The Black Scorpion (1957)
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Written by Robert Blees
Tagline: "The management reserves the right to put up the lights any time the audience becomes too emotionally disturbed. We urge you not to panic or bolt from your seats."
Run Time: 88 min
“Me and Doc have been down many a-cave!”
- Dr. Scott
Another big bug movie, but hey! It’s not directed by Bert I. Gordon! A gigantic volcano in Mexico unleashes, no surprise here, a giant black scorpion that goes around eating Mexicans and smashing up Mexico City. Let’s check this out.
After a plethora of volcano stock footage we cut to the credits. Hmm. I wonder if the giant scorpion will arise from the volcano? Two geologists, American Dr. Hank Scott, and his Mexican counterpart, Artur Ramos, drive up in a jeep to examine take a look at the newly formed volcano. (Dr. Scott is played by Richard Denning who appeared 3 years earlier in the 1954 classic Creature From the Black Lagoon.)
Try not to notice that Ramos gets behind the wheel after they are finished taking a break, but it’s Scott driving in the next scene. Oh yeah. When they stop to ask for directions to San Lorenzo, Ramos is driving again and Scott is back in the passenger seat.
On the way to San Lorenzo, Scott and Ramos hear a loud roar accompanied by a strange whirring noise. (Alert ears will recognize the noise as the same sound the giant ants made in "Them!".) Alas, the village is in ruins and completely deserted. A strange rattling noise sends the two men scurrying through the abandoned village looking for its source. Why, it’s a little baby.
Scott takes the baby back to the jeep when all of a sudden that strange roaring noise occurs again. This time the two geologists discover a missing policeman: dead behind a tree…The mystery deepens. (Oh yeah, the baby is delivered to to the local orphanage. Don’t worry, they didn’t use it for scorpion bait.)
The next day Scott and Ramos head out to the volcano to investigate the destroyed town. When the two geologists stop to look around, Scott scans the horizon with a pair of binoculars and spots a young woman riding a horse in the distance. (Amazingly, the distance and perspective of Scott’s view changes from scene to scene as he looks through the binos. Cool!
OK, well, we have to introduce a love interest at some point so it might as well be now. Ramos takes a peek through the binoculars as Scott takes a sip of water. Alas, the young woman has fallen from her horse.
The two scientists rush off and after looking around for about 5 seconds they find her laying senseless on the ground. The young lady quickly recovers and introductions are made. It turns out that this young lady is one Teresa Alvarez. (Teresa is played by Mara Corday who also appeared that same year in none other than The Giant Claw!) Teresa asks for a ride back to the village of San Lorenzo. With a smile, Scott and Ramos agree.
Oh yeah, by the way, Teresa is a local ‘cow girl’ out taking care of her cattle. Uh huh.
On the way to town, Teresa explains how her ranch hands fled the countryside into San Lorenzo after strange things began to happen. Back in town, Teresa pleads with them to return to her employ, and with hanging heads, the men agree to return. (God bless exciting 1950′s sci-fi.)
Ah yes, now we see the typical Autopsy-On-Monster-Victim-In-Order-To-Find-Clues-As-To-What-Is-Going-On. These types of scenes usually include the following:
A doctor wants to speak with the hero(es) – check
A monster victim has been autopsied – check
Hero looks through microscope – check
Heroes identify what’s under the microscope even if it’s totally out of their field – check (Scott, a geologist, looks through the microscope and remarks, "They look like subcutaneous cells that are just burst and run rampant.")
Yup. OK. Checklist complete. The doctor is going to take the hitherto unidentified poison to Mexico City where the famous Mexican poison specialist Dr. Valasco. Oh and gee, there’s a plaster cast of a gigantic footprint. Hmmm…I wonder if that could be a clue? Nah. Better just send the specimens to Dr. Valasco.
Afterwards, Scott, Ramos, and Teresa head out to her (massive!) ranch where they meet Teresa’s foreman, Pio. They then move inside her (massive!) ranch house. Ah yes, Ramos is shown to the "Blue Room" and Scott is taken to the "Left Wing" by the precocious youngster, Jaunito. (Hmmm….a kid in a 50′s monster movie…I wonder if he’s going to be rescued somewhere along the line.)
Later that evening, Scott, Ramos, and Teresa settle down with some brandy after dinner. As per the Great 1950′s Plot Agreement Act, this time will be spent developing the relationship between Scott and Teresa. Said love interests sit on the sofa, smoking and drinking brandy, flirting while Ramos seems to be totally out of the picture. (Because he’s Mexican in an American film?)
Ramos, being all scientist, is busy in the corner studying a piece of "obsidian" that he found in the village. Noticing something interesting, he calls Scott over to take a look. (Thanks pal…couldn’t this wait?!) Holding the rock up to the light reveals a fossilized scorpion inside the stone.
