12/6/06

113 The Black Scorpion

(1957, Horror-Giant Critter, b&w)

And Jerry Mathers, as the Beavero.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

An American geologist saves Mexico from giant scorpions.

Summary:

Hecho en Mexico.A volcano erupts in Mexico, spewing rock and ash into the sky. Naturally, the best geologists in the world are sent to investigate. Hank and his sidekick geologist Artur Ramos ride in to check it out. On the way, they find an abandoned baby and a couple of dead Mexican cops.

They drop the baby off in town with a random Mexican-ish old woman, who spouts cryptic prophecies of doom, and something about a “demon bull.” They spend the night with the local priest and move on to investigate the mountain the next day. Hank quickly gets distracted by a woman on a horse; they take her back to town with them when the horse throws her off and runs away. She gathers up her employees, who ran off when the whole eruption thing started, and they all head back to her ranch.

At the ranch, Hank and the rancher woman exchange innuendo while Artur finds a live scorpion in a chunk of ancient obsidian. Conveniently, this is the exact moment in which the eponymous giant black scorpion chooses to reveal itself, first attacking the telephone repairman who happens to be calling in to them at just that moment, and then attacking the ranch itself. Everyone fires their weapons at it and runs away.

The Mexican military shows up the next day with, I don’t know, a giantscorpionologist, I guess. He’s put in command of the whole situation and immediately starts taking orders from Hank. They all go out to find the cave where the slavering things are hiding. Hank, Artur, and an incredibly annoying stowaway named Juanito get lowered by crane into a giant system of caves complete with large drooling scorpions, a giant segmented worm with lobster claws, and a pterodactyl. Hank and Artur wander around snapping photos and firing off guns like they own the place, while the loathsome Juanito also wanders, looking lost and vulnerable. A giant crab thing chases him into a corner but, unfortunately, Hank and Artur rescue him at the last minute. At this point they discover that, like Tolkein’s Smaug and Lucas’ Death Star, there is a single weakness in the scorpion’s armor—right at the throat. When a scorpion destroys their little crane-car, they grab the cable and ride it up to safety.

They dynamite the caverns, caving them in, and that’s that for a while. Hank takes rancher lady out on the town for a little ethnocentric humor at the expense of Mexican culture, and then is summoned by the government to brief them on the scorpions. Meanwhile, a group of scorpions escape the cave-in to derail a train, gorging themselves on the passengers. For the convenience of the plot, the biggest scorpion kills all the other scorpions and then chases hapless citizens through the streets of Mexico City. Hank and the army lure it into a stadium with a truck of rotting meat and then start blasting at it with tanks and helicopters. They plan to harpoon the scorpion in its weak spot and then electrocute it through the line. The soldier assigned to do this fails miserably on his first try and, upon reeling the harpoon back in, discovers that the current is still on by touching the harpoon and getting electrocuted to death. The guy in charge of the big switch just kind of shrugs and turns the current off long enough for Hank to reload the harpoon and spear the scorpion in the throat as it’s reaching up to demolish another helicopter. After an elaborate death scene, the scorpion finally expires. The stars of the film creep up and poke it with a stick to make sure it’s dead.

Introduction:

...mind you, moose bites can be nasty.Joel and the ‘Bots are having a party!

Host Segment One:

Crow tells Joel that the punch is made of Kool-aid and 10-W-30, prompting a spit take. The Mads have mutated. Dr. Erhardt is a bulbous-headed alien-looking creature and Dr. Forrester is an animated skeleton. Joel demonstrates his giant party favor, which requires a leaf blower to operate.

Host Segment Two:

Joel and the ‘Bots say random Spanish-sounding words and phrases while bizarre subtitles float by.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow talk about how strange and inconsistent being a human must be, while Gypsy morphs into a scorpion and eats Tom.

Host Segment Four:

Tom and Crow work a tiny Joel puppet. The real Joel comes in and tells Tom and Crow about Willis O’Brien: special effects pioneer and stop-motion animator for today’s film.

Host Segment Five:

Joel reads a couple of letters, one of which contains a number of backhanded compliments to Crow.

Thoughts:

The loathsome Kenny, er, Juanito.The intro and most of the first host segment were pretty lame. It seems that the whole point of the party was to set up the spit take, and the whole point of the spit take was … nothing. No point that I could discern, anyway. The rest of the host segments were quite good. Josh’s makeup very well done, and the skeleton Dr. Forrester was every bit as animated as the befleshed one. (I mean that as a compliment). The wacky subtitles sketch is lifted from Monty Python, but it’s still funny. Gypsy’s scorpion costume falls apart while she’s eating Tom, and then they explode! How could you not love that? The Willis O’Brien sketch was actually kind of informative.

Ah, the standard “giant critter” movie of the fifties. This movie is as standard as it gets in that genre, with an exotic and befuddled populace, a large drooling monster, a strong, yet sensitive woman, and an irritating kid. There’s also, of course, a white scientist who steps in to take command from the beleaguered military at the last moment. No doubt this is how it is in real life. Should dust mites ever break the shackles of their enslavement and grow to gargantuan size, we can rest easy knowing that Stephen Hawking is ready to assume the reins of government.

Joel and the ‘Bots add prop gags a-plenty in this film. They roast hot dogs over the volcano stock footage, and when Hank drops a rock into a crevasse, Joel throws it right back. We also get treated to a number of impressions including Dean Martin, Jacques Costeau, Peter Sellers, and George C. Scott, all done by Crow. This one’s definitely worth watching.