Monolith Monsters, 1957. 7/10

The desert, the ’50s, sci-fi, and monsters: you can’t beat that combo for entertaining mayhem. But our essential ingredient, the monster, is not a bug, a critter, a mutant guy (well, as a sideshow only), an alien, or a dinosaur…but, a bunch of rocks. Well, Monolith Monsters did for the mineral kingdom what 1961’s Day of the Triffids did for the vegetable kingdom. The only thing that’s really missing here is radiation/atomic blasts. But there is a meteor.

We’ve got the scientist Prof. Arthur Flanders (Trevor Bardette), geologist Dave Miller (Grant Williams), ‘the girl’ Cathy (Lola Albright), Martin Cochrane (Les Tremayne), the police chief Dan Corey (William Flaherty), geologist Ben Gilbert (Phil Harvey), a couple of other experts, Drs. E.J. Reynolds (Richard H. Cutting) and Steve Hendricks (Harry Jackson), and, of course, Ginny (Linda Scheley), the kid-who’s-freaked-out. Not to be left out, there’s the obligatory old-timers in pick-ups getting the short end of things.

So what exactly do these townsfolk and outsiders have to contend with?One cool thing is that the rocks not only create havoc by growing and multiplying, but they also ‘infect’ people that they contact when ‘active’. So both individuals and society in general are endangered. We might question, what’s so scary about rocks? Well, obviously, there’s not anything neighborly about a rock slide; plus these monoliths, once they develop, have a somewhat futuristic/geometric crystal shape.

A meteor strike before the credits roll–that’s getting down to business! Geologist Ben’s woody wagon overheats and drops water onto some funny-looking rocks. He goes back to the Old West type little town that looks suspiciously like the one in Tarantula. So, the sample rock he brings back “…doesn’t just seem to belong” That night a storm blows in, dousing the rock (well, we assume there’s rain coming in the open window). It’s alive! err, growing, anyway.

Dave returns to find a lava-burst of meteor stuff oozing all over the lab, and a petrified Ben, who keels over like a statue. Meanwhile, out in the desert, Cathy takes a bunch of kids for a field trip (in a ’56 two-tone Dodge Sierra wagon, like the one my family had back then). Ginny takes a funny rock home, washed it off…uh-oh. At the same time, Ben’s autopsy reveals…a mystery. “Local geologist turns to rock?” muses the newspaper guy.

Dave brainstorms with the local notables. He, Cathy, and the police chief go out to the kid’s house. The oddball rocks have busted up the place; the girl’s in a daze, and partly ‘stoned’. Back to the lab with Dave: “Everywhere this stuff goes people die.” So, Drs. Reynolds and Hendricks get involved. Weirdly, they stick Ginny in an iron lung for x-rays. Next step is to get Prof. Flanders input. He, at least, points out that the strange rock is from a meteorite.

So, naturally, they head back to the source, in the desert. “We’ve got a meteor to find!” The experts huddle up at the girl’s destroyed house. Apparently, the rock absorbs silicate from everything around it, including humans. They find the spot who Ginny picked up the dark-colored rock. There’s a lot of it there–with a big black crystal–the crash site. Ginny’s still hanging on.

The bad news is, another storm’s brewing. A huge deal this time; because back at the crater a monolith’s forming. Same thing at the lab–Dave and Fleming figure out that water causes it to grow. Driving back to the meteor site, the monoliths are ascending into giant pyramids, collapsing, then building up again. Looks bad, “there won’t be a living thing left!” Interestingly, no one doubts the threat. What’s this, though? Ginny is getting better.

The phones and power are down in San Angelo, but the police radio works. Dave deduced from talking to Ginny’s doctor Hendricks that the solution that saved Ginny can be used to stop the monoliths; but the key ingredient remains a mystery. Pretty cool monolith path of destruction, as it/they close in on the town. The side plot of the local kids distributing evacuation notices seems extraneous; the plot doesn’t have to tie things up this neat.

Finally Dave tries a saline solution on their unlucky sample rock. Viola! The ‘solution’ is at hand; another brainstorming session. So Dave figures if they flood the dry salt lake between the monoliths and the mountains, they might stop them. They need the government’s permission to dynamite a damn–this aspect is handled off-stage. The monoliths, like the Tarantula in that movie, close in on the town without actually getting there. The charges are set…

“Dave, is everything all right?” Asks Cathy, as Dave wheels back to town. If I were him I’d say something like ‘well, if the monoliths don’t destroy the town–and maybe then the rest of the world–before we blow the dam that just might destroy them if there’s enough salt in the dry lake…then, yeah, it’s all good’. Anyway, Dave doesn’t wait for the governor’s decision. Sure enough, the salt water dissolves the mutating rock.

All five people, the principal characters that is, look on, gratefully. This is very enjoyable, surprisingly well-acted, has fairly good suspense and pacing, and doesn’t strain our suspension of disbelief much. Having the entire premise depend one purely geological properties makes things much simpler than the ‘explanation’ of the phenomena in most sci-fi movies.

We’re not asked to ponder distant planets/galaxies, aliens and their intentions, the effects of radiation, etc. What’s usually a difficult task in a movie like this–keeping the focus on the isolated community, while including the larger outside society, is deftly handled. The link is Ginny’s predicament.

They have to evacuate her to L.A. for treatment, and it’s there that Dr. Hendricks first happens on the antidote (indirectly) to the rock’s growth. Blowing the dam certainly involves higher authority, but, as mentioned, this doesn’t involve subplots and distractions. Lastly, this is believably an isolated occurrence, as the meteorite can only affect the area in the vicinity of the crash site. For all of these reasons the half dozen or so principal characters can handle most of the plot and scenes effectively.

Other than some script flaws mentioned above, Monolith Monsters does a good job throwing us into an otherworldly crisis, keeping us guessing, and pulling us up at the last minute. If you liked Tarantula, The Giant Gila Monster, and Them!, then get petrified by this classic sci-fi menace-in-the-desert movie.

Farmermouse never misses a movie set in an Old West town, so he gives this seven tumbleweeds. 7/10.

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