Willis O'Brien (1886-1962) is considered the granddaddy of stop motion animation, having worked on the effects for the silent THE LOST WORLD and the landmark KING KONG. O'Brien was the mentor of Ray Harryhausen (who started as his assistant and eventually surpassed him career-wise) and even received a special Academy Award for his work on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. Still active in his 70s, THE BLACK SCORPION was one of the last films he worked on (though he was helped greatly here by assistant Pete Peterson, as Harryhausen was off on his own by this time). It's typical B-movie monster fare, with a conventional plot not unlike many other similar films of the period.
Definitely robbing a thing or two from 1954's THEM (also released by Warner Bros.), geologists Hank Scott (1950s sci-fi fixture Richard Denning, CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas, THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN) are driving around Mexico in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in the area. They first discover an empty house with a deserted baby (watch Denning pointing at the tyke with his pistol!), a crushed police car, and a dead cop with the look of panic on his face. It seems that the eruption has caused giant-sized scorpions to emerge from underneath the Earth, and they are feeding on locals citizens and animals. Actually, the title refers to one really big scorpion, but there are dozens of the slightly-smaller buggers stomping about.
The script and execution are fairly routine, with blonde hero Denning falling for love interest Mara Corday (TARANTULA), and a typically cute kid named Juanito (Mario Navarro, THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN) always in the face of danger. But the scenes of the scorpions are creepy and surprisingly violent. One of them plucks a telephone lineman from a pole and impales him with his enormous stinger and destroys an oncoming passenger locomotive (remember a similar bit with a subway train in KING KONG?) — great stuff! The best sequence is probably when our two geologist heroes are lowered into the underground nest, and barely escape from various-sized clashing scorpions, as well as spiders and worm creatures of oversized proportions. The stop motion effects are very good (there are stop motion human victims as well), but the scorpions also have to divide their screen time between a large model head (that looks nothing like its animated counterpart) which is repeatedly shown drooling, and a badly matted silhouette seen when a scorpion is trudging over the city.
Through the years, Warner always seemed to give attention to THE BLACK SCORPION, as it was previously available on VHS, laserdisc, and then on full frame DVD. Several years ago, the Warner Archive Collection re-released the film on made-on-demand DVD (finally in widescreen), and now in this noticeably better-looking Blu-ray. The film is presented here in 1080p HD in a fitting 1.78:1 aspect ratio (previous boxy, full frame transfers appeared awkward). The black and white image is very crisp with rich detail, and there’s healthy filmic grain structure on display. It also features good grayscale, deep black levels with plenty of shadow detail. For a 1950s B movie, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is pretty clear and solid. Optional English subtitles are included.
The extras from the previous two DVDs have been carried over here. A featurette called “Stop Motion Masters” (3:16) has the late Harryhausen talking about his mentor O'Brien and how he came to meet him and the effect he had on his life. Also included is Harryhausen's and O'Brien's full animation sequence from Irwin Allen's THE ANIMAL WORLD (1956), a documentary feature showcasing different animal species. Introduced by Harryhausen himself, the sequence (11:33) depicts various dinosaurs in battle and eventually dying out. The quality on the sequence looks very nice here, and parts of this dinosaur segment were also used in the 1970 British horror film, TROG. Also included are two bits of animation test footage (4:34) shot by O'Brien assistant Pete Peterson in the 1950s; the first depicts a large mutated baboon ("The Las Vegas Monster") on a rampage, the second brief clip (in color) depicts a race of marching alien creatures ("Beetlemen"). Rounding out the extras is the original theatrical trailer for THE BLACK SCORPIO, which actually compares it THEM and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS with short clips from those very films. (George R. Reis)
BACK TO REVIEWS