The Black Scorpion (1957)
In this atomic age big bug extravaganza, the action shifts to Mexico, where volcanic activity and a series of earthquakes ravage open a hole into a subterranean pocket containing all manner of prehistoric beasties and creepy crawlies, among them a nest of the dreaded scorpions. Some of the scorpions escape their Tartarus-like imprisonment and roam across the countryside causing mayhem and death in their wake. Two scientists team up with a lady rancher to investigate and try to stop the marauding beasts, planning to risk a perilous journey into the bowels of the earth itself where they must find a way to contain or destroy the primeval arachnids before they threaten to overrun Mexico and destroy everything in their path. But not everything goes according to plan, as once down there they find not only the scorpion colony but the giant granddaddy of them all, and he has one hell of a mean streak…
Personally speaking, I don’t get why this cops so much stick, as of the big bug movies I’ve watched I thought it was one of the more entertaining. Willis O’Brien, whose stop-motion animation preceded Harryhausen’s and is famously associated with his pioneering techniques that breathed life into King Kong (1933), does a great job with the multitude of giant scorpions, really giving them some character. You repeatedly get to see a close-up of these beasts’ faces and they’re sufficiently fierce-looking, with mouths full of rows of teeth, beady black eyes and plenty of goopy saliva dangling from their maws, not unlike the eponymous Alien (1979).
Someone seeing this in 1957 got real bang for his buck – there’s some giant bugs scrapping in there too (which are reputedly set pieces of O’Brien’s that were meant to be in the infamous bug pit sequence in King Kong but were never shot, so were used here instead), one of whom has a bloody, brutal end at the pincers of a scorpion, and a vicious daddy scorpion who dwarfs the others and is quite happy killing them upon a whim, there are no filial loyalties in the arachnid world.
It’s also nice to see the action being taken away from the usual locations, moved here to Mexico which gives it a different flavour and backdrop from all the rest. Richard Denning, the oily Dr. Williams in The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), is a likeable, stoic lead and the pacing throughout is good, no lags between the set pieces and the final showdown is satisfyingly hard work for the heroes to overcome. What’s not to like?