Review of “The Black Scorpion” (1957)

trailer from YouTube

I had never heard of The Black Scorpion before we watched it for our Saturday pizza and bad movie night. It promised to be a winner, and it did not disappoint. The chardonnay wasn’t half bad either.

Plot:

The movie opens with shots of a volcano erupting and demolished buildings. Locals kneel in prayer, not to the volcano—that would be silly—but in hopes God will spare them any more heartbreak and loss.

God has a strange sense of humor.

The voice-over describes the explosion (in part):  

To the benighted citizenry of this remote countryside, the most alarming aspect of the phenomenon is the fact that its unabated hourly growth is without precedence, having reached a towering height of nine thousand feet within a few days. And with each added foot, it spreads its evil onslaught into a wider circumference. But what is now most feared is that rescue work will be severely hampered by the hazardous inaccessibility of the terrain.

The viewer next sees a Jeep pulling a trailer across a blasted landscape. In it are American geologist Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and Mexican-American geologist Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas), on their way to the remote village of San Lorenzo to study the volcano. From a man atop a telephone pole, they learn a police car has driven ahead of them but not returned. They come across a ruined farmhouse and a squad car that looks like a wrecking ball whopped it. After some searching, they come across a baby, who appears unhurt, and a dead policeman. They take the baby with them.

In San Lorenzo, they find people have abandoned the countryside amid rumors of a “demon bull.” A woman recognizes the baby. She says his parents are dead and takes him. The local priest, Father Delgado (Pedro Galván), discounts these rumors but notes a demon bull has been a symbol of evil since ancient times. Despite the requisite warnings from the authorities, the two geologists depart to study the volcano. They find shapely ranch owner, Teresa Alvarez (Mara Corday), after she falls off her horse and appears to need rescue. They also bring back a piece of obsidian roughly the size of a pizza box with a scorpion trapped inside. (Not a geologist, but I don’t recall obsidian being translucent.)

Later, when Ramos splits the obsidian, they find the scorpion is alive but manageable. Into a jar it goes. Kinda like a volcano splitting a mountainside and releasing scorpions the size of city buses—or jets.

Thoughts:

The overwrought voice-over at the beginning bewailing the fate of the “benighted citizenry,” as well as several news broadcasts and police dispatches, were voiced by Bob Johnson, who would later leave reel-to-reel self-destructing messages for Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) on Mission Impossible.

I found it amusing and refreshing that the heroes of the movie were geologists. They later risk their lives descending into a cave with poison gas meant to rid the world of the giant scorpions. They find the caves more extensive than they had thought and spend time exploring them. There they uncover the secret of killing the monsters, thus far proven impervious to gunfire and even tank fire. (“Trust me, I’m a geologist”?)

Just the same, they don’t work on their own. They get information from a specialist in Mexico City, who first identifies the type of venom they’re dealing with.

Some things make no sense. A man on horseback riding along a ledge finds the opening believed to be the place the giant scorpions emerge from. The edge gives way. Both he and his horse tumble down. (Were either hurt in real life? I don’t know.) Because this is where Hank and Arturo plan to descend in a cage, they call for heavy equipment to be brought up—onto a ledge that gave way under a horse. I’m neither a geologist nor an engineer, but perhaps spending some time stabilizing the area first wouldn’t be a bad investment, ya know?

Once they’re in the cave, it was fun to watch the different critters roam around. The viewer watches a gruesome battle or two and gets to see our heroes dash around underground for a bit. Yeah, okay, the stop-motion is hokey, but demanding realism for giant scorpions released from underground by an earthquake is a tall order. This is just… fun.

At one point, a swarm of scorpions derails a train, and hundreds of people are killed. It’s a little hard to catch, but the words “Lionel Lines” appear on the train’s coal tender. Fights break out among the scorpions. A great-granddaddy prevails, and for no discernable reason, heads toward Mexico City. Big city, bright lights? ¿Quién sabe?

The movie is a little slow initially and uses the de rigueur love interest and annoying kid, Juanito (Mario Navarro)—think Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Additionally, more than one crowd of people ran from a shadow of a giant black scorpion. The final indignity is the scorpion’s face, which my dearly beloved compared it to the baby on the old Dinosaurs sitcom. The scorpion had the added enhancement of drool running continuously between its jaws. Its eyes rolled, but its head was stationary. Yeah, I was shaking in my boots.

I imagine (but I don’t know) there were budget restraints on the movie. I would not call it great art, but I enjoyed it. I can see it being a great drive-in flick back in the day as well—when drive-in movies were a summer thing.





Title: The Black Scorpion (1957)

Directed by
Edward Ludwig

Writing Credits
David Duncan…(screenplay) and
Robert Blees…(screenplay)
Paul Yawitz…(story)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Richard Denning…Hank Scott
Mara Corday…Teresa Alvarez
Carlos Rivas…Artur Ramos
Mario Navarro…Juanito
Carlos Múzquiz…Dr. Velazco (as Carlos Muzquiz)

Released: October 11, 1957
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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