HoliDANGER! #2: The Black Scorpion (1957)
The DANGER: Largest in a horde of gigantic, bloodthirsty Scorpions! Armored strongly enough to resist even military tank munitions! Veraciously kills humans, giant "worms", its own kind - anything that lives! Causes freak outs in dogs and cattle, but what doesn't? Appearance changes between close ups and long shots! Has a drooling problem that I won't mention, because that would be unkind!
An enormously fun, well produced monster movie by Warner Bros., The Black Scorpion features a generous amount of stop motion animation work by the legendary Willis O' Brien (even when accounting for the handful of repeated shots). The titular creature is one among many that have been unleashed from an immense subterranean chamber by volcanic activity. When this chamber is revealed later in the film, it's shown to be filled with an assortment of oversized horrors, recalling O' Brien's previous work on Skull Island's fauna in King Kong (1933), and perhaps prefiguring the insect filled swamp sequence from Peter Jackson's remake. It's impressive to see O' Brien, this late in his career, manage to capture the smooth yet mechanized movement of insects, and for multiple creatures on screen simultaneously. Though he may have been helped in the work by assistants, it is an impressive feat when merely considering the number of legs to be animated.
The spectacle of entomological horror found in the aforementioned chasm is witnessed by a precocious child character, who sneaks into the crane elevator that brings our heroes there. He does this in full defiance of their multiple admonitions that he stay above. When he furthermore leaves the safety of the elevator itself, and peers under what is obviously the cover hatch for a burrow belonging to a giant Trapdoor Spider monster, I found myself hoping beyond hope that he would be eaten for his trouble. Kid, YOU JUST SAW A BUNCH OF GIANT INSECTS ATTACK ONE ANOTHER IN AN ORGY OF DEATH- WHY WOULD YOU WANDER INTO THEIR LAIR?! Us grown ups are trying to do science down here, go play your Pokemans, or something, before you get us all killed!
The opening is effectively atmospheric, with the our protagonists arriving at an abandoned house in the dense Mexican wilderness, as strange unearthly, sounds echo through the air. The film builds steadily from there to an action packed finale inside an evacuated stadium, where the scorpion is caught in a titanic battle with tanks and helicopters. Our heroes have discovered a vulnerable area on the scorpion's body, and have rigged up an electrified projectile to launch at it. The first shot is a miss, and the projectile must be pulled back to its launcher via cable. While I was watching the movie, I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be something if the guy reeling that charged projectile back in got himself electrocuted?". Let's just say that while the movie could have urged more caution in regards to kids encountering giant insects, it FULLY warns against the dangers of electricity. I adore this movie.