through the plane, killing off passengers and crew. It’s up to the remaining survivors to try and stop the scorpions from crashing the plane.

 

Long before Snakes on a Plane dreamt up the idea of letting loose a load of poisonous snakes on a plane, Tail Sting came along in 2001 and did one better – it set free some giant scorpions. The story sounds a lot more riveting on paper than it does on the screen, believe me. It’s amazing how some films really try to blast through their limited budgets with visions of grandeur. Someone has got to try. For every Tail Sting, there’s The Evil Dead or The Blair Witch Project. However when a film has a budget this low and the idea of bringing giant scorpions to life, that sort of vision will turn into a nightmare soon enough.

Tail Sting has a heart but it hasn’t got a pulse. The sets look really cheap and most of the film is based around the same handful. Physics isn’t one of the strengths of the script either. The dimensions of the plane are blown out of proportion. The cargo hold is absolutely huge yet the passenger section is tiny. How do the scorpions get all of the way to the cockpit via some really small pipes and vents when they’re supposed to be giants? How come in some scenes there’s this huge tail striking down at a victim yet in others the scorpions are barely bigger than the seats and aisle? The scorpions are supposed to be the stars of the show yet they look rubbish. The scorpion on the front cover looks suitably menacing but we don’t see much of them like that at all. You’ll get a glimpse of a rubber tail for close-up shots of attacks and cheap-looking puppets are used for other shots. I admire the lack of CGI scorpions so I’m not going to mark it down for that. At least they tried to make the scorpions real. The problem here is that as soon as we see how pathetic and badly designed these creatures are, the whole thing descends into absurdity.

Everything else about the film is rather flimsy, weak and played strictly by the book. The story is ridiculously contrived, even before Snakes on a Plane came out. You know what is going to happen and at no point does the film become anything other than predictable and clichéd. The characters are horrendously stereotypical. You’ve got the action man pilot with a troubled past, the feisty heroine, the old scientist, the slimy executive and two Middle Eastern immigrants who border on being blatantly racist (and rather alarmingly, two Middle Eastern men who appear to have sinister motives, on a plane, in 2001…).

Most of the acting is bad but considering that there are no ‘named’ actors in display here, some of them are passable at best. You could argue that Tail Sting does a better job of sending up this creature feature genre than Snakes on a Plane. Tail Sting plays everything seriously and some wonderfully awful lines coupled with some straight-faced seriousness from the cast account for some truly dire moments of pure cheese. It’s unintentional comedy but in many respects, it works better that way.

 

Tail Sting doesn’t have any sting its tail at all. Lame, predictable and a waste of time and money.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Webs (2003)

Webs (2003)

A Parallel Dimension … A Gateway to Hell!

A team of electricians is sent into an abandoned house to prepare it for demolition. However they stumble upon a previously-unknown room, powered by a tiny nuclear reactor, which contains all manner of weird equipment. When one of the group messes with the power, a beam of light appears and sucks the men into it. They emerge into a parallel universe where humans are now on the menu – from a giant spider queen and her countless armies.

 

Once again the lure of decent-looking cover box art has conned me into watching something that pretty much has no right to exist. Actually, I didn’t buy this one for a change: I rented it out free of charge courtesy of my job. My guardian angel was clearly looking out for me somewhere because I’d have probably thrown myself off a high building had I actually stumped up the usual money I pay for these cheap jack efforts. Truth be told, Webs isn’t as bad as I’m making out. Let’s take a look.

I have slight problems with films that have big ideas but little money to bring them to life. You almost feel sorry for people involved at times. You know they want to make a big film and they clearly have some idea of where to go but they don’t have the cash to realise it and their end products suffer as a result. Webs is one such end product. The whole idea of spiders taking over the planet and forcing humanity into small resistance cells was way too huge for the modest sum of money that someone bank rolled here. Instead of seeing the ‘whole picture’ of the effects of this conquest on the planet, the film just uses the same bland warehouse sets over and over again and confines the characters inside for most of the running time. If you’re going to suggest the end of humanity, I actually want to see it! You do need your brain dropping off at the first floor before you take the elevator of plot holes and bad writing. Tiny nuclear reactors? Come on!

A cardinal sin the film makes is that it starts off pretty stupidly it has to be said, with the electricians discovering the portal and then finding themselves in the alternate reality. So many questions will run through your head and the film doesn’t really bother explaining anything for a long time. People with giant claw hands running of buildings? I guess the writers know you’re watching a film called Webs and think that 2+2=4 so you must think these people are spiders. Then the film turns into an endless array of spider-people chasing people, fights and then more spider-people chasing people around the warehouses. It gets boring pretty quickly.

