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The Monster of

Piedras Blancas

     "It ain't rocks, and it weren't no squall. Something living did this!"

-- Kochek's monster theory.    

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

"Thhrrrroooollggh!"

Translation:

"Uh, what drooling problem?"

 

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Sights &
Sounds:
The
Monster of
Piedras Blancas
(1959)
 Vanwick Productions /
 Filmservice Distributors

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A Whole
Month of
Monsters:

The Monster of Piedras Blancas

 
 

Our Monster Month Marathon kicks off at a local lighthouse somewhere along the foggy coasts of the Pacific, and the ominous soundtrack tells us weíre in trouble already as we pan over the rocks and catch a quick glimpse of an inhuman hand reaching over a boulder! But the thing retreats when Sturges (John Harmon), the lighthouse keeper (-- and a cranky old salt), comes out, yelling at some smoochers to get off'n his property, who then jumps on his bike and heads into town. On the way, he comes across a crowd gathered around a small boat thatís run aground. Sturges doesnít stop but we peel away and stay with the group as Constable Matson (Forrest Lewis) takes in the grim scene ... The boat belonged to the Finaldi brothers, and I say belonged because, even though both men are still inside the boat, the two have been savagely decapitated -- and both heads are missing!

When the town doctor, Sam Jorgenson (Les Tremayne), known simply as Doc in the local vernacular, examines the bodies, he is amazed at the lack of blood inside the boat. Youíd think with that kind of severe trauma it would leave an ample amount, but itís bone dry. The gathered locals urge Matson to interrogate the lonely lighthouse keeper, for not only is Sturges a crank, but heís the town creep as well, meaning he has to know something about this grisly double homicide. Ignoring them, Doc tells Matson to move the bodies into the freezer at Kochekís general store until the State Police arrive. At that same moment, as Sturges goes into the very same store for his weekly supplies, Kochek (Frank Arvidson) asks if he saw what happened to the Finaldis. Believing evil is afoot, the grocer thinks the old legends of the Monster of Piedras Blancas are true (-- hence the title), but Sturges scoffs, saying that it was probably just a freak boating accident. (This was no boating accident!) Kochek counters with more questions, Like what happened to that other couple that disappeared recently? Ignoring all that blathering (-- and Mr. Sturges, I believe you are going to ignore this problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass), and seeing that his order is short, the old hermit asks for his usual supply of meat scraps. (But weíve got to close the beaches.) When Kochek says he gave them away already to somebody else, Sturges gets very angry with this and promises the grocer he'll be sorry -- he typed ominously.

The old crank then moves on to the local cafť where his daughter, Lucy (Jeanne Carmen), works behind the counter. Still upset at Kochek, he cryptically warns the girl to be home before it gets dark, as if her life depended on it. Then Matson stops in, and asks Sturges if he knows anything about the Finaldiís accident. Claiming to have warned them to stay away from the dangerous surf where they were found, beyond that, Sturges knows nothing. After they both leave, Lucy turns her attentions back to Fred (Don Sullivan), who asks if she wants to come with him to the beach so he can collect some samples. (Some samples of what is never made clear. I think Fred is some kind of marine biologist for the local university, but this is never made clear either.) Lucy thinks thatís a great idea and starts to pack a picnic lunch for them.

Elsewhere, Doc and Matson brainstorm on what could have happened to the Finaldis: Doc thinks it was either a freak accident -- or thereís a lunatic running loose, and he's leaning more toward the latter because it appears that someone (-- or something!) ripped the heads clean off and then sucked all the blood out of the bodies (-- using the arteries as some kind of gruesome, silly-slurpy straw!) He also warns Matson to keep a lid on Kochek and all of his monster stories or heís going to start a panic ... Meanwhile, back at the lighthouse, Sturges puts out some fish scraps around the rocks where we saw the monstrous hand, and we slowly realize these arenít for his dog as he woefully looks toward the sea...

Irvin "Irv" Berwick had been bouncing around Hollywood as an extra and dialogue coach since the 1930's, and by the 1950's had settled in rather comfortably at Universal International, working with the likes of William Castle and Jack Arnold when they were still dabbling in film noir, before the resurgent monster boom of that decade sent them on a different paths to notoriety. However, when financially strapped Universal merged with MCA, Berwick didn't survive the purge that followed. But he stayed in the business, creating his own independent production company with another UI castoff, Jack Kevan. Kevan was another one of those unheralded wizards in Bud Westmore's make-up department, and was instrumental in bringing the Gillman to life in Creature from the Black Lagoon, which made making a monster movie the inaugural effort of VanWick Productions a given cast in bedrock.

