Today has to be a pretty quick post for day ten of Horror Movie Marathon. It turns out there is an Octoberfest festival taking place in my neighborhood! I would bet you would all agree that a moment like this shouldn’t be ignored. So I’m pulling my beer boot out from the cabinet and headed down for a night of awesome beer, German food and Ziggy Zaggy Ziggy Zaggy Oi Oi Oi! My ancestry isn’t German but on this day everyone is German! Or is that wrong? Isn’t that St. Patricks Day where everyone is Irish? Is everyone German for Octoberfest? Or is it everyone wants to be German on Octoberfest? Who cares!
For day ten I would like to pay homage to a man that deserves a great deal of praise and respect. If there is one man that us horror fanatics owe a great deal of respect for then it would be Willis O’Brien. As a special effects pioneer, O’Brien would produce amazing and splendid work that would dominate the screen. You may be (or at least you should be) familiar with O’Briens work in 1933’s King Kong. King Kong is the greatest cinematic work of art and it is all due to O’Briens skills with stop motion animation. He would go on to do the effects for 1933’s Son of Kong and eventually win an Oscar for his work in 1949’s Mighty Joe Young. Although, he wouldn’t accept the award because his crew weren’t getting Oscars! This is the kind of man O’Brien was, he respected the artists he worked with and worked extremely hard. Even through the extreme tragedy of losing his two sons by the hand of his first wife, O’Brien would go on to be the influence of other greats like the legendary Ray Harryhausen. To this day, his work is a shining example of modern film. One film that I can’t help but love is The Black Scorpion.
The Black Scorpion is a 1957 film directed by Edward Ludwig and stars Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, and Mario Navarro. O’Brien would be the lead supervisor for the effects department while Pete Peterson would handle most of the stop motion animation.
The Black Scorpion
After mysterious events take place following an earthquake that struck the Mexican city of San Lorenzo. Dr. Hank Scott and Dr. Arturo Ramo go to investigate the goings on. Their research leads them to discover terrible giant size scorpions have been released from their earthly prison. With time running out and fear of global infestation, our research team race to defeat and eradicate this giant insect army!
In 1954 Gordon Douglas would direct the film Them! and spawn a new age of horror that involved giant sized insects threatening the human populous. Them! was the very first giant insect film and was about giant sized ants that were making its way across the United States and wreaking havoc. At the time, the major world powers were headlong into nuclear testing and fear of this testing was sky high. World War II would introduce society to cataclysmic catastrophe and since horror plays on our most common fears then why not tap into the fear of its effects.
Giant insect films would run rampant with such titles as 1957’s Beginning of the End and 1955’s Tarantula and the ever popular Godzilla. But The Black Scorpion would be a movie that was a little different. While other giant insect films used nuclear testing as a theme for the carnage. The Black Scorpion infestation would awaken because of natural disaster. The large scorpion monsters aren’t necessarily a result to nuclear testing but their release serves as a testament to what happens when we mess with the planet.
To me, the scorpions coming from the earth is a direct result of mans inability to respect the worlds natural world order. Maybe the earthquake is a result of man’s progress and tampering. The movie demonstrates that if we don’t show respect then we won’t cause the destruction directly, but that earth and all it’s terrible wonders; will end up doing the job itself. This was the common theme in most of these movies. But it’s not really hopeless. The Black Scorpion ends (like most insect horror films) where while man may be responsible in causing this kind of peril, we are advanced enough to actually do something about it. Although the scorpions are this dominating force, its never too far out of the reach of the human mind in coming up with a solution.
The Black Scorpion may be a typical silver age giant insect film. Giant bugs (are scorpions considered bugs? Or are they arachnids?) that know one knows about. They cause destruction and move on but leave clues behind for our main heroes. It has your typical scientific explanation and overly done meetings on how they can destroy the scorpions. I’ve always noticed something odd about these kinds of movies. The heroes finally discover these beasts and for some reason, remain completely calm in the face of terror. I mean, they may shoot at the things and look somewhat stressed. They see these things kill people but still have this awesome calmness about everything. Men must have been built out of concrete back then cause if I was being chased by giant fucking scorpions, then I would be shitting myself like my pants was a Jackson Pollock painting!
If this movie has anything going for it, then it would be the special effects led by O’Brien. The scorpions look absolutely amazing and the animation is clean. Unlike Them! where the ants are clunky and obviously moving on a rail track, everything in The Black Scorpion looks realistic and awesome. I love Them! but always laugh at the pipe cleaner antenna. In The Black Scorpion, the scorpions look like real scorpions. O’Brien even got the texture on their shell like exoskeleton down! The man doesn’t miss a beat. This skill and artistic vision all comes to this awesome moment when our two fearless heroes descend into the scorpions cavern. This is one of my favorite scenes in all silver age horror.
It’s not to say the film doesn’t have its cheese. The best part about the film is the close up of the scorpions face. I get it, you have to have some sort of scare factor that got the kids screaming in the theater. I can’t help but believe this movie may have been a huge influence on Edward Hunts 1988 film called The Brain. Another movie that has a monster you see from in its entirety is not too scary until they do a close up on its face.
These moments in Black Scorpion make for a great drinking game! That’s it! Tonight at Octoberfest, I will watch The Black Scorpion and every time they do a close up of the scorpions face then I will chug! Oh man it’s going to be a good night! Giant scorpions and German beer, what could possibly go wrong? It’s going to be a great night for Horror Movie Marathon day ten!