Richard Grieco ‘stars’ but he’s either slumming badly or it’s a body double for most of the film. He makes a bland hero but I guess you can’t blame anyone for not wanting to bust a gut in a film like this. Kate Greenhouse fares a lot better as the intelligent love interest but once again her character is written so thinly that you can pretty much predict what she’s going to say and do throughout the film. There’s little soppy romance between the two even though they do fall for each other. We’re spared most of the usual crap. The worst part about the script is that the characters do exactly what you think they’re going to do at all times….but even more so than usual. For example, the whole idea of Richard Grieco’s character being the chosen one is pretty blah at best. But he accepts his fate so readily and without question. I guess being an electrician sucks so bad that you’ll accept any notion of being a hero without the smallest hint of questioning. Colin Fox, as the token scientist, also has a really hard time with the script. He’s the one who has to try and make all of the talk about aliens and parallel universes sound plausible and he fails miserably.

I didn’t expect to see a lot of special effects on show and I was right. The spider queen is given brief screen time early on in the film and is a mix of a decent-looking model and really bad CGI. You’ll guess right if you don’t expect to see it again until the finale. In the meantime, there’s plenty of spider-people running around doing her dirty work. By spider-people I mean actors with big rubber claws and fake teeth. And there are a lot of them. Sometimes they come off zombie-like in their mass-attack strategies and uncanny knacks of jumping out from tiny places for shock value. But at the end of the day, as much as I’m hammering the film, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Now there’s a first!

The film is never engaging in the slightest and it gets pretty boring at times, but I think there’s some morbid curiosity in there as to how everything will turn out. Wait a minute – I know how everything is going to turn out from the start. But the slightest, tiniest chance that I could be wrong kept me going. Unfortunately I wasn’t wrong and the film pans out like the ‘My First Sci-Fi Film’ book of filmmaking. And the ending? O…K….

 

Webs is a bad film. But it’s not totally terrible, given the idea of alien spiders conquering a parallel universe that someone pitched (jokingly I would guess) to the producers and the amount of money they got to make it in return. I can’t be going soft on crap films, can I?

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Black Scorpion, The (1957)

The Black Scorpion (1957)

DON’T BE ASHAMED TO SCREAM – IT HELPS TO RELIEVE THE TENSION!

Volcanic activity unleashes giant scorpions from centuries old imprisonment and they proceed to wreak havoc in the countryside and then eventually Mexico City.

 

Another of the slew of 1950s science fiction monster movies, The Black Scorpion does at least feature giant monsters that weren’t the by-products of atomic testing! In fact it’s almost a like-for-like re-run of Warner Brothers earlier smash hit Them! which had giant ants on the rampage. Like pretty much all of these 50s flicks, the story runs like clockwork and there’s little differentiating it from any of the others apart from the monster. The casts are all full of stone-jawed heroes, glamorous dames, token military men, caricature locals and cute kids who don’t listen to grown ups. The forced romances between the cast, the dubious scientific debates, the attempts at characterisation – do we really care? These films are about giant freakin’ monsters so let’s cut the crap and get down to the nitty gritty!

Willis O’Brien, the legendary effects maestro behind the original King Kong, brings the scorpions to life in glorious stop-motion detail. The animation is excellent and very fluid, almost too realistic at times. To say he was in his 70s and in poor health, the man was certainly able to rekindle his old magic. The first time we see the scorpions is during an attack on some telephone repairmen near a bridge and even today, the attack is still savage and brutal, with one poor chump not only grasped in one of the scorpions’ claws but stung with the tail too! There’s also an imaginative scene in which two of the main characters take a cage ride down into the volcano and into the scorpion’s lair in which all manner of giant worms and spiders lurk. They are creatures left over from the unused spider pit sequence from King Kong and you can clearly see where they would have fitted into the 1933 classic. They are a little out of place here (we are dealing with giant scorpions after all) and seem to have been added simply to provide a few extra monsters for our characters to battle. The finale, in which the black scorpion squares off against the military in a football stadium in Mexico City is also fantastic as all manner of stop motion tanks and helicopters battle the scorpion in a fight to the death. It’s truly great visual eye candy and O’Brien’s effects are worth the watch alone.

Unfortunately he had no control over the rear projection and in some scenes, images of the giant creatures are beamed onto a huge screen behind the actors. But the image is so blurry and out of focus that you wonder whether the characters are actually watching a film-within-a-film. Some of the empty shadow matte shots of the black scorpion entering Mexico City are so ridiculously poor that I really feel sorry for O’Brien and the hard work he put in. There’s also a really big prop head that is used for close-up shots and this drooling bad boy looks like he’s constantly grinning at the camera. It’s a really daft prop and something else to put a damper on the excellent stop motion. The production ran out of money so the re-use of footage (and the constant close-ups of that head!) is evident and the cheap way in which it’s all put together really harms the overall quality of the film. In a film which is driven by it’s special effects, it’s a disservice to O’Brien that his stop motion work is tarnished by the rest of the lousy effects.

 

The Black Scorpion is a little different to the other 50s science fiction flicks in that the effects are stop motion and they’re also fantastic. The rest of the film, heck the rest of the production team, is a total waste of time but it’s worth at least one watch to see Willis O’Brien work some magic on bringing giant scorpions to life. And for that reason alone, it gets an extra couple of bonus marks.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