Friday, April 20, 2018

THE BLACK SCORPION (1957) (WAC Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English (ALL CAPS) Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Edward Ludwig
Cast: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Muzquiz, Pascual Garcia Pe?a, Fanny Schiller, Pedro Galvan, Arturo Martinez

This low-budget 50's giant-bug movie features the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen mentor Willis O'Brien (King Kong), a black and white creature-feature that borrows pretty liberally from Warner's own superior giant-ant film Them! (1954). When a volcano erupts in Mexico an American geologist named Hank (Richard Denning, Creature from the Black Lagoonteams-up with his Mexican counterpart Arturo (Carlos Rivas, They Saved Hitler's Brain) to study the geological phenomena near the village of San Lorenzo. Arriving at their destination via Jeep they find a badly damaged police car, a dead cop with a look of horror on his face, and the village in near total ruin. While rummaging through the ruins for signs of life Hank discovers an unattended infant in a crib, and in perhaps the most alarming single scene in the whole damn film Hank points the kid out to Arturo using his pistol as a pointer, aiming directly at the kid, goddamn Richard Denning had no paternal instinct whatsoever.

The scientists take the kid to a neighboring village while curiously pondering what could have caused such catastrophic damage to town, with the local folk attributing the damage and death to a demon-bull said to haunt the area. Only slightly less ridiculous than a demon-bull is the truth, that giant black scorpions are to blame. In a nice change-up the insects are not made monstrously big by radiation from the atom bomb - which was a popular monster catalyst at the time - but just prehistoric creatures that were released from their subterranean cavern-prison by the recent volcanic activity. 

When the Mexican military prove themselves to be near useless the  scientist end-up descending into the cavern to scope out the enormity of the situation, finding not just the nocturnal black scorpions they figured on but also other gigantic insects, including a creepy over-sized worm and spider - the latter of which tries to make a pint-sized meal out of an annoying kid named Juanito (Mario Navarro, The Beast of Hollow Mountainwhom has unbeknownst to the scientists tagged along on their underground exploration. 

The Black Scorpion (1957) doesn't offer anything particularly new of inventive for those who have indulged in more than just a handful of creature-features from he 50's as a kid like myself, it's by-the-numbers stuff, there's even a leaden love-interest for the American scientist by way of sexy pin-up queen Mara Corday (The Giant Claw) as a rancher named Teresa, those scenes slowing the movie down considerably. What saves this one from being a standard issue giant bug movie is the stop-motion carnage provided by Willis O'Brien and his trusty assistant Pete Peterson, offering up some great stop-motion fun with the scorpions attacking a crew of telephone linemen, taking on helicopters, military tanks and even a passenger train, plus the stuff down in the cavern with the oversized worm, scorpions and that spider are well executed. Not all the effects are fantastic, the film switches back and forth between the miniature stop-motion effects of the scorpion and the close-up of a working model of the insects head, the copious amounts of drool pouring from it's mandible always makes me laugh, the two images don't blend well and look nothing alike, but stuff like that's all part of the schlocky charm of 50's sci-fi and creature features. 

Audio/Video: The Black Scorpion (1957) arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Archive with a new 2018 scan in 2K, framed in 1.78:1 widescreen the black and white image looks decent but problematic. There's quite a few source elements competing for screen time, we have combination of stop-motion creature effects, stock footage of erupting volcanoes and some newsreel footage, they don't exactly mix seamlessly. The image is not ideal but it's the best I've seen it look on home video, but this is no one's idea of reference material when it comes to home video on Blu-ray with fluctuating film grain, varying softness and a general lack of fine detail. 

The DTS-HD MA mono English audio is fairly flat, with the Paul Sawtell (It! The Terror from Beyond Space) score and creature sounds fairing the best, dialogue is never hard to decipher but there is hiss present on the track. Optional English subtitles are provided, the usual yellow all-caps variety that's standard issue for WAC. 

Onto the extras WAC carry-over all the extras from the previous DVD, we get a 3-min featurette with late Ray Harryhausen speaking about his mentor Willis O'Brien, particularly how he adored King Kong and how it is he came to work for him. We also get Harryhausen's and O'Brien's animation sequence from Irwin Allen's The Animal World (1956), a wonderful color sequence of dinosaurs battling with an introduction by Harryhausen. A nice addition is the inclusion of two brief silent animation test footage films shot by Willis O'Brien and his assistant Pete Peterson in the 50s, one of a large mutated baboon and the other of a horde of alien creatures on the move, both are intriguing snippets, there's also a brief text detailing how the footage was found. The last of the extras is a trailer for the film, which references the film Them! 

Special Features:

- Stop Motion Masters with Ray Harryhausen (3 min) 
- Harryhausen's Dinosaur sequence from "The Animal World" (12 min) 
- Las Vegas Monster and Beetleman Test Footage (5 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 

I'm always happy to welcome vintage schlock onto Blu-ray, Warner Archive come through with another wonderful b-movie blast from the past, a black and white creature feature sure to please fans of schlock, giant-bugs and vintage stop-motion special effects. It's all wrapped-up in a kitschy 1950's veneer that really got my retro monster movie pulse racing, highly recommended for monster kids both young and old!  .   


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