Thursday, January 19, 2012

In short: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Those darn meteors, always bringing down trouble when they crash down near small US towns! This time around, said meteor-brought trouble does not come in form of a malevolent (or just very hungry) life form, but in form of silicate rock carrying some rather curious traits. When coming in contact with water, the alien rock gets a lust for growing and multiplying that seems quite fitting to the somewhat phallic shape it has when it gets larger.

It also somehow (the film becomes especially unclear about the how and why on this point) manages to turn people coming in contact with it and water slowly to stone, except for those people it comes in contact with that don't turn to stone.

Will heroic Department of the Interior geologist Dave Miller (Grant Williams) and his former Professor Arthur Flanders (Trevor Bardette) find a way to stop the rebellious rock formations before they can stomp the quaint little town of San Angelo? Will Dave's girlfriend Cathy (Lola Albright) be allowed to do anything of import? Will I be able to keep from rhyming "rock formation" with "park bench mutation"?

If there's one thing John Sherwood's The Monolith Monsters (shouldn't it rather be called "The Monster Monoliths"?) should be remembered for, than it is the rather clever idea of its scriptwriters - Norman Jolley, Robert M. Fresco and Jack Arnold - to construct a film that hits most of the mandatory beats of a 50s giant monster movie while replacing the standard giant monster with an even less conscious force of nature. This small change doesn't really shake up the way the film's plot develops much, and sure as hell does not change anything about the narrative techniques of the genre its operating in, but gives it that slight but important degree of memorability a film operating inside of a genre that always tended to especially samey movies desperately needs.

If you ignore the novelty of The Monolith Monsters' non-monster, you're left with a 50s monster movie that isn't on the level of perennial favourites like Them!, but that is surrounded by a pleasant air of low budget competence. The film goes by with a rather sprightly pace and avoids some of the more annoying pitfalls these films tend to jump in with abandon. Namely, the (very minor) romance bits aren't completely nauseating and Williams's hero is not as much of a square-jawed jerk as one is used to.

Add to that the rather nicely designed and realized monolith effects, and you may not have a classic of its genre, but certainly a movie worth a bit of time for anyone who doesn't outright hate all 50s monster movies.


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