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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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