Plot: What’s it about?
As life on the planet’s surface continues on without instance, the realm below that surface teems with life that is unknown to mankind. This is a good thing however, as the creatures that lurk below aren’t the kind you’d want to run into. But mankind is about to meet these hidden beasts and the result could be disastrous, to say the least. A series of volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters has caused some shifts in the planet’s makeup. This means that while the surface was once closed off from the world below, a portal has now been opened, which means there is nothing between the realms now. The path to the surface begins miles and miles below the surface, but the creatures wasted no time in invading this new world. The underworld dwellers are giant arachnids, scorpion type creatures that not only dwarf a human, but overshadow small buildings and stand tall over anything in their path. The massive, razor sharp claws paired with the lethal sting make these beasts a most dangerous opponent. But if something isn’t done soon, they will leave the surface world in ruins. The sole hope for mankind rests with Hank (Richard Denning), a geologist who thinks he might have some possible answers. But can he come up with a solution to this huge problem in time, or will the scorpions demolish the surface world?
The 50s monster movie hasn’t been given much exposure on DVD, but at least one more has been added to the list. Warner has issued The Black Scorpion, a fun picture with giant arachnids on the prowl. The Black Scorpion is of special note, as the special effects were codesigned by Willis O’Brien, who also worked on the original King Kong. O’Brien’s work influenced has special effects technicians for decades, including Ray Harryhausen, who is perhaps the most respected visual effects craftsman of all time. As with most 50s monster movies, this one has only a serviceable storyline and passable performances, since the real draw falls with the special visual effects. Even so, The Black Scorpion is a cut above most films of this kind in terms of plot mechanics, though the actors remain wooden throughout. If the performances could have been better, this could have been a real genre classic. But rest assured, O’Brien’s superb creature effects balance out the acting flaws and that is the main reason to see this flick. The creatures are the main attraction here, so anything else is icing on the cake, if you ask me. You might want to have a Mystery Science Theater 3000 style bash on the actors, but you have to love those special effects. I love monster movies of all kinds, especially those made in the 50s, so if you share that same affection for these pictures, then The Black Scorpion is well recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The Black Scorpion is presented in full frame, as intended. This looks solid for a 50s monster movie, though some wear & tear is more than evident. The print is in decent condition and while the stock footage looks quite bad, most of the print is on the clean side. There is some grain at times, as well as marks, nicks, and minor lines, but given the film’s age and profile, I think we have to expect some age related defects. The grain is never that intrusive, so the image remains fairly sharp and detail is at a good level throughout. The film is in black & white, so contrast is vital and in this case, that department is well handled. So black levels have a stark appearance and shadows are never murky, which is excellent news. I do wish the print were a little cleaner, but even so, this is a more than acceptable visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release uses a mono track and while it doesn’t pack much of a punch, it does the job and kicks in when it needs to. I am very pleased with this track because of how clear it is and despite the age factor, this track shows no traces of distortion at all. Of course, the limitations mono don’t allow the destruction scenes to be as bold as we’d like, but for what it is, this soundtrack proves to be a solid presentation. And outside of the scorpion rampage sequences, a new surround remix wouldn’t have done much to enhance the experience. The dialogue is well replicated here as well, with no signs of volume imbalances or clarity problems in the least. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A brief interview with Ray Harryhausen starts us off, in which he talks about the work he did with his mentor, effects wizard Willis O’Brien. A couple of rare pieces of stop motion material can also be seen here, material that fans of O’Brien and Harryhausen will be thrilled to own. You can watch two test reels from O’Brien’s archive of the Las Vegas monster and the beetlemen, as well as Harryhausen’s dinosaur footage from Irwin Allen’s The Animal World. I was quite pleased to see these bits on this disc, as they add a lot of value to the release. This disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.