Black Scorpion, The (1957)
Release Date: October 11th, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Edward Ludwig Actors: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Muzquiz, Fanny Schiller
lending Willis O’Brien’s state-of-the-art (for the time) stop-motion animation and delightfully goopy puppetry provides “The Black Scorpion” with an impressive display of special effects that oftentimes rivals the most admirable efforts of the 1950s giant insect craze. Likable characters and a more engaging romance complement this hearty entry into the genre. But the towering scorpion is undoubtedly the star, and his gloriously slimy carapace shines every minute that it’s onscreen. The drawback comes when footage of the googly-eyed menace is reused a few too many times … possibly twenty times too many. Yet it’s a testament to the captivating and endearing quality of such practical effects that the arachnid’s salivating maw rarely fails to elicit nostalgic thrills.
After the remote Mexican city of San Lorenzo suffers a particularly violent earthquake, geologist Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Doctor Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) head to a survey site just outside the volcano-prone town. Upon witnessing several strange occurrences and meeting local cattle rancher Teresa Alvarez (Mara Corday), whose Mia Flores estate has also suffered unusual scourges, the two scientists enter San Lorenzo to meet with Padre Delgado (Pedro Galvan), who brings further ill tidings. Following the recent geological activity, the superstitious villagers began lamenting the arrival of “demon bulls” that terrorize the inhabitants and are responsible for the numerous vaquero deaths. But it’s not long before the terrifying truth is revealed: giant scorpions, unleashed from their cavernous underground prison, are trampling across the Mexican desert, killing all in their path.
Like any competent film, time is taken to build characters. Not much time, though, as “The Black Scorpion” is ultimately a mutant monster movie; nevertheless, enough effort is given to fleshing out the main protagonists that the audience can empathize with their not-so-realistic plight. A few moments are designated for a hasty romance within the film’s swift, 90-minute presence, with the capable leads giving an air of authenticity to their love-at-first-sight affair, while a couple quirkily flirtatious exchanges enliven the scenes devoid of overgrown pests.
Undoubtedly the highlights of “The Black Scorpion” are none other than the titular arthropods. What sets these chitinous crawlers apart from lesser fare is their over-the-top appearance; the designers clearly capitalize on an already ardent fear of the creatures, while nightmarish imaginations embellish the relatively unknown features of a scorpion’s face. Protruding, pulsating eyes, lion-like roars, and a toothily devious grin incessantly spewing slobber are just a few of the completely unrealistic – yet immensely fun – characteristics that aggrandize the monstrosities. Verisimilitude rarely appears in such films, however, and the set-piece of a subterranean scorpion nest exists more for thematic effect than realism. And the “scorpion king” that rampages about in the exciting conclusion might be pushing it.
– Joel Massie