"I wanted to show it to you before I broke it open", says Ramos as he then proceeds to break open the stone directly over Teresa’s billiard table (!). (Gee, thanks Ramos.)
Amazingly, the scorpion is alive. Maybe even more amazing, is that it makes squeaking noises like a mouse (!). Very interesting scorpion there, I must say.
OK, now we have seen that a normal sized scorpion could live for hundreds of years embedded in stone. Gee, I wonder if a giant scorpion could do the same? Back to the business at hand, Teresa and Scott decide to sneak outside to get better acquainted and leave Ramos alone "with this little monster". (Look, I can see that getting alone with a hot woman would be a high priority, but wouldn’t taking a look at a scorpion that has just survived thousands of years embedded in stone be a worth just a few minutes of your time?)
OK, at the 20 minute mark, more or less. Time for somebody to be eaten.
A telephone linesman, working on the, well, telephone lines, rings Teresa to tell her that the telephones are now in order. At that moment, up jumps a gigantic, roaring (!), drooling (!!) scorpion with 2 big eyes right in the middle of its head. (I’m not a biologists, but I do know for a fact that scorpions do not look like this! Not to mention that they certainly don’t roar!)
To be fair, there is a decent bit of stop-motion animation showing the scorpion scurrying over and swooping up the unfortunate telephone company employee in one of its claws. (Another nice bit of animation shows the scorpion emerging from under a bridge, eating the other workers, and tossing their truck into a ditch.)
Scott and Teresa hear the screams over the phone and hurry out to the scene of the attack. Ramos, who for some reason is outside wandering around in the dark, jumps into the jeep along with the other two.
Ah but wait. Juanito’s dog freaks out and runs outside with the young boy chasing after it. As you might suspect, the giant scorpion magically appears just outside the ranch house and things aren’t looking so hot for little Juanito. (Yes, I know that Juanito means "Little Juan", so I just called the kid "little little Juan"…but can we just get on with this?)
"Run, Juanito! Run!", somebody helpfully shouts. Teresa runs inside to call for help as Scott and Ramos open fire on the oversized arachnid. Damn. The phone lines are down.
Heroes trapped by monster in remote location with inoperative telephones – check
I will give the movie credit for not being shy about showing some "monster action". We’ve already been treated to quite a bit of footage showing the monster chomping on people and smashing things up.
Anyway, the scorpion smashes up Teresa’s ranch pretty thoroughly, eats some cows, and then busts a move on San Lorenzo before returning to the desert.
The next morning, Dr. Valasco shows up at San Lorenzo with Important Information. He orders the village to be evacuated (Valasco has been given full authority, because, well, he’s a scientist) and then gathers everybody of importance (i.e., Scott, Ramos, Teresa (!), and a few extras) inside the lab for a debrief.
Yes, he’s identified the poison as that of a scorpion, but not just any scorpion, but one thought to have been extinct. The attack plan? They will attack the scorpion with gas. If that doesn’t work? "Then God help us." (Great plan.)
The next day, everybody is out canvassing the desert looking for the scorpion. (Could it be that hard to find?) One mounted soldier happens to find "a giant opening" behind some boulders beside the volcano. Most normal people would realize that this is A Bad Thing and run away. This soldier gets a wee-bit closer, his horse freaks out, and he’s tossed into the hole. (Doh!)
The searchers rally around the hole in order to rescue the fallen soldier.
"This crevice is new!", notes super geologist Ramos.
"This looks like a job for us, Doc!", replies super geologist Scott.
Being geologists, the first thing Ramos and Scott do is to toss a rock into the hole. Great job, guys. No good. Nothing happens. Next they decide to down the cave themselves. When they go back to get climbing equipment from the trailer they discover a cute little stowaway: Juanito.
OK, let’s move this along. Ramos and Scott suit up and begin to descent into the cave.
Oh yeah, Scott and Teresa give each other a kiss. – check
Dressed in rather goofy looking equipment, Scott and Ramos are lowered into the cavern via a cage attached to a crane. For some reason, a scorpion is perched in a hole in the side of the shaft’s wall. Scott stops their descent, takes a picture (!), and continues on to the bottom of the shaft. (Um…continue? Hello? Up! Up! Up!)
At the bottom of the shaft is an immense underground cavern filled with pterodactyls (!), and what looks like a giant inch-worm with massive claws. (What kind of an ecosystem could possibly support creatures like this? What do they eat? More interestingly: what eats them?!) Scott takes some more pictures and then he and Ramos set out on foot to explore. (I’m sorry, but no way!) Oh yeah, Juanito has stowed away on the bucket, hiding behind some gas cans.
