Blu-ray Review: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1958).

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Directed by Irvin Berwick
Produced by Jack Kevan
Screenplay by C. Haile Chace
Director Of Photography: Philip Lathrop
Film Editor: George Gittens, ACE

Cast: Jeanne Carmen (Lucille Sturges), Les Tremayne (Dr. Sam Jorgenson), John Harmon (Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper), Don Sullivan (Fred), Forrest Lewis (Constable George Matson), Pete Dunn (Eddie/The Monster)

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In 1958, what could you do with a couple weeks and $29,000? Well, you could put together an ultra-cheap riff on The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) called The Monster Of Piedras Blancas. To help stretch that budget a bit, you could borrow the hands from Universal’s The Mole People (1956) and some Metaluna mutant feet from This Island Earth (1955) — especially if your producer used to work in the makeup department at Universal.

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That’s pretty much the story of how The Monster Of Piedras Blancas came together. Producer Jack Kevan had indeed been one of the monster makers at Universal — and early in his career did makeup work on The Wizard Of Oz (1939) at MGM. He teamed up with another ex-Universal employee, Irvin Berwick, to start making pictures. This was their first.

For years, Sturges (John Harmon) the lighthouse keeper has been leaving food out for the monster of Piedras Blancas for years (much like you would for the feral cat in the vacant lot down the street). The monster eventually tires of the menu, or decides it wants larger portions, and starts preying upon the citizens of the coastal town nearby. There are beheadings and mutilations along the way, before the monster threatens the lighthouse keeper’s lovely daughter Lucille (Jean Carmen) and is eventually killed a group of townspeople led by Lucille’s boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan) and a doctor (Les Tremayne).

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It sounds like a pretty typical 50s monster movie, doesn’t it? Well, it is — and an especially cheap one at that. But it has a few things going for it. First, the cast is quite good — Les Tremayne was always good. Next, it’s surprisingly graphic for its time, which is one reason it made an impression on the many kids who’ve seen it over the years. And finally, it makes great use of its unique setting. Point Piedras Blancas is a real place, about five miles from San Simeon, California. It has a lighthouse. But the one you see in the movie is at Point Conception.

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas was one of those pictures all the monster kids wanted to see, thanks to lurid stills (like the one up top) in magazines like Famous Monsters. All you had were late night TV airings and an eventual VHS copy from Republic Home Video — till it made it to DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films. The transfer is absolutely flawless — any problems you see are with the original material. Me, I like seeing a little dust and dirt or inconsistencies that come from low-budget filmmaking. They’re all here in glistening high definition, presented in 1.78 (it would’ve been 1.85 back in 1959).

The movie it was it is — if you’re into this kind of stuff, this one’s a must. And we can all feel good about minor, obscure films getting the kind of attention that clearly went into this one. Recommended.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films

2 responses to “Blu-ray Review: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1958).

  1. john k

    The positive vibes you mention about the quality of the transfer
    seem to be shared by others as well. There’s something appealing
    about an obscure cheapie like this being presented in flawless high
    definition.
    Toby,have you noticed that Kino have just announced Joseph H
    Lewis’ THE INVISIBLE GHOST on Blu Ray…it just keeps getting better
    and better!

    Like

  2. Mike Richards

    So this is Hannibal 8, I like it.
    I’ve rode over from 50 Westerns to check it out. Movie monsters and vintage crime films are my other fix after westerns, so this should be a good read.
    I remember seeing Monster of Piedras Blancas in Famous Monsters magazine, but I’ve never seen the film, can’t even remember if we had it in U.K. Could be worth a look.

    Like

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