Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Bros continues this week to release reissues of classic and overlooked films with their release of The Black Scorpion. One of the most interesting aspects of the Warner Archive Collection is its refusal to play by the rules in choosing their releases. One week they might release an underrated Coen Brothers film or an experimental Nic Roeg film, the next week they might release a well known noir film, and the next week they might release an unheralded science fiction B-movie from the Fifties. This has brought them as much love as hate, because the Warner catalog is so rich that people feel indignant that they would release a film like The Black Scorpion. I can’t tell you how many people I see on the forums that are on the brink of tears that Warner has not given us A Face in the Crowd or Days of Wine and Roses. I also would like to see those titles, but I think what is exciting is that Warner obviously is in no hurry to release just all the titles that everybody wants, but are taking their time to release some eccentric releases that I would have never sought out otherwise. I think that is a good sign of the health of their business. When you see a steady flow of all the titles you have been waiting for, I would begin to worry that they have gotten some bad news and are moving into cash grab territory. In this case, The Black Scorpion is a Black and White monster movie from 1957.
As the film begins, two geologists, Dr. Ramos (Carlos Rivas)and Dr. Scott (Richard Debbing) travel down to San Lorenzo, Mexico to look at some volcanic activity. When they make their way towards the volcano they hear some loud noise and discover that a police car has been destroyed – possibly crushed. They find a small child left alone in a crib and his family is nowhere to be found. The geologists are startled to discover a dead policeman pinned to a tree. Back in San Lorenzo, a pastor tells them of the “demon bull.” The townspeople warn them to come back to town before nightfall. They see a girl riding on a horse and when she is thrown they run to her assistance. Her name is Teresa Alvarez and her horse is named Lucero. When they get back into town, Dr. Cruz let’s them know that there is an organic poison that killed the policeman. He recommends visiting Dr. Velazco (Carlos Muzquiz) who knows organic poisons best. He also points out the soil around the man was of note. The men go back to Teresa’s ranch after she convinces her frightened staff to return. When they look at some obsidian they had transported, they see a scorpion inside it. Breaking it open, the scorpion is still alive. This carries bad tidings for things to come. There are gigantic scorpions that have risen out of the volcano and can destroy anything in their path! The rest of the film has our heroes versus the scorpion scourge.
This film has everything that a kid in the Fifties could want. Exotic locales. Strange findings by “well known” doctors. Groups of adults in the government who seem to believe that the appearance of incredibly large scorpions emerging from a volcano is not out of the ordinary, but actually a public relations nightmare. Peculiar full body suits to protect the heroes when they enter the lair in the volcano. Some really interesting creature effects by Willis H. O’Brien, the man who performed effects in the original King Kong.
This film is about as niche as it gets. Considering that this film is not as well known as other monster films from that time period such as Them! or The Fly it is amazing to see it brought to Blu-ray at all. Warner definitely is not afraid to take risks and hope there is an audience. This film reminded me that at this time the science fiction was closer to H.G. Wells than to Philip K. Dick.
This film is not good in any way that can be described. The plot is ridiculous. The acting is stiff or stereotypical. The creature is not particularly frightening. Therefore, this film is better viewed as a curiosity. I always find it interesting to watch a middle of the road (mediocre) film of a popular genre from a certain time. When watching these the age old question “I wonder why they stopped making these,” can be answered with ease. People eventually got burnt out on the idea of monster movies due to the huge deluge of them they sifted through. Many of them were about as good as this one.
Not all films are created equally. If you are interested in this genre, this may be of interest to you. If not, I can not imagine that this film would change your mind about that. I enjoyed watching it, but can’t see much replay value overall. Not after the hundredth time I heard that sound effect assigned to the scorpions!
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Bros. did a very divisive job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. Essentially this film fluctuates between looking very crisp, almost perfectly detailed – to almost YouTube worthy clunky. It is really strange. Having seen numerous Warner Archive titles, my assumption is that this is the best restoration they could do of the film, but overall this is one of their worst looking releases.
Audio: How’s it sound?
A mono mix can only have so much range and depth, but I found clarity to be fairly solid. I did not detect any dropouts or notable hiss. That said, this film does not have much to offer sonically except for this one terrible sound effect they recorded for the scorpions that repeats every ten seconds for the last half of the film. Fans will be pleased, but this is not anything I want to ever hear again.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Stop Motion Masters – Ray Harryhausen discusses his love of King Kong and the special effects of Willis H. O’Brien. He gave Harryhausen his start. He discusses working with him on Mighty Joe Young. A sweet tribute from a legend.
- The Animal World – Here is the stop-motion prehistoric sequence from The Animal World which Harryhausen worked on with Willis H. O’Brien. Ray Harryhausen briefly introduces the sequence. Pretty cool.
- Las Vegas Monster and Beetleman Test Footage – Here is some test footage shot by one of Willis’s animators, Pete Peterson. The footage was discovered after his death. I made stop motion movies myself as a kid and this is much more impressive!
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The Black Scorpion is another great example of Warner Archive’s dedication to bringing obscure titles out of the vaults. The film itself is pretty mediocre in my opinion, despite some great creature effects by Willis H. O’Brien who is best known for his work on King Kong. If you are a fan of the film, this Blu-ray has a transfer that looks great and looks bad intermittently. The supplements are pretty neat due to their inclusion of some work that O’Brien did with Ray Harryhausen. This shows that WB knows that his effects are the main draw of this picture. Overall, I recommend a rental prior to a purchase and unless you are interested in this genre you may just want to skip it.