With a script from novice Haile Chace, that wasn't afraid to push the envelope into a much grislier territory, and a crew cobbled together with other ex-Universal employees, filming commenced around Point Conception and Cayuoucos, California, subbing in for the real Piedras Blancas because the scenery fit the action better. With Berwick in the director's chair and Kevan serving as both producer and F/X coordinator, costs were kept to a minimum, resulting in a lean and mean production that literally translated to what we see on screen: a by-the-numbers rubber-monster movie on the surface, but upon closer inspection, you'll find a nasty and gruesome edge. In fact, when The Monster of Piedras Blancas hit the theaters in 1958, I don't think the audience knew what was about to hit them.

And from what we've seen already, we can already tell that this probably isn't your father's Creature from the Black Lagoon as we pick up the action back at the beach, where, for some unknown reason, Fred is stripping for his picnic dinner with Lucy. He then heads into the surf for his mysterious samples. (Oh, thatís why he was stripping. I was starting to get worried.) When he returns, the couple then clumsily recreate the scene from From Here to Eternity. From Here to Eternity (-- that isnít quite as romantic because Fred dang near drowns the poor girl.) Fingers thoroughly pruned, if you know what I mean, when Fred drops Lucy off at the lighthouse, she doesnít invite him in because of her flaky dad. But as they part with a kiss, she promises to work on telling him about them. With that, after Fred takes his mysterious specimens and drives off, Lucy detours down to the water for some skinny-dipping. After she strips and runs into the surf, those same sinister and inhuman hands start sifting through her discard clothes.

With her return well overdue, Sturges heads out to look for her. As her father calls her name, Lucy hears and comes back for her clothes, and while dressing, she hears some strange, preternatural breathing from something among the rocks. Spooked, she hi-tails it back to the lighthouse, and once inside, Lucy tells her father what happened and how she felt like something was watching her! This in turn really spooks Sturges, who warns that if she does something that foolish again sheíll go right back to the boarding school, and then sends her straight to bed. (This is pretty funny because I gauge Lucyís age to be 30 at the least.) And as a shell-shocked Lucy heads to bed, back in town, the monsterís shadow slowly moves along the main street, making its way into Kochekís store, where the owner is pouring over his record books. He looks up, too late, and canít even muster a scream.

The next day, as the Finaldiís funeral procession moves past Kochekís store, little Timmy sneaks away after picking up some discarded change. Heading into the store for some candy, the boy finds it empty and calls for Kochek -- until he spots the dismembered body and flees, eventually catching up with his mother at the cemetery, where he breathlessly informs her that Mr. Kochek is dead and doesn't have a head! ... After he's told, Matson rounds up Doc and heads to the store. Again, there is no blood, and with a crowd gathering outside, Matson posts Eddie, his deputy (Peter Dunn), at the door to keep everyone out -- except for Fred, who's asked to come inside because the only real trace evidence they found was a chunk of something that resembles a fishís scale. Leaving Eddie to move the body into the freezer, the trio take off for Doc's house to analyze their find. And after a slow and tedious (-- and pretty damned ridiculous --) examination, Fred says the scales match some fossilized remains of the diplavertabran (-- or something --) found in the caves along the coast. A confused Matson is about to ask some questions (-- that I want to ask, too,) when Lucy bursts in, looking for Doc, saying her father has had a terrible accident.

With Lucy leading the way, they find Sturges at the bottom of a cliff, pick him up (-- and jar his spine around a little more, please), and carry him back to the lighthouse. Luckily, the old man has only injured his arm and leg without breaking anything. Told about Kochekís murder, Sturges refuses to answer when Matson wants to know what he was doing at the estimated time of death and kicks them out. But Fred stays behind to help out, and Sturges finally breaks his silence ... Seems that after he sent Lucy to bed the night before, he wanted to see if there was somebody down in the rocks and must have slipped off the cliff and fell. (And I point out, if he fell off the cliff where they found him, he most certainly would be dead.) When Fred asks if he believes in the monster legend, Sturges immediately clams up again. Getting nowhere, when Fred offers he might check out the caves along the cove for himself, Sturges forbids him to go, insisting nothing is there. 

