This is an obscure scream gem. The monster really freaked me out when I was a kid. Not only was he purely merciless, but the ripping off heads thing, really scared the crap out of me back when I was young and they aired the movie frequently on Saturday afternoons. I usually really love monsters, except for that nasty bastardly brain Gor, in The Brain From Planet Arous 1957. The Giant Sea Mollusk in Monster that Challenged the World 1957, and perhaps that outre nasty stowaway alien in Edward L Cahn’s It, the Terror from beyond space 1958
NOTE THE SIMILARITY: PAUL BLAISDELL’S FRIGHTENINGLY IMPOSING ALIEN!
I loved the giant ants in Them 1954 although they did kill Gramps Johnson. I love ants in general and the Grasshoppers in The Beginning of The End and The Praying Mantis and I didn’t blame the Tarantula that much. These are creatures that act from a nervous system that is set in stone, with no other mission but to procreate, eat to survive, and procreate, did I already say that? I didn’t like the Killer Shrews because they killed the horses. Hmm, maybe I should make a post someday about sympathetic monsters vs bad bad monsters. The reasons why we identify with some and can’t wait to see others be blasted to pieces by the local police, military, or savvy reporter or scientist, usually male who has a beautiful girlfriend. I love the blog pants monsters, so what could I call this comparative study of Ugly Evil Mess vs. Cheesy Likability? Well, that’s something to ponder later on.
The Monster From Piedras Blancas stars Les Tremayne as Dr. Sam Jorgensen, Forrest Lewis (the lovable hard-of-hearing trombone player in The Mayberry Band episode of The Andy Griffith Show) as Constable George Matson, John Harmon as Sturges, the lighthouse keeper, Jeanne Carmen as Lucy Sturges. An interesting note is when the credits roll, the characters are made impersonal by giving them titles instead of their actual names, like Lewis as The Doctor, Sturges as The Lighthouse Keeper, Jeanne Carmen as Lucy The Girl, Frank Arvidson as The Storekeeper and Don Sullivan who plays Fred is The Boy.
The dreamy DON SULLIVAN IN THE GIANT GILA MONSTER
Produced by Jack Kevan and Directed by Irvin Berwick and screenplay by C. Haile Chace.
Producer Jack Kevan was actually responsible for creating such fantastical figures from The Wizard of Oz 1939 during his time at MGM. He did the makeup for Spencer Tracy in his version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941 and of very cool note, he created the decomposing features of Hurd Hatfield’s Dorian Gray 1945 Kevan was already making a name for himself in Hollywood with his special makeup effects when he signed onto Universal. It was actually Bud Westmore head of the department at that time that got the notoriety. There was also a monster designer named Millicent Patrick who was also bathed in anonymity. She managed to become recognized not as a designer but for a few acting roles, as she was a sensual beauty as well. Beauty over brains I guess. But I always love to see women working and showcased in the fields of engineering, technology, science, and art design when it is almost always assumed that the men held the reins in that department and in particular in the Horror and Sci-Fi Genres. Women didn’t just design gowns like Edith Head, Norma Koch, and Theoni V. Aldredge.
So when you consider the notable names of make-up designers from that period, Bud Westmore is one of the first people who come to mind. Creating The Gil Man character which needed to not only look compelling, it needed to be functional as Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning needed to be filmed underwater for many of the The Creature From The Black Lagoon’s sequences. Westmore having come from a famous line of Westmore artists elevated him to administrative status in the industry.
Once at Universal Kevan became friends with Irvin Berwick, who was actually a dialogue coach for such stars as Rock Hudson Tony Curtis, and John Saxon. There was also a technical adviser for racing films there named C Haile Chace. Universal went through a period where they had massive budget cutbacks and layoffs ensued. So in 1958 Kevan and Berwick founded VanWyck Productions. The first film was supposed to arc off the Gil Man craze at Universal and they wanted a movie that would be equal to or more shocking than Creature From The Black Lagoon. Filming began in the small town of Cayucos in California, and partially at Point Conception. Piedras Blancas literally means White Rocks in Spanish.
NOTE: I apologize for the less-than-stellar quality of my photos in this post, the copy of the film I have isn’t the greatest. I’ll try and replace the more blurry ones, later on, I just couldn’t wait to share the film. MG.
The film opens in the early morning, at the Point Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. The beacon has just been shut down. There is a view of a rugged crag, on the rocky part of the cliffs, a scaly tusk-like claw grabs at an empty tin plate. We do not see this creature, but we watch as it pulls the plate out of view and then thrusts it back onto the rocks. The scene is stark and abrupt.
John Harmon who plays Sturges The Lighthouse Keeper runs the tower as a way to remain isolated from society. He is ready to do his daily routine of going into town for provisions. He spots two fishermen getting too close to the rocks and warns them off in his usual cantankerous manner.
Once Sturges gets to the small fishing town on his bicycle, we see a crowd of people surrounding a battered rowboat on the beach. Inside the boat are two headless bodies of the Rinaldi brothers.
At the site of the Rinaldi brother’s crime scene, one of the town’s people says~”Never seen anything like it in my life, head’s ripped clean off.” Then he asks Constable Matson what he makes of it “I don’t know what to think, they’re as white as sheets they don’t look like they have a drop of blood left in ’em.”
“I bet old Sturges knows more than he’ll tell.” The townspeople clearly have a mistrust of Sturges. “I still think Sturges oughta tell us what he knows”… “Maybe he don’t know nothing”, “You wanna bet!” Matson says, “Okay quit your grumbling.”
Sturges arrives at Kochek’s store on his bicycle. He starts to put in his weekly order. Kochek talks about the Rinaldi killings, “I didn’t pay attention til it drifted toward the pier then I seen them… like a slaughtered steer.” He makes a gesture with his finger as if to cut his throat. “Throats cut clean, not much blood around. You wanna know what I think, it ain’t rocks and it ain’t squalls. It’s something living that did it.”
Sturges tells Kochek that he talks too much. But Kochek says that’s what they said about the couple 2 years ago from the east when their boat washed ashore but they weren’t found. “We should pay more attention to these legends it would explain a lot many things that have happened over the last 3o years.” Sturges leers at him, “Kochek you’re a lot bigger fool than I thought.”
When Kochek tells him that he gave his meat scraps away to Burt for his hogs. “You idiot you’ll be sorry for this,” Kochek argues with him that Burt got them for his hogs when Sturges didn’t come in yesterday, besides he paid for them, and he’s getting tired of giving him his weekly meat scraps for free. It’s curious that Sturges gets so riled about a bunch of meat scraps.