As luck would have it, there is an entire swarm of these giant scorpions down there. We do however get to see a nifty battle between the roaring scorpion and the squealing giant inch-worm thingee. This is some pretty fun "giant bug" action, to be honest. As a bunch of scorpions gather around to snack on the dead inch-worm, out comes an absolutely enormous scorpion. "It must be the grand-daddy of them all", remarks Scott.
I will say this much about The Black Scorpion, you do get to see a hell of a lot of giant scorpions! As Scott and Ramos look on, Grand-daddy scorpion kills a mere gigantic scorpion by flipping it on its back and biting its throat.
"That’s how they kill one another", says Scott, "the weak spot on its throat." (Plot Point!)
Meanwhile Jaunito has set out on foot to explore a bit on his own. He comes across a big lid or something in the ground and lifts it up. Out pops a giant spider which begins to chase him around. (Rumor has it that this giant spider is a left-over prop from the famous missing scene in the original King Kong where the sailors were devoured by spiders at the bottom of the canyon.) Well, Scott and Ramos hear Juanito’s screams and kill the pursuing spider Just In Time.
Unfortunately, a scorpion discovers and destroys the cage needed to return to the surface. Ramos volunteers to hang onto the frayed end of the cable and be lifted up to the surface. (Man, talk about upper body strength!) At the top, Ramos explains the situation and the cable is sent back down, this time with "a loop" (?) so that Scott and Juanito can be lifted safely.
After a short discussion they scientists decide to seal the hole with explosives. The opening is packed with dynamite and sealed with a gigantic explosion.
A few days (weeks?) later, Dr. Valasco summons Scott and Ramos to Mexico City for an emergency meeting. Yes, before you ask, Teresa tags along. It turns out that after further review, the caverns where the giant scorpions were seen are in fact part of enormous chain of caverns, some of which pass within 20 miles of Mexico City. Scott and Ramos are to prepare an emergency plan in case the scorpions should appear and attack the city.
Next comes another scene that is actually pretty well done, giant scorpions attack and destroy a passenger train. The scorpions first derail the train and then begin plucking passengers from the cars and eating them. It’s all actually pretty cool, I have to admit.
Back in Mexico City, people are in a panic. In an incredible stroke of luck, it turns out that the grand-daddy scorpion, referred to as the black scorpion, went crazy from the "lust for blood" and killed all the other "smaller" scorpions. (That is, those that were only the size of a house.) Viola! There’s only one scorpion left to kill. Nice.
Moving right along, the scorpion attacks Mexico City. On a rather sad note, at this point the film makers had run out of money, so the special effects for these scenes couldn’t be completed as planned. In fact, the shots showing the giant scorpion are simply the traveling matte shots, i.e., it’s simply a black scorpion shape where the scorpion would have been matted in afterwards. I think a lot of these scenes would have been pretty good. Alas…
Meanwhile, the Army has gathered in Mexico City stadium. The plan? Fire a missile into the, * ahem *, weak spot in the scorpion’s throat. Cables attached to the missile will then be hooked up to a generator and…zappppp!
In a rather unusual scene, the giant scorpion is lured into the stadium by a truck loaded with raw animal carcasses. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday.
Another cool scene follows when the scorpion battles tanks, helicopters, and jeeps in the stadium. (The Army even sends in a bulldozer (?!) to assist in the attack.) For some reason, Scott and Ramos are sitting beside the soldier that will fire the missile. Why would two geologists be there? Because they are the heroes.
The first shot is a miss as the scorpion, to be honest, is pretty much kicking the Army’s ass. (Hilariously, the guy who fired the missile frantically pulls the projectile back by its cable by hand so he can take another shot. What he didn’t know was that some other numbskull had turned on the electricity, so he’s immediately electrocuted when he touches the warhead. Doh!
However, this unfortunate event does allow the fatal shot to be fired by our heroes…as it should be, right? (Teresa is also at had to watch the battle…Teresa !? What the hell is she doing there?!) Surprise. Scott fires the shot, it’s a direct hit, and the scorpion is fried…but not before smashing up a few more tanks. That was one tough SOB…you gotta hand him that.
With the scorpion’s smoking husk laying amongst the supposedly hundreds of dead soldiers and smashed vehicles, Teresa and Scott walk out of the stadium arm in arm while Ramos and Dr. Valasco smile and look on.
Dennis Grisbeck (August 2005)
A surprisingly entertaining "giant bug" movie. As mentioned in the review itself, the film makers certainly give you your money’s worth in monster footage. The stop-motion animation really wasn’t so bad, even if the close up of the scorpions "face" was a little goofy. It’s too bad that the live-action matte shots couldn’t be completed.