Leaving the obviously upset old man alone to rest, Fred takes Lucy to the side and wants to know why she was sent off to boarding school the first time around. Unsure of where this line of questions came from, Lucy talks about how she used to wander the beaches, all the time, until one day her father forbade her to do it anymore. But one day, she snuck off to the beach and got lost in the caves, and after her frantic father found her, the very next day, she was shipped off; then, some ten years later, she came back. (So she was twenty when she went the first time?) Adding that story to the pile of Sturges' other weird behavior, Fred is now convinced her father is hiding something, which doesnít make Lucy very happy. And he also lets out his plans on checking out those caves, despite her father's warnings. Now really upset with him, Lucy replies that if he does this, to not even bother coming back!

Back in town, the monster has struck again; this time killing a little girl. When Matson asks the father where she was headed, between sobs, he says to Kochekís store. Doc feels there must be some connection, and when they head over there, they find Eddie has disappeared, too. Checking the freezer first, Matson barley gets inside before he's greeted with a monstrous roar, startling everyone else gathered there. (And Iíll admit, it startled me too.) The Constable stumbles back out, grabbing at his chest, as a result of the creature's blow; then the monster clomps out -- with Eddieís head clutched in its hand! One of the townsfolk grabs a meat cleaver and takes a whack at it, but is knocked away before the monster chases the others outside. Rushing to Matson side, Doc is told to check on the others first. The man with the meat-cleaver is dead, but they do find more scales on the blade, and if wasn't obvious enough, they've definitely found their killer.

Rounding up Fred and few more men for a posse, they go after the monster. Tracking it to the beach, the men split-up to cover more ground. As Matson and Fred search along the beach, they find a cave and hear something inside, but all they find is Eddieís head with a giant crab crawling on it. Disgusted, Fred shoots it. (Take that -- you evil crab, you.) With the deadly crab menace out of the way, the men hear more gunshots up on the bluff and, too late, find the monster has taken out two more men. With the body count rising, Matson decides to call off the search until morning when they can get more reinforcements.

Back in the lighthouse, Sturges finally makes a full confession to Lucy: shortly after her mother died, he did find something in one of the caves and started to feed it the fish he caught; rationalizing that if he fed the monster, it would leave them alone. On the days he didnít catch any fish, he started feeding it meat scraps, and eventually, the thing wouldnít eat the fish any more, only the meat. Feeling somewhat responsible for introducing red meat into the monsterís diet, and in a sense, causing the rampage, Lucy assures him thatís nonsense. (I donít know, makes sense to me.) Her father then rambles on that he kept feeding the monster because he was just lonely. (Okay, this is getting weird.) Realizing night has fallen, Sturges freaks out because the fog-light hasnít been turned on yet. Lucy helps him out of bed and they start doing the pre-lighting prep before turning the big light on ... Which leads us to the "Where the monster came from scene." In town, Fred has some theories -- that donít make any sense. And as the trio postulate on whether itís a rational animal or not -- because rational animals are more dangerous (-- uh-huh, okay Einstein) -- they decide that capturing the creature will be easier than killing it. (They arenít really sure if they can kill it.) All they'll need is a large net and some bait ... Back at the lighthouse, when Lucy puts out some scraps for the family dog (-- whoops), a familiar shadow lurks along the lighthouse wall. We then get a big cheesecake shot as Lucy changes into her nightgown before the monster breaks into her room; the monster was polite enough to knock (?) on Lucyís door first, and when she opens it, we, along with her, finally get a look at the monsterís head and she faints dead away.

Yep, weíve see his hands, his torso, and his pigeon toed feet, and now, finally, his head -- complete with his severe drooling problem. Do we faint? Nope. Just a little deja-vu as there's something about the creature's anatomy that strikes us as awfully familiar...

In town, noticing the lighthouse hasnít lit up yet, Fred calls but no one answers. Worried, they head over to make sure everyoneís okay. But everyone is not okay. In fact, the monster has Lucy cradled in his claws and is carrying her toward the sea. Sturges spots them from the top of the lighthouse, and even though it is an incredible distance, he throws a lantern at them, which gongs the monster right square on the head! (Give that man a cupie doll!) Angered, the thing drops Lucy and stomps back to take out the old man. The two combatants meet about half-way up the stairway, where Sturges empties his rifle into the monster with no visible effect. Retreating back up the stairs, the monster follows him up to the top just as the others reach the lighthouse and find Lucy. Up above, Sturges makes it outside, onto the balcony, and locks the steel door behind him. Yelling at the others below, he tells them to seal the house up and then theyíll have the monster trapped. (But how they gonna get him down? Feh. Details...)

