Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"The Monster of Piedras Blancas" (1959) d/ Irvin Berwick

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You might recall that we covered the Black Lagoon trilogy a while back, well, in returning to that unmistakable killer amphibious humanoid-monster vibe, we'll look at 1959's The Monster of Piedras Blancas, an old fashioned gent-in-a-suit monster movie in possession of a bigger set of balls than other similar films of the era. Despite suffering from that eternally familiar cinematic setback, a sparse budget, Blancas boasts of a nifty monster suit, with elements borrowed from The Mole People and This Island Earth, sort of a drooly, angry Californian cousin to Universal's Gill-Man. On the opposite side of the coin, despite a brief running time of just seventy one minutes, much of the non-horrific events depicted here are a bigger drag than Little Jimmy's bum leg, and even more boring. Still...

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A-200 and a special comb couldn't rid Eddie of this particular crab infestation.
After both Renaldi brothers turn up headless and bloodless, a Constable (Forrest Lewis) and a doctor (Les Tremayne) are forced to scrutinize the jagged cliffs of an area known as Piedras Blancas, home to a legendary amphibious throwback to a fictitious prehistoric age fiend called the Diplovertebron, that's been fed and cared for, up to now,  by a lonely widowed lighthouse keeper named Sturgess (John Harmon). That is, until Kochek ups the ante by refusing to sell him the meat scraps he'd been using to quell the beast's hunger, causing the titular monster to embark on a head-severing jihad against the local populace, which includes Sturgess' lovestruck daughter Lucy (Jeanne Carmen) and her science-ified beau, Fred (Don Sullivan), who searches for new specimens when he isn't necking with Luce in his cramped Jeep, a vehicle he's got no reservations about loaning out to nearly anybody.

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"You fiend! Get back here with my believable expression of fear!!!"
When impossibly large fish scales, cautionary store clerk corpses, and headless little girls suddenly become abundant in the small village, the constable, doctor, and young protege' are forced to science for the answer to the horrific crimes, while Sturgess' own night investigation leaves him unconscious and injured at the bottom of one of Blancas' steep cliffs. Lucy ignores her father's orders and goes for a late day-for-night swim, catching the squinty eye of the drooling seven foot tall head-ripper from the icy depths, who later gaffles her unconscious curves from the lighthouse, carrying her Frankenstein-style out to the roaring surf, only to drop her like a hot potato at the chance to lumber back inside for a mano y mano square off with Sturgess at the top of said lighthouse, which may sound somewhat thrilling for a movie's conclusion, but in this particular case, is completely fumbled away by laughably anticlimactic dummy shots and wooden delivery of dialog.

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"How ironic is it that I'm here asking you if you've got a spare lobster bib?"
Director Irvin Berwick would take the director's chair only seven times in his life, Hitch Hike to Hell (1977) and Malibu Beach (1979) being his final two offerings. Les Tremayne, on the other hand, would famously appear in War of the Worlds (1953) and Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), as well as a full palate of voice work in animated features throughout the seventies and eighties. Forrest Lewis preceded his turn here with an appearance in The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958). Pinup dish, Jeanne Carmen turned up in Striporama (1953) uncredited as 'Venus Beauty', and 1957's Untamed Youth, opposite none other than blonde b-movie goddess, Mamie Van Doren. Pete Dunn is worth a mention if only for the fact that he not only portrayed a local yokel victim of the Monster, but also donned the rubber suit and fiddled with a prop severed head made to resemble his own likeness. That had to be kind of surreal for him, huh? On the scale, Monster manages to scrape together a pair of Wops for itself, though its historical genre significance is probably a bit more than that, in the grand scale of things. Worth a look.

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"I'd like to thank the Academy for this stunningly realistic prop dome, which I will no doubt cherish, at least until I get gun butted off the top of the lighthouse at the end of this picture..."
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