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Edward Ludwig
Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas
David Duncan, Robert Blees
Volcanic activity frees giant scorpions from the earth who wreak havoc in the rural countryside and eventually threaten Mexico City.
Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 3/20/2018

• “Stop Motion Masters” Featurette
• “The Animal World” Featurette
• Test Footage
• Trailer


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The Black Scorpion [Blu-Ray] (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2018)

While the title of 1957’s The Black Scorpion sounds like it should focus on a superhero – or be a film noir - instead it concentrates on… black scorpions.

But they’re big black scorpions, so there’s the twist! In Mexico, a series of eruptions releases a stream of monstrous, enormous scorpions from underground caves.

These critters lay waste to the countryside and scuttle their way toward Mexico City. Desperate to halt the oncoming mayhem, authorities recruit American geologist Hank Scott (Richard Denning) to save the day.

Wait – a geologist? Shouldn’t they bring in the military to kill the scorpions?

Well, no one ever watched the “giant monster” movies from the 1950s for logical plots and sublime character exposition. Those films earned audiences via their crazed action and peril.

Black Scorpion almost certainly maintains a place in cinematic history for one reason: its effects designer. Best-known for 1933’s iconic King Kong, Willis O’Brien created the stop-motion creatures in an effort that represented one of his final films.

O’Brien offers fairly solid work with his animation for Scorpion. Do his creations ever seem realistic? Of course not, but they deliver an artistry that makes them charming and fun to see.

The rest of Scorpion offers more of a mixed bag, though I admit it works better than I anticipated. I go into this kind of 1950s sci-fi cheese with exceedingly low expectations, so it doesn’t take a whole lot to top those.

When Scorpion focuses on the monsters, it brings us reasonable entertainment. As noted, these scenes lack a feel of realism, but they manage a fair amount of excitement nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Scorpion devotes a whole lot of its running time to extraneous material. The movie takes forever to reveal the title creatures, and it doesn’t use that space well.

A tale like this doesn’t need to rush out the monsters. Indeed, it can work well with a “slow boil” approach ala Jaws.

However, Scorpion puts off the “reveal” until a good one-third of the way into the narrative, and it dawdles in the approach to that moment. At least Jaws teases us with some action along the way, whereas Scorpion just feels meandering and sluggish.

This is the kind of movie that seems to delay the action so it can pad its running length. While some exposition/development makes sense, the opening act of Scorpion comes across more as filler than useful information too much of the time.

Because of this, the movie drags – and it continues to feel spotty even after the monsters finally materialize. The presence of a totally gratuitous and superfluous romance doesn’t help, so expect a lot of dull spots along the way.

Still, I don’t want to come down too hard on Scorpion, as its weaknesses reflect its era. Back then, studios figured they needed romance to placate females in the audience, so I can’t say the decision to force characters to pitch woo upsets me much, contrived and pointless as it may be.

Ultimately, Scorpion delivers a dated but decent piece of sci-fi/monster action. It clearly shows its age and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, but its effects add some fun and it goes down painlessly enough.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

The Black Scorpion appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became an inconsistent image but it accurately reflected its source.

And to be fair, the movie usually looked very good, as sharpness appeared nicely tight and distinctive most of the time. Any softness stemmed from the original photography, as some components – like poorly-executed process shots – caused some ill-defined material.

Despite those, most of the movie appeared pretty concise, and no issues with shimmering or jagged edges occurred. Even the film’s advanced age, source flaws were non-existent, so this was a clean presentation – outside of a few marks from archival material that occasionally appeared. A good layer of grain manifested, so I didn’t suspect significant noise reduction.

Contrast was strong, as the movie consistently maintained a nice silver tone. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows were smooth and well-defined – other than during a few “day for night”” shots. Again, the original production created some lackluster elements, but most of the image seemed appealing.

In addition, the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Scorpion also worked fine. Speech seemed reasonably accurate and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess.

Some of the lines showed lackluster looping, but they were still clear enough. Music came across as fairly bright and lively, though dynamic range seemed limited given the restrictions of the source.

Effects showed good clarity and accuracy within the confines of 60-year-old stems. I heard a bit of distortion in some louder moments but those remained acceptable. This was a more than adequate auditory presentation for an older movie.

A handful of extras appear, and a featurette called Stop-Motion Masters runs three minutes, 16 seconds. It offers an interview with effects creator Ray Harryhausen as he discusses his relationship with Willis O’Brien. Harryhausen offers a short but nice collection of memories.

Under The Animal World, we find an 11-minute, 33-second reel. It shows stop-motion work for a 1956 documentary, creations completed by O’Brien and Harryhausen.

Ray gives us a few comments as well, but “World” mainly shows the animation. It’s a nice addition.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Test Footage of “Las Vegas Monster” and “Beetleman”. This segment fills four minutes, 34 seconds and displays some stop-motion prototypes.

The creatures don’t directly connect to Black Scorpion, though they use some of the same sets. The elements were made by Pete Peterson, O’Brien’s assistant on Scorpion, and despite their semi-tangential nature, they offer a cool look at animation history.

More than 60 years after its release, the work of effects legend Willis O’Brien becomes the primary calling card for 1957’s The Black Scorpion. O’Brien’s creations entertain, but the rest of the movie seems spottier. The Blu-ray brings us generally positive picture and audio along with a few minor supplements. I can’t claim this ever becomes a particularly engaging movie, but it’s better than expected, and the effects provide some enjoyment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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