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on November 2, 2003
After disappointing DVD releases, virtually barren of extras, of some of the finest SF/horror films in their catalog (Them, Thing from Another World, Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula), Warner Video finally redeems themselves somewhat with this excellent package (and concurrent releases of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Valley of Gwangi). While the extras are not exactly generous, they're of great interest to B-movie and stop-motion animation fans. I have to place Black Scorpion in my top three Big Bug movies, along with Tarantula and Beginning of the End. Fans of Them will probably consider this heresy, but frankly, as fine a film as Them is overall, those big head-nodder ant props just never engendered much suspension of disbelief, let alone horror, in me, even as a kid. In contrast, Black Scorpion inverts the situation, with a pedestrian B-movie scenario framing some of the creepiest, scariest, and convincing Big Bug special effects footage of the era.

A volcano in Mexico releases a horde of giant scorpions that roam the countryside, destroying and killing, grabbing people with their pincers and jabbing them with their stinger tails. Several beautifully animated stop-motion set pieces are featured, including the sequence in which the scientists descend into the volcano crater to explore the scorpions' underground lair and encounter cool and creepy wormlike and spiderlike creatures; the scene of the scorpions destroying a train and feasting on the screaming passengers, then battling a supergiant "king" scorpion; and the king scorpion's last stand inside a sports stadium, where it scoops up military vehicles like marbles and plucks helicopters out of the sky, slamming them to the ground, while the military bombards it mercilessly. Black Scorpion was the last monster epic supervised by Willis O'Brien, the legendary stop-motion pioneer (The Lost World, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, etc.), though the hands-on animation was done primarily by Pete Peterson, who proves himself a close second if not equal to Ray Harryhausen in terms of technical skill. His scorpions, in contrast to most other 1950s movie monsters, are realistic, quick-moving, bloodthirsty, and relentless. Unfortunately, someone had the really bad idea to keep cutting to inserts of a laughable, drooling, life-size scorpion head prop that distracts from and somewhat undermines the otherwise stunning stop-motion animation of the scorpions and other bugs. The "black" scorpion of the title is occasionally shown as an empty black matte silhouette, apparently because they ran out of money, and the special effects scenes also suffer at times from from matting and process work with poorly matched contrast. But when the scorpions are darting around, killing with their spiked tails, there are few 1950s SF creatures that can equal them for pure repulsive horror. The human leads are familiar B-movie stalwarts Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Target Earth, Day the World Ended, etc.), playboy model Mara Corday (Tarantula, The Giant Claw), and Carlos Rivas (Beast of Hollow Mountain). Director Edward Ludwig had previously directed mostly B-westerns and exotica such as Smuggler's Island and Jivaro, and must have seemed like a logical choice to the producers of this monster flick set in the Mexican desert. The story is pretty generic, but moves along reasonably well, and it's really just an excuse for the monster sequences anyway, so pop some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy.

