Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Jack Dietz and Frank Melford
Screenplay by Robert Blees and David Duncan
Story by Paul Yawitz
Director Of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cast: Richard Denning (Hank Scott), Mara Corday (Teresa), Carlos Rivas (Arturo Ramos), Mario Navarro (Juanito), Carlos Muzquiz (Dr. Velazco), Pascual Garcia Pena (Jose de la Cruz)
When you look at the big-bug movies of the 50s, the good-to-bad ratio is surprisingly good. Them! (1954), about giant ants, is terrific. Tarantula (1955) is excellent, too, thanks in large part to Jack Arnold’s snappy direction. The Deadly Mantis (1957) sticks the mantis in the Manhattan Tunnel for a cool last reel. Then there’s The Black Scorpion (1957), with Warner Bros. hoping to scare up another batch of Them!-like profits, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
A once-dormant volcano erupts, wreaking all sorts of havoc in Mexico. Geologists Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) come to investigate, meeting the lovely Teresa (Mara Corday) — and discovering a nest of giant scorpions living in the caverns beneath the volcano.
These aren’t just any giant scorpions. They’re the work of the great Willis O’Brian and his assistant Pete Peterson. A master of stop-motion animation and one of the true pioneers of movie effects, O’Brien gave us The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and others. His career was winding down by the time he took on The Black Scorpion, and even though working with a small budget (setting up shop in tiny studio space and his own garage, the story goes), he made sure the movie delivered the goods. (As a kid, I measured the quality of movies like this according to how much screen time the monsters had. I had yet to appreciate Mara Corday.)
A terrible picture of one of Willis O’Brien’s original scorpion models.
In the shots where you see two or three scorpions, imagine animating all those legs! A sequence with a train attacked by one of the scorpions is just incredible. And I love how the scorpions are constantly drooling!
Lionel Lindon’s cinematography is top-notch, using deep shadows and limited lighting to create a creepy mood, especially in the caverns, and avoid making the special effects appear not-too-special. (Be sure to see his stunning work on 1957’s The Lonely Man.) Lindon won an Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days (1956). The editing comes from Richard L. Van Enger, who spent years at Republic cutting everything from Heart Of The Golden West (1942) with Roy Rogers to John Wayne in Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) to Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). The sound design on this one is great, too. The scorpion noises (borrowed from Them!) are a very effective way of building suspense.
Richard Denning and Mara Corday were old hands at this kinda stuff. He’d already dealt with The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and she’d come up against Tarantula. They do exactly what a movie like this asks of them: look scared, be brave and deliver some whacky pseudo-science to fool audiences into almost believing it for 80 minutes or so.
I’ve had this movie on laserdisc, on DVD twice (one being from Warner Archive), and this Blu-Ray is really something special. The Black Scorpion has always fluctuated in sharpness from shot to shot — maybe because of the special effects. It’s no different in high definition, but when it’s sharp, it’s as sharp as I’ve ever seen. Stunning at times.
The extras are terrific, gathering up some of O’Brien’s tests, clips, trailers and other goodies. Warner Archive was wise to keep those for this release, but for me, the true extra is still the restoration of its 1.85 framing — now even better in high definition. Every setup looks so much better, from the dialogue scenes to the monster footage. Widescreen films like this, regardless of their age, can look pretty clunky when seen full-frame.
The movie’s easy to recommend. So is the upgrade to Blu-Ray. Go for it!
Time for a bit of transparency: This is a partial re-tread of my review of the Warner Archive DVD of The Black Scorpion from a few years back.