On one hand, Irvin Berwick’s 1959 flick The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a pedestrian and very slow-burning “B” horror film with some neat noir-like shots, light early gore, and a great creature costume cobbled from a few sources that looks quite spectacular when it’s finally revealed. On the other hand, it’s still a pedestrian and very slow-burning film that drags out its plot a wee bit too long.
Its big monster reveal comes so late in the film and manages to come off as somewhat disappointing because you still see less of that really cool-looking monster than you’d like, but at least you get some action on-screen when it happens. It’s far from a “bad” film, it’s just a bit dull in its presentation of an otherwise great-looking man in a suit. The again, with a budget under $30,000, you can see where the money went thanks to the suit that man is in being so well-conceived.
Granted, the film teases the titular creature right at the very beginning as a claw reaches for a beat-up metal bowl and afterward, some kids are sent packing off the beach by a lighthouse keeper named Sturges (John Harmon) with a secret. He’s the one keeping the creature well-fed and of course, he’s got a tasty and somewhat gorgeous daughter, Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) he’s kept out of the loop for years (ten years of boarding school, eep!). Naturally, she’s all grown up now and she and her curves caught the eye of Fred (Don Sullivan) a visiting biology student who’s not at all after her for her shapely figure and hey, this is 1959 we’re taking about and that stuff didn’t happen in movies like this (he said, sarcastically). Sturges is not a fan of Biology students who want to date his shapely daughter, it would seem.
Meanwhile, a pair pf bodies is discovered by some locals, heads torn clean off. My money was on Lucille as the prime suspect (Alexa, play “Maneater” by Hall and Oates, please!), but alas, that’s not the case. Lucille gets warned after a night swim that it’s a bad idea, that late swimming stuff and there’s also that “aha!” moment when you realize that Sturges hasn’t been feeding those meat scraps from the local store to a local dog with a funny paw. Well, that scene shortly before has the creature make a brief appearance to fondle Lucille’s briefs while she’s swimming, so you sort of know that’s not a very good dog in that very good suit.
Speaking of dogs, there’s one here named Ring, and I’ll spoil this one for you: He’s not the killer either, but later ends up as (off screen)
dog monster food thanks to the real culprit. Did I say dog monster food? Scratch that, he’s diplovertebron food, as it’s later revealed that the creature seems to be of the same ancient species or family (and this was before the 23 and Me testing). Anyway, some kids in peril, Fred and Lucille on the outs temporarily thanks to a stupid argument, a few more victims and a whole lot of teasing later, you finally see monster up close and personal for longer that a few seconds (although the scene earlier when it’s walking with a body-less head in hand is awesome and somehow amusing, early gore or not). Oh and if there are any Les Tremayne fans out there, he has a neat part as a doctor here (let’s just say he doesn’t lose his head in even the most tense situations).
While the film gets in a few scares from the creature’s appearances and a few roars go a long way, the end result is a bit of a slog-fest despite the 71-minute running time. The real “running time”, when the creature rampages, is limited to a few minutes of it showing up, taking a few bullets, making a kill and getting an unsatisfying comeuppance that seems like some sort of sequel may have been in the works had it not turned out to be a sleep aid instead of a decent monster movie. Still, I’m putting myself in the shoes of a typical moviegoer from 1959 in saying that despite the draggy bits and some plot holes. I can see this appealing to those who were into these monster flicks back then because this one at least had severed heads showing up a few times and yeah, that WAS a way for some the get a little closer to their date of choice, if you know what I mean.
I recently saw this after ages away from it via the Internet when a friend brought it up in conversation, but confused it with From Hell it Came for some reason (well, both flicks tend to drag a bit, so that may have been a factor). But it’s also available in a much more beautiful restored version from Olive Films in Blu-Ray or DVD formats if you want it fresher and hotter as a disc you can own.
It may not improve your love life, but who’s to say it might not if you have a partner who can do both freaky and sleepy simultaneously. Nope, I still have no idea how people work, so I very certainly can claim ignorance here and that’s one thing I’m very good at. Enjoy the movie, but maybe double team it with something similarly campy and more fun (I’d suggest The Brain That Wouldn’t Die for some more early gore fun and its more hilarious plot, or a certain and great 1954 Jack Arnold classic that spawned a few sequels).
Score: C (70%)
Two things, my friend: First, this is definitely one I have to check out (especially because you posted NO photos of Jeanne Carmen!), and second, don’t EVER put down ‘From Hell It Came’! The best killer tree movie of all time!
Oh, I did forget to post that pic of her (oops!). I’ll re-edit the post in a bit. Oh, From Hell It came is a favorite of mine ever since I saw it as a kid. I make fun of it because it’s an acquired taste for some because they try too hard to take it seriously- it makes me laugh a lot and I feel for the poor guy in the hot Tabanga suit… or was that a REAL Tabanga?
Ha, the first time I saw it, a few years ago, I immediately fell in love with it. So many layers of cheesy fun…and of course, there’s always the lovely Orchid to make watching even more enjoyable!
Guy in a suit, or an actual cursed tree? Hmmm…
I second that killer tree comment.