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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Black Scorpion (1957) Horror Monster

The Black Scorpion (1957) - The film starts with some great footage of a newly created volcano in Mexico, and some horrible paternal voice over about the Mexican and there only response to the devastation caused by it. The character open is on Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and Artur Ramos (Carlos Ramos), Hank is an American geologist out to study the volcano with his Mexican peer. They have been driving a long time and still find themselves too far from the volcano. Coming across some carnage that does not seem to be created by the natural phenomenon makes a puzzle for them to solve. After visiting a village San Lorenzo they head to the crater where they meet the third main character Theresa Alverez (Mara Corday). She was riding up there but was thrown from her horse so they give her a ride back to town. It's a fifties movie so naturally Hank is attracted to the strong independent Theresa. Once these three are together we start to really get into the plot. Like many of the films from this era this relies on some scientist explaining what is going on is a flurry of exposition. In this case giant scorpions have been trapped in obsidian underground for thousands of years and the earthquake accompanying the formation of the new volcano has broken them free. We first hear of some creature in the village as the residents are shown as superstitious  simple folk who fear a demon is killing their friends and neighbors. This representation is one of many that we need to discuss.
  It sees them as a simplistic people who are more likely to pray for God to save them than to understand the phenomenon. The volcanic activity is important too it is the cause of the monster movie to come. Basing this film in Mexico as opposed to the classical early monster movies where the atomic bomb creates the monster is something to note. It also creates some really uncomfortable to watch scenes with its stereotypes and attitudes towards the people of Mexico. Remembering that this film was released in 1957 well before we ever used the word "problematic"  to point out in a nicer way that racism, sexism and paternalism in the media we consume. Besides the opening voice over we also get to here conversations all in English between the cops and our protagonist where the cops are Mexican but the hilarious voice that was more like a game show announcer than Mexican. We see simple villagers mildly chastise or maybe convince to help the White American hacienda owner on her ranch even after their safety was shown not to exist. Worst is the small mischievous Mexican boy who is constantly saying cute lines in his broken English and also continually get into places where the American protagonist has to save him. I think the one that struck me the most is when Hank and Carlos come across a farm that was attacked by the creature. They find a baby all by itself and hank takes it in his arms and jokes about the baby's quiet behavior  saying:
  "Look at this kid, not a peep out of him. If ever I have any of my own, I think I will feed him beans and tortillas too, and I'll be able to get some sleep nights. Later on a character mentions needing a Tequila and old hank blurts out "In your country I believe you call it a coffee break." All in all this film is not the best representation of how american film makers should depict another country and culture.
  The plot continues almost into classic Godzilla mode with the scorpions attacking people and a train, scenes of people running and screaming from them. Until our trio with the help of scientists from Mexico City and the Mexican army come up with a plan to end the scourge.  First the two geologists have to go down into a hole created by volcanic activity to investigate where all these scorpions are coming from. With a stow away hidden on there cart they are lowered into a nest of at least 50 scorpions. There are some really great creature feature stuff while they are down there and naturally have to save the little Mexican boy who hid to join them down there. Somewhere in the making of this movie they realized that they did not have a method to kill all the scorpions that they started with in the film. So first they blow up the nest but then still have to deal with the pack that is already on the surface. Early on a bunch roamed the country side destroying and killing. It was effective for the terror and the effects were really cool but the plot had a poison as the solution and a weak spot in the scorpion throat was the only way to administer it. So something had to be done to reduce the number of scorpions. The writing of a couple lines that the main characters hear is hilarious in its effectiveness to reach this end. Something to the effect of the reporter saying the big black scorpion has killed all the others and is now heading towards Mexico city. Problem solved.
  Mixed in with the monster movie is the ridiculous love story between Theresa and Hank, in that movie time period the movies had character go from meeting to spending their lives together in ninety minutes or less and in this film we get just that. The character of Theresa is a strong woman and she is almost equal in her pursuit of Hank as he is for her. Still that wonderfully entertaining banter leads over the course of the story to a life long commitment. Luckily there are at least a couple weeks between when the story starts and concludes unlike some of these relationships which go from "Nice to meet you" to "I love you" in a day.  So when Hank is at risk at the end of the film , and has to take the big shot to kill the black scorpions he is trying to get back to his love. Strangely the film does not end with the lovers back together kissing but instead just ends when the creature is dead. All that prepping us for a romantic ending for nothing.
  Leaving it depictions of Mexico out of this film I have to say I really enjoyed the scorpion attack part of it. I grew up on Creature Double Feature in Boston and always have a soft spot for these fifties monster movies. This one was fun for the most part but not great by any means.  Again if you can separate the story from the horrible stereotyping you can probably enjoy the monster part of this. I find it really flawed with some real logic gaps necessary to make the plot work so I won't recommend it. 

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