Saturday, August 11, 2012

El Professore Movie: The Black Scorpion

The Black Scorpion

Director: Edward Ludwig
Starring: Richard Denning, Mara Corday
* * *
'The Black Scorpion' is one of my fondest childhood memories. I had stayed up until 11:30 one night (very late for a seven year old) so that I could catch a wide eyed glimpse of the giant creepy crawlers in all their stop motion glory.

Click through the jump for the full review. 

The story (giant scorpions discovered inside a volcano in Mexico) was standard 50s fare, the direction by Edward Ludwig was slow paced and fairly flat and the performances from our two leads were uncharacteristically uninvolving (both Denning and Corday were veterens of the genre and did far better work than what they displayed here), but all shortcomings fell by the wayside once those stupendous scorpions made their first appearance. They were simply the most memorable insectoids of the decade and with good reason; they were animated by no less than Willis O'Brien of 'King Kong' fame.

Obie had a long, painful and tumultuous fall from grace since achieving his greatest simian success two and a half decades earlier. His career since was fraught with unrealized ideas that in retrospect are painful to consider (in particular, a planned film called 'War Eagles' which told of the discovery of a valley of dinosaurs and vikings which rode on the title giants; the climax would have been an assault on New York where the eagle riding vikings are defeated by modern biplanes. The production was cut short by WW2 and never revisited). By this point in his career, Obie was slumming it. He worked with assisstant Pete Peterson in the latter's garage (!) doing all effects work on what must have been one twentieth of Kong's budget. Regardless of the horrid conditions, the fx maestro put forth some very memorable screen magic. These scorpions lived and breathed in a way that even Ray Harryhausen's work at the time couldn't quite match. The only misstep is the overuse of an unconvincing, drooling (!) mechanical head used in closeups. It was a memorable prop when seen as a kid, but it falls short when watched now.

As a bit of trivia, the giant pincered worm that can be seen in the cave sequence was apparently a stop motion model that previously made an appearance in the famed lost 'spider pit' sequence in Kong.

'The Black Scorpion' gets it's three stars strictly for it's amazing effects work (and the tense dramatic effect they generate). Take away Obie's work here and you have a pretty mediocre outing at best. But with them, you have one of the best 'giant bug' movies of the '50s.

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