Warner's DVD finally gives fans and collectors reason for praise rather than griping. The movie is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, open matte so you can enlarge it to its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio on a 16x9 TV, and looks simply fabulous, with terrific black level, contrast, grayscale, detail, and sharpness. There is some nearly unavoidable very light speckling and spotting, but overall the print is stunning. The extras (!!) include trailers (Black Scorpion, Gwangi, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and Clash of the Titans); a three-minute featurette with Ray Harryhausen (talking about seeing King Kong as a child, meeting Willis O'Brien, and working with him on Mighty Joe Young) that's interesting and informative as far as it goes but much too brief; and the long-sought (by animation fans) and little-seen 10-minute dinosaur sequence from Irwin Allen's Animal World, apparently presented here for no other reason than Warner's had it and felt (uncharacteristically) like throwing us a bone. And last, but for me the jewels of the set, are two short (4:00 and :40) animation tests by Pete Peterson for proposed or aborted projects. The first is called The Las Vegas Monster and features a cool outsized astro-mutated baboon demolishing a house and tangling with a truck left over from Mighty Joe Young. The second, Beetlemen, is a clip of an army of walking insectoid creatures that's unfortunately in very poor condition and tantalizingly brief but still amazing and effortlessly beautiful. A comparison of Peterson's animation in these tests and The Black Scorpion with the Animal World footage (and more so Harryhausen's later films) demonstrates that while Peterson was close to Ray on a technical level, Harryhausen's creations project a "life" and "personality" that is noticeably absent in Peterson's otherwise impressive work. It really reinforces for me the true artistry of Ray Harryhausen's achievements (no slight to Peterson intended). I'm amazed that Warner bothered to include these rare tests (lost for years and discovered in a trunk) given their past track record. The only thing to complain about here are the cheap snap-case covers that Warner is still packaging their DVDs in, giving them a second-class, low-budget appearance, and leaving them more susceptible to dust, etc. But that minor grievance aside, this is a really fine release (especially for Warner Video) and needs to be in the collection of every 1950s SF or stop-motion animation fan.
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on October 6, 1999
I caught this on AMC a couple months ago and was really impressed. I had never heard of this movie, and it certainly doesn't get mentioned with other 50's classics like Them, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or The Thing. Of course, it's a pretty standard formula of giant scorpions wreaking havoc in the wild, and then eventually making their way to civilization. The stop motion SFX are by Willis O'Brien, of King Kong, and they are really top notch in this movie. Especially in one scene where the heroes are lowered down into the cave of the giant scorpions--it ranks up there with some of the best sci-fi images ever filmed. I've always been a big fan of the O'Brien/Harryhausen stop motion work--maybe it doesn't look as realistic as the modern computer stuff--but to me it looks BETTER. I mean, we don't watch movies like this for realism, right? Those stop motion animators were real artists--not computer technicians. If you're a fan of this genre--check out The Black Scorpion.
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on February 17, 2004
Released in 1957, The Black Scorpion followed in a long line of giant bug movie, probably most notable 1954's Them!, which dealt with giant ants. The main difference being that in most of those movies, the gigantism in the creatures was caused by atomic radiation (I wonder how many men pondered radiating their private parts given that Hollywood seemed so determined to make us believe radiation would have the effect of embiggening things so?) and in this movie the cause was of a more natural reason.
The Black Scorpion stars Richard Denning, who I remember most from the movie Target Earth (1954) and Mara Corday, a darkened hair beauty whose other notable films include Tarantula (1955) and The Giant Claw (1957).
The plot involves a very active volcano in Mexico and geologists Hank Scott (Denning) along with a colleague are interested in seeing this activity first hand. Corday plays Teresa Alverez, a ranch owner whose cattle is being mysteriously slaughtered and is having difficulties keeping locals around to help her round up the cattle as they believe some devil bull or something is responsible.
Turns out the active volcano has ripped open some giant fissures in the Earth, exposing a vast underground cavern containing mostly giant, prehistoric scorpions. The scorpions, being a might bit peckish after years of living under the ground, start venturing out into the Mexican deserts, stinging and eating whatever gets in their path. They are soon discovered, the military comes in, blows them up real good, and that's the end of that...or is it? Okay, no it's not, as the humongous scorpions find another way out, and begin to do cool stuff like attack trains and find their way into populated areas.
What really worked so well in this movie is the special effects...well, at least the ones done by Willis O'Brien (King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen using stop-motion animation. Harryhausen isn't credited, but he ended up doing about 90 percent of the effects, under the supervision of O'Brien. The scenes with numerous scorpions attacking the passenger train are probably among the best in this feature. These effects contrasted greatly with the 'live' effects, the ones showing the drooling visages of the beasties up close. These were pretty bad, and they kept using the same visual over and over again, a gaping maw of a scorpion with custard-like drool leaking from between its' mandibles. At some point the production ran out of money, so some of the effects are of the cheapest kind, basically looking like a real scorpion placed on some kind of empty matte invading a Mexican city.
