At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE BLACK SCORPION (WB Archives)

By • Mar 2nd, 2015 •

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This neat little horror-effects thriller is fast-moving fun, and worth owning if you’re into 50s lizard & bug gigantism flicks. There are some interesting names involved with its production: Willis (KING KONG, THE [1925] LOST WORLD) O’Brien working the monsters, David (THE TIME MACHINE) Duncan contributing to the screenplay, Edward (WAKE OF THE RED WITCH) Ludwig directing, Lionel (the MAN FROM THE SOUTH episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents) Lindon on camera, Pete (Ray Milland’s and Rosie Grier’s heads from THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) Peterson on Visual Effects, and one of George Pal’s effects entourage, Wah Chang, creating the scorpion puppet.

Previously on DVD at 1.33:1, stretching the image here mainly works to the film’s advantage, since it was released theatrically in standard widescreen back in ‘57, but there are a few moments that suffer. Rock out-croppings work both ways, but the volcanic smoke cut off at 16:41 forces us to notice the shaky matte line. Also, 27 minutes in, a composite long-shot is grainy and washed out in the widescreen edition.

The first appearance of the monsters, right on schedule for Act two, provides more than a mere sudden shock, but rather a series of attacks in beautiful miniature sets – an arroyo, a telephone pole in the desert, a ranch with stone walls, etc. Lovely effects work. Then we see the title character, the dreaded ‘black’ scorpion, and it’s a negative image of said monster. Odd decision here, but effective, if also bewildering.

There’s a brief sound drop-out at around 40 minutes. The close-up inserts of the creatures’ faces are kind of foolish, but having them drool is a nice touch that takes some of the curse off. What is it about the Western genre that appeals to the effects guys? This, VALLEY OF GWANGI and THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN all make use of Western locales.

The second major effects sequence finds the intrepid protagonists descending into a great cavern. Some have said that Willis O’Brien used the models from the 1933 KING KONG ‘spider pit’ sequence here. It’s entirely possible, as a few of those subterranean critters are mighty weird and easily could have abetted the surreal atmosphere of the original KONG.There is some badly scratched footage of giant worms, etc., which makes one wonder if said footage was shot earlier for another project and not used till now.

The first act is as close to THEM as THE MUMMY was to DRACULA, from the appearance of the two investigators (in THEM it was cops), to the sounds in the desert (one of them is the actual sound from THEM), and the discovery of a destroyed residence and a baby (in THEM it was a little girl). After that the story heads its own way, with a Mexican community threatened by the monstrous bugs who have been unleashed in the wake of an active volcano.

Richard Denning and Carlos Rivas are convincing and sympathetic as the leads. Mara Corday is pleasant, but her wardrobe is unflattering. The voice at the other end of the squad car radio receiver in the beginning sounds like a TV pitchman selling a product, which is a riot.

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