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.