In the end, there is a climatic battle, one with tanks, explosions, army guys and they destroy the primitive creatures? I guess you'll have to see the movie (ain't I a stinker?)
There are some great special features included in this release, which is strange as Warner Brothers really isn't known for this (they still use the cheap cardboard and plastic casing which drives me nuts). A feature called 'Stop Motion Masters' has Harryhausen talk about his greatest influence, Willis 'Obie' O'Brien, the man behind King Kong. Another clip included is one from the short called 'The Animal World', a feature created by disaster movie mogul Irwin Allen, which highlights HarryHausen and O'Brien's prehistoric segment, the highlight of the film. Also included are some short test footage found by another stop motion artist involving a mutant ape attacking a house and truck, using props from The Black Scorpion, and a small bit dealing with Beetlemen who were actually astronauts affected by cosmic radiation and ended up growing exoskeletons. Finally, there are some trailers provided, showcasing other Harryhausen and O'Brien films. Oh yeah, if the noise you hear the scorpions making sounds familiar, I was told that's because it's the same noise that the giant ants made in the movie Them! (1954).
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on September 12, 2000
Willis O'Brien, the stop-motion effects wizard behind the 1925 LOST WORLD, the classic KING KONG, and SON OF KONG, had lots of other big ideas for movie extravaganzas, from CREATION to WAR EAGLES to LAND OF THE MIST to GWANGI. Unfortunately, in later years he only got to make lower budget films like THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN. This film, THE BLACK SCORPION, was his last real tour de force -- lots of giant scorpions & spiders, a train wreck, overturned trucks, a trip into a prehistoric cavern, and such. For 1957, given that its contemporaries were films like THE GIANT CLAW (a string puppet), this was really something. O'Brien and Harryhausen ruled the monster world during this era, for sophisticated effects.
Marred only by the inclusion of some incomplete matte shots, the usual goofy rubber monster head close-ups, and the stereotypical little boy named "Pepe", who seemed to be in a lot of these films, this is a fun movie in large part and historically interesting because this may be as close as we'll ever get to seeing O'Brien's censored "spider pit" creatures from KING KONG.
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on December 19, 2002
"The Black Scorpion" came quite late in the run of 1950's monsters on the loose features yet I feel it is one of the very best. It has as its premise an erupting volcano in Mexico that opens up deep underground caverns releasing incredible over sized prehistoric Scorpions out onto the surface in a rural area not far from Mexico City.
Often dismissed as an off shoot of the classic "Them", this film certainly has rampaging scorpions in place of ants but it contains a fairly exciting story that keeps your interest through the entire running time. One thing that I find of interest here is the use of the Mexican locale for the setting of the story and the onlocation photography really enhances the look and eerie feel of the production. The main point of interest in this film is of course the wonderful recreations of the savage giant scorpions which are the masterwork of special effects and stop-motion genius Willis O'Brien whose main claim to fame is of course the masterful work that he did on the classic "King Kong". One of his last major efforts as an animator, in this film he really excelled himself with the superb and very frightening creatures he created. He created not only a whole cavern of fighting scorpions but a spider and killer worms adding to the horror of the piece. The effect of having the scorpions actually dripping a slimy substance from their mouths as they move really adds an extra revolting element to their composition. The overall animation used here is excellent. The grand finale where the King Scorpion attacks Mexico City is one of the very best of the monster attacks on a metropolitan area filmed in this period. The final scene within the sports stadium with the giant scorpion fighting off helicopters and tanks is probably one of the most famous finales from a film of this type from the 1950's.
Placed beside these spectacular effects the lead actors have their work cut out for them. Richard Denning as geologist Hank Scot and Mara Corday as local land owner Teresa Alverez are the two leads and both being capable actors, make the most of the material they are given. Mara Corday , a veteran of many 1950's horror films like the classic "Tarantula" and the cult favourite "The Giant Claw" was always a most capable actress and she takes on a much more major role than most women where ever given in these films.
"The Black Scorpion" has many exciting moments, the scenes deep in the cavern where the nest of scorpions is hiding and where the exploration team goes to destroy them, the frightening attack on the train and on Mara Corday's property and of course the action that takes place once the giant scorpion moves on to Mexico City are some of the highlights that keep the plot at a boil. What constantly amazes me is the great effects that were often created on a very small budget in these films. The scorpion created here is right up there with the "King Kong" monster, the ants from "Them" and the spider from "Tarantula" in excellence of execution.
For fans of 1950's sci fi the last great effort in this genre "The Black Scorpion" is great entertainment and while it might not have the literate quality of the classic "Them", it is still definately worth including in your classic monster movie colection. Enjoy!
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VINE VOICEon July 12, 2005
Don't let these old flicks fool you; very often the imagery is just as horrific as anything that could come out of Hollywood today. Spielberg, in his recent War of the Worlds visually paraphrases from this movie. It's cribbed from one extremely disturbing nocturnal scene of these giant scorpians attacking some helpless folks--I won't spoil it for you. The older style acting and plot devices actually underscore the horrific moments.

