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Countdown to Halloween: The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)



WHY I'VE NEVER SEEN IT


I had never heard of The Monster of Piedras Blancas; shame on me, I know. Even when I began hearing buzz about its release on Blu-ray (over two years ago), it was always in the context of "living in a day and age when even The Monster of Piedras Blancas is available on Blu-ray." That wasn't exactly a strong endorsement...


WHY I BOUGHT IT

...however, there was enough of that buzz, plus subsequent talk about how good the movie looked on the transfer, that I bought it soon after its release. It was actually on the bottom of my stack, which I flipped for the Countdown so that I'd begin watching the movies I purchased longest ago, first.


WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT

The talk was right; the movie looks great! It defied my expectations about being a cheap, poorly made, rubber monster suit movie. Yes, it is all those things, but they alone don't lessen the enjoyment of The Monster of Piedras Blancas one bit. In fact, I really like the rubber suit monster. Pictures such as the one below don't do it justice. Imagine it in motion, with jaws opening and closing, liquid pouring out of its mouth. It's brave for movies like this to embrace their creatures, putting them on display in broad daylight instead of keeping them hidden in the shadows, no matter how "real" they appear.


What lessened my enjoyment of the movie was it's talkiness. For example, when Lucille Sturges (Jeanne Carmen) explains to her beau, Fred (Don Sullivan), her personal history, it brings the story to one of several halts, causing me to push the "display" button on the remote control to see how much of the running time remained. It's one of those movies where something happens, the characters talk about it, then those characters meet other characters and repeat to them what just happened. This makes the movie seem much longer than it's lean hour and ten minutes.


On the other hand, what action that's present, is pretty terrific. One scene is even sudden and surprising. When Eddie (Pete Dunn) goes missing, Constable George Matson (Forrest Lewis) enters the back room of the store to look for him. The door immediately swings back open and out comes the monster, swinging a severed head in its clawed hand. The angry crowd that typically gathers when there's a monster loose in town scatters, screaming. It's well executed by director Irvin Berwick and I don't know if it's the first severed head we've seen in a movie, but it's one of the most realistic.


I recommend you watch The Monster of Piedras Blancas if you've never seen it. If it bears a haunting similarity to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, in general concept perhaps more than specific story, that may be purposeful. It was made by some disgruntled Universal employees who on their own produced the movie. (It's an interesting story, if you research and read more about it.) I'd say that, except for the script (credited to H. Haile Chace), it resembles an unrefined Universal sci-fi/horror movie.

Written by H. Haile Chace Directed by Irvin Berwick Starring Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon Released April 22, 1959 (Los Angeles) RT 71 min. Home Video Olive Films (Blu-ray)

ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN


We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.

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