The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)

Rating:

USA. 1959.

Crew

Director – Irvin Berwick, Screenplay – H. Haile Chace, Producer – Jack Kevan, Photography (b&w) – Philip Lathrop. Production Company – Vanwick Productions

Cast

John Harmon (Sturges), Jeanne Carmen (Lucy Sturges), Forrest Lewis (Constable George Matson), Don Sullivan (Fred), Les Tremayne (Dr Sam Jorgensen), Frank Arvidson (Kochek)


Plot

In the sleepy oceanside town of Piedras Blancas, people are being killed, found with their heads ripped off and blood drained. The superstitious storekeeper Kochek keeps talking about the legend of the town’s monster but is ordered to be quiet and stop panicking people. However, he then becomes the next victim. As the authorities realise that they are dealing with a prehistoric creature, Lucy Sturges and her boyfriend Fred discover that her father, the reclusive lighthouse keeper, has been tending and feeding the monster for years.


The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a minor B movie from the 1950s. It appears to have been independently made and did not receive widespread release. It is also one B film of the era that has eluded the cult acclaim enjoyed by many of the other monster movies of the decade. Part of this is due to the fact that not many of those involved ever went onto anything else of distinction. The most notable name on the credits was star Les Tremayne who had come from a background in radio and was most famous for his role as the general in The War of the Worlds (1953), which led to appearances in a number of other science-fiction films of the era such as The Monolith Monsters (1957) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). Forrest Lewis had appeared in bit parts in a number of Disney films. Don Sullivan was the lead in a couple of genre films, The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and Teenage Zombies (1959), but never took off as a teenage star, while Jeanne Carmen was a golf pro, burlesque dancer and Hollywood party girl who had a very minor acting career.

The clear influence on The Monster of Piedras Blancas was the hit of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). The monster, when eventually seen, looks very similar to The Creature – not too surprising given that this film’s producer Jack Kevan worked on the design of the creature on that film. Like The Creature, the monster here is suggested as being of prehistoric origin. Just like The Creature, the monster has biologically improbable designs on heroine Jeanne Carmen. Irvin Berwick even conducts his own variation of the famous sequence from The Creature from the Black Lagoon where the Creature followed Julia Adams beneath the water as she swam, albeit on a much lower budget – here Jeanne Carmen strips off on the beach to go swimming and we simply see the monster’s claw come over the rocks to take her clothes. There is a later scene where Jeanne Carmen strips off to her underwear and gets into her nightgown, which is edited in a way that suggests that the monster is outside peeping in, before it bursts in and carries her off in its arms where we get the distinct impression that the sight of her in her underwear got it all worked up.

Irvin Berwick’s director has the flat, pedestrianness that was common to many of the B movies of the era. The photography is drab. There is not a lot of subtlety to the film – the fact that John Harmon has been tending the monster over the years is a surprise that is not too subtly signalled by his giving strange and fearful looks every time someone talks about going near the beach. The monster is kept off screen and in the shadows or we only get partial glimpses of it for most of the film – it is not until the last ten minutes that we see it in full. Berwick does at least get one good shock off where Les Tremayne enters the freezer in the store, the camera stays outside as we hear a scream and then we get a half-shot of the monster’s legs (the first we have seen it) as it emerges carrying a severed head in one hand.

Director Irvin Berwick did little else of distinction. He did make a couple of nudie films with Strange Compulsion (1964) and The Street is My Beat (1966), as well as the psycho film Hitch-Hike to Hell (1977). Screenwriter H. Haile Chace went onto direct the sensationalistic V.D. (1961) and the science-fiction nudie Paradisio (1962).


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