Some see these flicks as just old and funky B-movies but I'm lately arguing that if you accept them on their own terms (kind of like accepting old literature or art on their own terms) they're pretty remarkable. Heck, the original King Kong still gives me the willies at times.

Black and white is perfect for horror. It tends to simulate the dream state. Old scenic work and effects, as opposed to the modern and sometimes too literal ones, often have a surreal quality. Think of that burning windmill at the end of Frankenstein. Poetic in a way no modern film can approximate. Interestingly, Spielberg nods to all of this in his last film--it's a conscious tribute to the artistry of these older films-- which is why it may ultimately be the grandest of all sci-fi/horror films.
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They MIGHT be big. They MIGHT be bad. They MIGHT be bloodthirsty beasts, but you MIGHT think that the "buggers" in this film are quite bucolic if you aren't a fan of 50's and 60's stop motion animation, identical and repetitive special effects and stock footage.
I am a HUGE fan of ALL THREE, however, and enjoyed this film immensely!
Mexico City is under attack! Due to an earth shattering volanic eruption (insert stock footage), fissures created in the earth's crust have unleashed GIANT PREHISTORIC scorpions, and one lone, segmented worm with pincers from their underground, subterranean LAIR! What happens to the citizens of Mexico City? Watch this BUGFEST and find out for yourself!
Richard Denning and Mara Corday star in this classic sci-fi big bug chiller but the true stars of the film are the amazing special effects, stop motion animation, and action scenes created by stop motion sensai, Willis O' Brien (King Kong) working on his last picture. Also featured effects man - an uncredited, young stop motion student, Ray Harryhausen who went on to become the master of stop motion animation with such greats as "Mighty Joe Young", "Jason & The Argonauts", and The Sinbad Trilogy, just to mention a few.
Great family fare with fun and chills for ALL!
Happy Watching!
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on January 11, 2006
It's that type of movie. Just good, harmless fun.

I was fortunate to locate this one: it never pops up in "related searches" for movies akin to the Harryhausen series. I'm glad I found it.

Havoc is being wruck(?) down near Mexico Way. This is the 1950s once again, and a seemingly worthless insect specimen has suddenly got a lethal dose of hallucinogenic steroids from... surprisingly, not the H-Bomb. This time it involves the unnaturally fast formation of a new volcano on the outskirts of Mexico City. Lava flows have already begun decimating the hillside shacks and surrounding villages. (*I will never understand why people reside near the base of prehistoric fire pits*)

Geologists Dr. Scott (Richard Denning) and Artur Ramos (Carlos Rivas) stumble upon some wreckage they believe to be a part of a recent volcanic spill-over. One village is wrecked with a corpse and an abandoned baby left behind. Faced with helping to evacuate the nearby town of San Lorenzo, they spy (literally) a "cowgirl" Teresa (Mara Corday) after a fall from her horse.

