Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Monolith Monsters

A while back, I wrote a little retrospective on a director, Jack Arnold, who had directed quite a few B-movies for Universal Studios that I love watching every so often.  Most of them were part of a DVD collection that I own called “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection.”

As I’ve mentioned many times, I enjoy going to the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood, mostly for the back lot tour that highlights a lot of old sets and stages.  From the Psycho house and motel set to Wysteria Lane (formerly the street that included the “Leave it to Beaver” house), the tour brings back memories of my childhood as I watched a lot of television and movies that used those sets.

I’ve also declared in the past that my favorite film franchise is the Back to the Future trilogy which was filmed mostly in the Universal Studios back lot, especially Courthouse Square--that’s where the scenes of Doc and Marty are trying to get the time machine back to 1985, while Doc is hanging off the clock tower on top of the courthouse.  Many famous films and television shows have used that area for certain scenes and whenever I pass that area in the tram tour, I become transfixed.
One cool movie from the 1950s which uses that set almost entirely throughout the film is The Monolith Monsters.  I’d mentioned that I had written a retrospective of Jack Arnold and, although he didn’t direct this one, he had a hand in writing it.

The film takes place in, and near, the small desert (fictional) town of San Angelo.  A meteor comes down and explodes in the nearby desert.  A local geologist drives through the next morning and sees some of the unusual pieces of rock that came from the downed meteor and takes a sample back to his office in town.  The next day when the lead geologist, Dave Miller, comes back from a business trip, he finds his colleague hardened into rock, dead.  Miller also finds the sample of rock that had
grown and destroyed the office.  As a little local girl is found under the rubble of a house destroyed by the same type of rock—which has multiplied infinitely—and has been stricken with whatever killed Miller’s colleague, Miller finds out that the rock matter when in contact with water, multiplies the rocks and causes anyone in contact with them to suffer the same fate as his colleague and the girl.  Miller also comes to find out that the meteor rock in the desert hills are multiplying, growing into giants pillars with the rainfall, and are on a collision course with the small town as they keep growing and falling over, coming closer and closer.  He then has to race against time to figure out how to save the girl and to stop the giant rocks from crushing the town.

Directed by John Sherwood, who’d only directed three features in his career, the film is well done and takes the B-movie subject matter by injecting a serious tone into it.  You may recognize the lead in the film, Grant Williams, as the star of The Incredible Shrinking Man, but he was definitely a genuine leading man back then before his life was cut short at the age of 53.  He had quite a presence and probably made this film more serious and interesting than if someone else had played this character.

Now, I was a little fooled when I first saw the title as the second feature on The Incredible Shrinking Man disc, because I thought it was going to be your typical monster movie with giant creatures coming to eat people or something of that caliber.  Instead, the growing rocks in the film are the monsters, they resemble monoliths.  So when put together, you get the name of the film.
Overall, there’s really nothing special about this film except for the nostalgia of these atomic age films that we’ve seen so many times, but it’s quite an original story and that’s what makes it interesting.  Much like Tarantula or Them!, the film is about a threat that needs to be killed or thwarted, so this film doesn’t disappoint in that aspect.  For me, seeing the Courthouse Square predominantly throughout this flick warms my heart, looking amazing as it hasn’t changed a bit in 50 years or so.  To me, it’s just like watching a home movie.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve invested so much time on the tram ride that drives through the back lot of Universal Studios, but it’s just a special place in my heart.

To people who do not like watching black & white movies—and I’ve met quite a few people who just absolutely refuse to watch one—you should skip it.  But for those of you with an open mind and who like to watch these oldies, especially from the 50s, this is a great watch.  I really can’t understand why people would refuse to watch a black & white movie.  I’d had a conversationPsycho.  After I told him it was a black & white movie from 1960, he said he probably wouldn’t watch it, even after I gave him my DVD copy when I bought the Blu-Ray.  I guess it’s just beyond me.
with a coworker one time regarding the film,

My final “bit” on The Monolith Monsters?

A black & white movie from the 1950s is my cup of tea, but it may not be everybody’s.  I guess it’s probably the nostalgia of growing up in the 1970s and watching these types of movies on Saturday afternoons on our black & white TV set, which is probably why I don’t mind watching these types of movies—back then, everything was in black & white.  If you can still find it, I highly recommend purchasing “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection.”

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

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