The Black Scorpion, 1957

The Black Scorpion has a lot going for it: very horrific scorpions, plenty of mostly well-rendered destruction, and an unusual ‘natural’ cause for the monsters’ appearance. The parallel volcano disaster story puts the police and military on the scene even before encountering the scorpions, so we avoid the awkward ‘hmm, there’s wrecked cars, dead cows, and some weird murders, should we call the authorities?’ debate that occurs in weaker sci-fi films.

The remote setting, the intrepid scientists, and ‘the girl’ supply the expected plot/character devices of the 50s sci-fi film. There’s too much romantic subplot junk; Theresa has a key role without having to make-out with Hank. The acting is generally quite good, as everyone seems to pitch-in realistically. The characters are believable types who show fear and courage without exaggeration. Clearly, as in the better films of the genre, it’s the monsters that are the stars.

The cavern scene is great–sort of an extra goodie that adds more tension, more monsters, and another creepy setting. And all that leads to the best of monster movie scene stand-bys: the false hope that the danger is over. With this device, again achieved within the movie’s logic, the story gets to start all over again, promising even greater danger ahead.

Then we get the ‘how-do-we-kill-it?’ conference. The sense of urgency is highlighted by the ensuing train attack. Sure, we see a toy train; but the engineer is suitably astonished seeing a giant scorpion on the tracks, the interior sequence does show traumatized passengers tossed about, with at least one survivor picked off by a scorpion as he tries to flee.

Plausibility is maintained by luring the scorpion to the stadium with meat as bait. The climactic battle scene at the end works great. The first shot of the ‘miracle weapon’ misses, the scorpion destroying tanks, trucks, and helicopters as the soldiers blast away at it. Of course Hank gets to finish it off.

We don’t get much monster mayhem in the streets of Mexico City as we do in the Godzilla-thrashing-Tokyo tradition. But that’s ok, plenty has happened already. No one seems too concerned that there might be other scorpions lurking here and there–we have just seen in the train attack that there’s more than one. But we are reminded that it won’t be too difficult to kill them, as the army now has a good countermeasure.

The Black Scorpion has a well-scripted story allowing our suspension of disbelief to stay intact throughout, even acting, and plenty of creepy monsters running amok. Some of the effects betray the low-budget nature typical of the genre, and the romance eats up screen time better spent on the monster v. mankind theme.

This one is well worth checking out. 7/10.

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