It's straight formula from there: she enlists their help to save the townspeople, REALLY BIG f-ckin' scorpions unearth themselves at night (along with the immortal ant-shriek from "THEM!") and have at the extras, doctor spends more time trying to bed Teresa and smoking cigarettes than helping anyone stay alive, attempt to destroy scorpion caves backfires and stirs up even more trouble... it's the Texas 2-step of plot development. But when it's got charm, it works. And "The Black Scorpion" has charm.

"Scorpion" greatly benefits from its authentic Mexico locations, healthy dose of carnage, and rather impressive creature/FX sequences set deep in the catacombs. Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen (uncredited) reference "King Kong"(1933) a lot in how they stage the action. Even the kick-ass finale within a soccer stadium starring King Sting vs. Army cargo choppers, tanks, and expendable soldiers contains a -- for lack of a better adjective: epic -- tone. Just watch it, 'cause I can't really explain it.

Not seminal, but still a rip-roaring good time.

The Warner Bros. DVD is pretty decent: original theatrical 1.33:1 ratio from a somewhat damaged but completely forgivable b/w interpositive print, original mono sound mix, plus some short-but-sweet features regarding Harryhausen's appreciation for his late mentor "Obie". BIG BONUS: the prehistoric sequence which opens Irwin Allen's 2nd documentary "The Animal World". I guarantee you it is the best part of that whole film.
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on November 3, 2003
What a great movie. An active volcano releases giant scorpions into the modern world.1950's Sci-fi staple Richard Denning stars in this classic as an archiologist working in mexico. Great picture and sound quality. Its been a long wait but its finally here and the transfer is wonderful.
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on September 6, 2000
Giant prehistoric scorpions are trapped in volcanic rock in suspended animation back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Recent violent volcanic upheavals in a remote area of rural Mexico unleash this menace on an unsuspecting world. This is an entertaining, albeit derivative, sci-fi/monster flick from the "big bug" school of the the 1950's. As others have commented, it is a thinly disquised clone of "Them" that replaces mutant ants with prehistoric scorpions. This reviewer doesn't feel it's necessary to be entangled in a "creative purity" debate. If one rejected all the old monster movies that are lacking in original ideas and plots, it would leave a very small population.
This film offers good stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien (of "King Kong" fame). After a slow start, the action takes off when the giant creatures swarm over the countryside. Things get really tense when two geologists (Richard Denning and Carlos Rivas) find the scorpions' nest in a deep cave-like fissure. They get the bright idea to descend into the fissure to determine the creatures' vulnerabilities. I mean, who else should study the habits of monstrous scorpions than a couple of rock gazing geologists? Beside the resident hordes of giant scorpions fighting among themselves and ruled by a huge black scorpion (hence, the movie's title) there are thirty-foot prehistoric worms (with claws, no less) and a giant spider. The fissure is dynamited into oblivion, but some of the scorpions escape. In another terrifying segment, the scorpions swarm over a crowded passenger train as it hurtles through the desert night. The blood bath so inflames the monstrous creatures that they turn on each other. The black scorpion prevails, heads for Mexico City, and typical monster-movie hysteria and mayhem ensues.
One problem with this film is the dark-tones of the B&W photography combined with the dark tinted special effects. The black scorpion that rules the arachnid hordes is occasionally reduced to a shadow moving across the screen. People who viewed this movie at drive-ins back in the '50s had trouble seeing all the action because of the dark photography against the night sky. The climactic battle scene has enough tanks, rockets, and explosions to satisfy the savage beast in most blood-thirsty viewers. Among classic sci-fi/monster flicks, this film is a second-stringer. For old-fashioned "Saturday afternoon at the movies" fun, it serves the purpose very well. Enjoy the nonsense, and don't worry about that thing crawling up your leg. ;-)
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