Friday, November 1, 2019

Green Phoenix - The Monolith Monsters Review

The Monolith Monsters.jpgA few weeks back, I did a review of the 1977 killer car horror film The Car. Just like that film, I came across this week's movie through the hosted horror-comedy show Svengoolie (check out his website here).

And much like that film, I was absolutely enthralled by a film that represented the absolute best of a "so bad, it's good" kind of B-movie horror.

Released in 1957 by Universal-International, The Monolith Monsters is goofy, campy, and wholly ridiculous in both its premise and execution. And it was considered just as much back when it was first made as well.

But just like The Car, I found myself innately drawn to rather unknown black-and-white science fiction film from the Golden Age of B-Movies.

***
  • Directed by John Sherwood
  • Produced by Universal-International
  • MPAA Rating: G
  • Running Time: 77 Minutes

***

SUMMARY


After a meteorite crash lands near a Southern California desert city and the mysterious death of a visiting geologist studying it spurs investigation, the sheriff of San Angelo quickly discovers that the meteorite actually housed a living rock entity that absorbs and grows in the presence of silicon (one of the most common elements in the Earth's crust), including anything that touches it.

Now the race is on to find a way to halt the Monolith Monsters before they reach civilization and they become unstoppable.

***

REVIEW

The 1950s were the golden age of science fiction B-movies and The Monolith Monsters really is an unsung classic of these cheap sci-fi horrors. I've never heard anyone ever talk about it, despite its concept being so unique. I really haven't seen sentient rocks that kill people done before, but the concept actually works quite well for the film.

Hopefully this review may help get a little more attention for this criminally underappreciated guilty pleasure film.


VISUALS - 7/10

Like so many Universal B-movies of the 1950s, The Monolith Monsters makes up for its low budget with clever tricks, the famous Universal back lot, and repurposed footage of prior films to nominal success, even utilizing the same fictional locales (allowing this film to share continuity with 1957's The Incredible Shrinking Man). The desert location (Alabama Hills, California) where the majority of this film was shot has been used in films as varied as 1941's High Sierra to 2000's Gladiator.

This film belongs to an illustrious pedigree of classic Universal monster movies that dominated cinemas and B-movies. Films like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Monolith Monsters, I feel, definitely deserves to belong among these for the visuals if nothing else.
Image result for the monolith monsters
Welp...there goes the neighborhood.


The special effects and cinematography are the collaborative results of Clfford Stine and Ellis W. Carter, respectively. Stine is a notorious special effects artist whose career began all the way back with 1933's King Kong and whose prior work It Came From Outer Space (1953) was used for The Monolith Monsters opening meteorite scene. Carter, on the other hand, has an extensive and varied filmography, having worked on everything from film noirs like Big Town After Dark (1947) to comedy vehicle pieces like Kissin' Cousins (1964), starring Elvis Presley.

Like so many B-movie Universal pictures of that era, The Monolith Monsters is held back by a severe lack of funds. However much like its counterparts, it makes up for its lack of funds with cleverness and guile. A trait that is always appreciated in my book.

On the whole, this is a fine example of 1950s cheesy sci-fi and I love it for it. Not every effect is a million bucks, but that is part of the charm and memorability behind Universal monster movies.

SOUNDTRACK - 6/10

The soundtrack for The Monolith Monsters, despite being a fairly cheap and quickly made film, has a notorious pedigree behind. Composed by Henry Mancini, the musical mind behind "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's and "The Pink Panther's theme" from the titular franchise, and Herman Stein, the architect of the science-fiction movie soundtrack. When you imagine a 1950s sci-fi movie and music attached, it is Stein's work that you picture.

And listening to The Monolith Monsters soundtrack, you can definitely hear Stein's influence more than Mancini's. It has the prototypical science fiction sound that categorizes so much of the 1950s cinema and while it is well done, I must also admit that that prototypical sound is also a detriment.

The soundtrack does not particularly stand out. It is so quintessentially defined by the 1950s sound that it ends up falling into the anonymity of sounding like every other one. So while it is a well done soundtrack and fits with the tone and style of the film, it fails to be anything special and is just barely above average in score.

CHARACTERS - 5/10

As much as I enjoy The Monolith Monster, the characters are props. Like many of the characters in the Universal classic monsters collection, the true stars are the monsters. The humans and other "protagonists" tend to be more victims and cannon fodder for the real focus.

Image result for the monolith monsters
Yeah kid. Touch the creepy black stone, I'm sure that's fine.

In a film like Dracula or Frankenstein, where there is so much personality and backstory to the titular creature, this works incredibly well and leaves the audience satisfies. Unfortunately in the case of The Monolith Monsters, this doesn't work so much due to the fact that the monsters are rocks. Cool looking rocks, but emotionless ones.

They have no personality, no backstory, not even a sense that they are actually living organisms and not just a strange or peculiar chemical reaction. As such, we the audience have to rely on the personalities of the characters involved in order to make it through the slower sections of the movie. And for the most part, they are generally forgettable. Which is really a shame.

STORY - 6/10

What a fascinating concept. Psuedo-sentient rocks that kill all living things that touch it and grow stronger the more things it comes into contact with. In many ways, this film's story acts like one-part murder mystery, and another part zombie or monster movie. The characters spend the first half of the film trying to uncover the mystery behind the rocks, then when the true nature of them is revealed; it becomes a race against time in order to find a way to stop them before they reach civilization.

It is a marvelous concept and really drew me in, however its story is inherently tied to its characters and that, unfortunately, drags it down quite a bit. The film is a slow burn through a good portion and we the audience learn about the rocks pretty damn quickly. Normally this would be where the film would rely on tension and Hitchcockian suspense for its scares, and the film doesn't really utilize that very well.

On the whole, I suggest watching this film more for the concept and the rather interesting effects, then for the story and characters (as those are largely average for a cheesy 50s B-film).

FINAL THOUGHTS

As negative as I have been in this review, I still highly recommend you check it out. Like so many of the other lower-ranked views, my intention is always to draw attention to films for you to explore yourself; with the ranks acting more as a warning as to what you are likely to get in your viewing experience.

Long as you go into this movie with the expectation of watching cheesy sci-fi nonsense, I think you will have a blast. I enjoyed watching it during Svengoolie so if you can find this film, I definitely suggest relaxing and laughing along to the hilarity and cheese.

Movies are an experience, and even bad films can entertain you if they are the right kind of bad.


VISUALS
  • 7/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 6/10
CHARACTERS
  • 5/10
STORY
  • 6/10

 FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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