Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Monster That Challenged The World

Slime Doesn’t Pay

The Monster That Challenged The World
1957 USA
Directed by Arnold Laven
MGM Midnite Movies DVD Region 1

So here I go on another review into uncharted B-movie territory, this time with the 1957... err... classic, The Monster That Challenged The World. My main hooks for watching this one were, firstly, because it’s on the same disc as another movie I wanted to watch soon - IT! The Terror From Beyond Space - and secondly because I already have the score to this movie on CD, and it’s always nice to go back and see how the music fits the film.

This one’s another hilarious horror but the monster looks quite classic. Ropey but, yeah, definitely classic. There’s an old pulp magazine from way back when which has pretty much this same monster featured on the cover. I know what it looks like but I just can’t remember what the title was and the cover to that one also used pretty much the same illustration on it... so I’d be interested in seeing which one came out first. Anyway, there are a number of monsters in this movie, all of the same species, but since we never see any two together in the same shot, I’m guessing the prop and costumes budgets on this one weren’t outrageously expensive.

The movie is set in an American town called Salton Sea and all the main protagonists come from the military base there or are police or scientists collaborating with the military. After a small earthquake, the movie starts out with two sailors going to pick a guy up out of the sea who has just landed in the drink as part of a parachute test. When they get to the spot they saw him go in, however, they realise he’s not around... only his parachute, bobbing in the water. When one of the two sailors goes down to find him, he also doesn’t return. Then, a creepily devilish shadow in the shape of a giant centipede thing sets the remaining sailor to screaming, so we know that it won’t be long before lots more people start to go missing.

We also know that the actor playing said sailor can’t scream for toffee... instead, emitting a manly vocal rendition of repeating “Arghhhhs” which sound more like the product of an act of sexual coupling than a harbinger of slime covered death. It’s quite a bad performance. Yeah, that's him pictured above. Just the still says it all, doesn't it?

Then, after meeting the main protagonist of the military base, his future love interest and the said future love interest’s young daughter (her mum’s a war widower)... it’s straight down to business as our brave crew of scientific explorers try to work out why some of the local sea water is slightly radioactive and why one of the recovered bodies from the earlier incident is all swollen up and bug eyed in death. And what’s that gooey slime that’s been covering everything at the various “scenes of the crime”? The local coroner can’t work it out... then again, the local coroner keeps his sandwiches in a frozen body drawer and can’t work out why nobody else wants a nibble, so it’s fairly safe to say that this strange phenomenon is a little beyond his knowledge.

Pretty soon our crew of intrepid heroes are back on the job and two scientists go back to the spot and dive down to investigate. They recover an egg before one of them is aggressively eaten by a centipede creature with bug eyes. The other one is chased back to his boat where the rest of the crew, including our main protagonist, manage to fend off this beast with various sticks and pointy things. When they get back to land, the egg is put in the scientists lab for study and, like in another giant sea creature movie a few decades later, all the neighbourhood beaches are closed (I’m looking at you Spielberg).

The egg in the lab actually furnishes us with two things. One is the chance to watch home movies of molluscs or, if you like, snails, while the stern but fair scientist tells us how these are the creatures which have been mutated to giant form as radioactive water seeped into an underwater fissure when it was shaken loose by the earthquake I mentioned at the start of the film... letting loads of creatures free to prey on tasty human snacks around the area. Unfortunately for the stock footage of snails and the supporting narration of the scientist, it should be fairly clear to any viewers of this movie with eyes located in their actual heads, that the giant monsters in this movie look absolutely nothing like snails and are in fact, in no way related. But we’re told they’re exactly the same so I won’t labour the point.

The other thing the egg in the lab gives us as a gift is the opportunity for more up close and personal shenanigans later on, just when our heroes thought all the monsters were killed off. You see, you know something is going to happen as soon as somebody questions the studies the scientists are doing on the egg, shortly after it is taken there. “Won’t it hatch?” is the question put to our main scientist. To which he replies something along the lines of... “No, It’s okay as long as the temperature doesn’t go up and this knob stays set below here, the egg won’t be able to hatch.” There you go... talk about tempting fate.

Meanwhile, the underwater sea caverns are sealed up but, it turns out the monsters have shown up via a secret passage and are hiding there, coming onto land to pick off people to eat when they’re feeling peckish. The question is, where is their entrance and where will they appear next.

And the film continues in this vein.

Actually, the film’s quite a nice, relaxing watch it has to be said. There’s some good unintentional comedy to be found throughout including a weird, almost “written as a gag”, moment when the police captain is telling the main protagonist (who is played by Tim Holt and who looks the dead spit of Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat) how a big stakeout turned out to be an event where nothing happened and likens it to the patrolling cars he has looking out for the monsters who are roaming the state. Cut to two officers patrolling in a car remembering how their situation right now is just like that stakeout where nothing happened. This is so stupid that I wonder if the writers actually meant to try and get a laugh out of the audience at that point? They needn’t have bothered, this film has a lot of laughs hidden in it, to be fair.

However, before I mock too hard, I do have to remember that one scene, where you know an elderly lock keeper is going to be slimed to death by a stray monster at some point in the picture, actually did make me jump as the mollusc struck the man down quick and definitely pre-empted future horror movies where something suddenly attacks from the side of the screen and makes your heart miss a beat. I had a genuine jump scare from a 1950s B-movie... so that’s kind of interesting. Similar to “the bus” in the Val Lewton’s Cat People to be sure, but with less noise and more visual startlement!

And, of course, Heinz Roemheld, the original Flash Gordon title music composer, completes the full on mutating mollusc mania with heavy stabs and stingers. Brooding, underwater menace doesn't get much better (the score can be picked up from Monstrous Movie Music here).

So what can I say. If you’re not a fan of sci-fi and horror B-movies from a time when radiation mutated, rubber beasts walked the studio lot, then this is not going to be your favourite movie anytime soon. If however, you’re happy to watch such intellectually challenging fodder as The Giant Claw, The Mole People or Earth Vs The Spider, then this movie is better than some of the similar features that were being made at the time and it’s therefore definitely worth you taking a look if you get the chance. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

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