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  Black Scorpion, The Sting In The Tale
Year: 1957
Director: Edward Ludwig
Stars: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Múzquiz, Pascual García Peña, Fanny Schiller, Pedro Galván, Arturo Martínez, Roberto Contreras
Genre: Horror, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: This remote area of Mexico has been subjected to the upheaval of volcanic activity recently, so a couple of geologists have been dispatched to investigate the damage. They are the American Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and his Mexican colleague Artur Ramos (Carlos Rivas), and they drive their jeep along the rocky territory, observing that perhaps they should count their blessings this is not a heavily populated area. Although there are a few villages dotted around, and one of them, San Lorenzo, is where they are headed now - but what if the eruption unleashed more than rocks and lava?

What if it unleashed a giant scorpion or fifty? What indeed? For animator Wilis O'Brien this was another opportunity to show his mettle as a pioneer of stop motion effects, yet his most famous creation, King Kong from 1933, overshadowed everything else he did, and the remainder of his career was relegated mostly to low budget enterprises which tended to cheat him out of his chances to show what he could really do. The Black Scorpion arrived the year after he suffered the disappointment of seeing his pet project of cowboys versus dinosaurs made without him in the decidedly poor Beast of Hollow Mountain.

But he was still working, and this was next on his agenda, though cost cutting was so extensive that he was forced to use models from the celebrated and deleted spider sequence of King Kong when his heroes ventured down into the murk of the cavern that has been opened by the volcano. Which in a way allows fans to have some idea of what that sequence might have looked like, but in another leaves you sad that O'Brien was toiling away in such reduced circumstances. This wasn't his final film, though he only had five years to live, but perhaps he could have sought solace from knowing his protégé Ray Harryhausen created the cowboy movie himself in Valley of Gwangi later in the sixties.

Rather the scorpion puppets here than the ignominy of creating the effects for Irwin Allen's imaginatively bankrupt The Lost World of three years later, though of course that was a bigger hit than this, which was generally regarded as yet another big bug science fiction flick with no greater ambitions than causing a bunch of little kids to jump, yell and drop their popcorn. This was the last fantasy film of the fifties for star Denning, a decade which had been good to him professionally as the stalwart hero of many a work such as this, and associating him most with sci-fi of the era until he became a regular on Hawaii 5-0 a decade after. Sure, he was virtually indistinguishable from Richard Carlson, but he was well cast to portray a certain archetype.

This was actually shot in Mexico, presumably because it was cheaper that way, though with Rivas onboard at least this wasn't going to be a case of a bunch of Americans taking care of the folks South of the Border in a patronising fashion: as Artur he more than holds his own, the equal of Denning's Hank. There is love interest, though not for Artur, but for Hank as he extends his hand of Good Neighbour Policy to include local senorita (and apparently a very rich one) Teresa Alvarez, played by Mara Corday in an effort to capitalise on her then-recent hit Tarantula, filling the role of glamour and adding a bright quality to what could have been strictly routine. But it was the effects you wanted to see as the titular beasts tear up the place, plucking hapless victims in their claws and destroying everything in their path, though the charming and energetic stop motion is spoiled by the insistence on a big, rubbery, drooling scorpion face for closeups - the money seemed to have run out by the time the creature was roaming the streets of Mexico City, too. Music by Paul Sawtell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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