But the monster makes quick work of the door and closes in on the old man as Fred runs inside to help, but only makes it to the top in time to see the monster throw Sturges over the side. Then, when the monster comes after him, after emptying his shotgun, our hero shines his flashlight into the monsterís eyes, and when it reacts badly, Fred yells for Lucy to turn the big light on. Once she's thrown the switch, the amplified light washes over the monster -- blinding it. Fred then clobbers him with the butt of his gun, causing the thing to topple over the railing. Landing in the crashing surf below, the monster then disappears beneath the waves. 

The young lovers embrace.

Waitaminute?!? Doesnít that thing live in the water? Then wouldn't it -- ah, forget it.

The End

Often criticized and ignored for being nothing more than a bloody carbon copy/rip-off of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, in the end, whether you believe that or not, I still think The Monster of Piedras Blancas -- despite its inherent flaws and obvious budgetary limits -- is a highly entertaining film. My Spanish is worse than my German but I believe Piedras Blancas means white cliffs. And The Monster of the White Cliffs just doesn't have the same punch, now, does it? I have read several reports that Berwick was always a little squirrelly when asked to comment about the film, not wanting to say anything that would offend his long time friend, Jack Arnold, whose film obviously had some influence on The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Arnold, on the other hand, bore no ill will at all toward the production.

Do I think it was a blatant, wholesale rip-off? No. Not really. No more than Creature was a rip-off of Robot Monster. But there is one undisputable thing that it did steal from the Gillman: the rubber-suited origins of it's monster -- and not just him ... If you look closely at the monster in this film, you can easily spot it's patchwork origins: it's torso is the Creature, it's hands are cobbled from the Mole People, and it's feet began life as a Metaluna Mutant. In an effort to save costs, Kevan just reused some of his old molds, and only the head is an original piece. Despite the recycling, the monster is technically sound and holds up remarkably well as he buzzsaws through half the cast. There are conflicting reports that say Kevan played the monster, while others say that Peter Dunn, the deputy, wore the suit. Maybe they both did. Who knows? It's not that big of a deal, so please, lets don't start a Ben Chapman/Riccou Browning-sized controversy over it, okay? Thanks.

As stated, the film does have some glaring flaws but the flaws make it more fun. The actors don't embarrass themselves; Lewis is a veteran of countless westerns, and by this time, Tremayne had gotten this kind of stuff down to a science. And I've always felt that Sullivan was likeable dope because he always played the same likeable dope. (I think that's a compliment.) He basically plays the same dope in The Giant Gila Monster and Teenage Zombies. And, well, at least he doesn't try to sing in this one. Also of note, former Vegas showgirl, cheesecake model, and burlesque-house regular Carmen (-- featured with Bettie Page in Striporama --) is a little old to be playing her part but is sufficiently bubbly as the heroine -- but not that bubbly.

Haile's script, for the most part, keeps things moving along nicely. Some scenes between the actors seem genuine and work well (-- there is good chemistry among the leads), while others are stilted and forced, especially when the sci-fi gobbledy-gook is the brunt of the dialogue. It also grinds down in plot-exposition (-- also known as padding), like the long, gripping explanation as to why the cliffs are white. (For the record: It's because the seagulls keep pooping on them, turning the rocks white, and thatís why the boats canít see them and wreck.) I also got a kick out of how they kept stacking bodies in the grocery store's freezer. Man, by the end, it had to be getting pretty crowded in there.

Beyond that, there are no real surprises and it's a pretty straight forward 1950's-era monster movie -- with that one notable exception, and this exception is the cornerstone of the films notorious reputation. For its time, The Monster of Piedras Blancas was pretty bloody, gory, and gruesome. Yes, the creature carries around a bloodied, dismembered head, but it implies a lot more. A little girl is also killed in the same fashion, beheaded, with all the juices sucked out the arteries. And to it's credit, the film doesn't overplay this hand, leaving more to the imagination. If they had pushed it any further, I fear it would have become laughable instead of just wonderfully, wonderfully gross.

Which is why it is so unfortunate that this film hasn't found a wider audience because it is different enough and pretty darned good. Honest. Not as good as its bigger and better known brother, mind you, but good enough for this critic anyway.

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959) Vanwick Productions :: Filmservice Distributors Corporation / P: Jack Kevan / D: Irvin Berwick / W: H. Haile Chace / C: Philip Lathrop / E: George Gittens / S: Don Sullivan, Jeanne Carmen, Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon

Originally Posted: 10/05/01 :: Rehashed: 05/13/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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