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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS -- DVD Review by Porfle



I don't know how often your local stations showed it, but when I was a little Monster Kid back in the 60s I only got to see THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959) once.  So viewing the new DVD from Olive Films was literally only my second time to watch this modest but effective monster thriller from the tail end of the 50s creature-feature era.

Still, I always remembered it fondly, and I have a feeling a lot of lifelong Monster Kids also hold this seldom-seen gem in warm regard.  Partly because it's such an enjoyably low-key and earnest effort, but mainly due to its titular monster, a scaly, bloodthirsty, and extremely foul-tempered beast with a penchant for decapitating his victims.

Indeed, the most enduring images from the film, which many of us first saw in the pages of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine, are those of the monster carrying around a bloody, realistic-looking severed head (as he does right there on the DVD cover itself).  This really piqued our morbid imaginations in those days since such graphic gore was still a novelty, especially on television. 


For the most part, however, THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS is pretty standard stuff for a low-budget independent horror feature, though nicely done on all counts.  The simple story takes place in a small seaside town and centers around the lighthouse which is maintained by crabby old Mr. Sturges (John Harmon, FUNNY GIRL, MONSIEUR VERDOUX), who seems to know more than he lets on about the rash of mysterious, violent deaths occurring around town. 

While his attractive daughter Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) spends her school break with him and romances local boy Fred (the great Don Sullivan of THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and TEENAGE ZOMBIES) on the sly, Sheriff Matson (Forrest Lewis, THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR) and Dr. Jorgenson (Les Tremayne, WAR OF THE WORLDS) try to solve the mystery of the headless corpses popping up all over town.

Lewis, Tremayne, and Harmon, each of whom appeared in films both big and small, use their considerable collective acting experience to lend gravitas to the production.  As for the younger players--Sullivan is an old favorite of mine, even when he has his ukulele with him (his awful solo number in GIANT GILA MONSTER is the stuff of legend), and Carmen, a close friend of Marilyn Monroe who led quite a colorful life in showbiz, gives a likably restrained, earthy performance as Lucille. 


I like the smalltown ambience the film establishes--everyone knows everyone else and the phone numbers are only three digits long--as well as the unhurried pace that scripter H. Haile Chace and director Irvin Berwick (MALIBU HIGH, HITCH HIKE TO HELL) maintain until the monster's first shocking appearance jolts us out of our seats. 

After that, we get to see more and more of the reptilian beast until the film's exciting and suspenseful climax, which takes place atop the lighthouse itself.  The monster suit itself resembles a poor man's "Creature From the Black Lagoon" with much more grotesque features (similar to the fearsome alien in IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE), and is definitely a cut above the usual zipper-up-the-back job. 

The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.78:1 widescreen with mono sound.  Subtitles are in English.  No extras.  Picture quality is quite good.

If you don't have a warm spot in your heart for low-budget horror fare from the 50s, chances are THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS will either leave you cold or put you to sleep, or both.  But if the very title puts a smile on your face while sending a pleasant little chill up and down your spine, then this soulful nostalgia fix should give you a potent buzz. 

Buy it at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray
DVD

Buy it at OliveFilms.com:
Blu-ray
DVD




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