The Black Scorpion DVD Review

With monster movies being produced en mass back in the 50's, it took something really special to stand out from the crowd. "The Black Scorpion" was Warner Bros. follow up to "Them!," the quintessential giant bug movie of all time. While certainly enjoyable, this is a low-budget foray into the genre with only a few memorable sequences. A string of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes near a small town in Mexico opens up a huge hole in the Earth's crust. Unexplainable accidents begin piling up until the culprit is found chomping away on workers fixing a telephone line: Giant scorpions. Undisturbed for thousands of years, these beasts are now free to roam the surface, killing anything that gets in their way. Geologist Hank Scott (Richard Denning) and the armed forces are the worlds only hope to put an end to this menace. "The Black Scorpion" was Willis O'Brien's (King Kong) next to last film. He shared the effects duties with Pete Peterson, as he would in his final film, "The Giant Behemoth." When shown using standard stop-motion techniques, the title beasts are menacing. For whatever reason, the special effects pioneer chose to create a full sized mock-up of the face and claw for close ups. When the first on screen attack occurs using this prop, most people will likely burst into a fit of laughter. The drooling, immobile face looks nothing like the stop-motion model and it really serves no purpose. Some other effects, like the matte shots used when the creatures enter the heart of city, also fail miserably. Otherwise, the effects work is great, on par if not better than a lot of other sci-fi films of the era. The final battle inside a stadium is just awesome, the train attack unforgettable, and the descent into the lair features even more monsters. This is also a surprisingly violent movie for its time, with countless people being stung and chomped on throughout the running time. Genre veteran Richard Denning ("Creature >From the Black Lagoon") goes through the paces here along with Mara Corday (who also worked in the genre previously, starring in the hilariously bad "Giant Claw"), doing what they needed to do and nothing else. This is one for genre fans only. (*** out of *****) Warner Bros. has restored this full frame film pretty well, cleaning up the print to remove the majority of scratches and spots. A few scenes seem out of place and look like they haven't been touched, but these are short and do not detract from the work done here. A slight layer of grain lies over the proceedings and the overall print is a bit on the soft side, but this is still a wonderful presentation of the film. (***) This is far from an all-out audio experience, but the Dolby Mono track here is serviceable, especially for a nearly 50-year old film. The hilarious roar of the monsters (partly stolen from "Them!") comes through cleanly, as does all the dialogue. Nothing sounds distorted at any time and that is really all you can ask for. (****) Though none of the extra features here are about the film itself, stop-motion fans are in for a treat. First is "Stop-Motion Masters," a three-minute feature which features Ray Harryhausen talks about his relationship with Willis O'Brien. "The Animal World" is a spectacular sequence created by both Harryhausen and O'Brien that runs for 11:30. Harryhausen introduces it with a bit of back-story. It's a wonderful sequence and the video quality is stunning. Peter Peterson gets highlighted here with some great test footage they actually found in his garage. "The Las Vegas Monster" is a short clip showing a strange ape-like monster tearing apart a house, a man, a helicopter, and a truck. Video quality here is actually surprising for being found in a garage. "Beetleman" didn't hold up so well and is quite short, but is still impressive. The entire segment runs for a little over four minutes. Finally you can view some various trailers. (****) Black Scorpion didn't deserve such a nice DVD release, but who's going to argue about it? If you enjoy the art of stop-motion, this disc needs to be on yourself. The fascinating never before seen footage is worth the price of admission, not to mention there is a full length movie contained here as well.

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