I love 50s monster movies. I find even the bad ones tend to show a lot more creativity than a lot of the CG fests of today (you know I think I may have said that before). Nowadays it’s usually sharks, velociraptors (because out of the thousands of known dinosaurs, it’s always a biologically inaccurate velociraptor chasing people) or zombies. Some times you get something different but not always.
Not so in the 50s where you had all sorts of strange beings made from the bomb, from space, from the sea, or from our deepest nightmares! (sometimes more than one) But often the concept was let down by the technology, only so much you could do with a man in a suit. But here’s a film where the concept is not only original, but simplistic and very well realized.
The Monolith Monsters is a film from 1957, and despite the name it doesn’t actually have a monster or monsters. The danger is from rocks that have fallen to Earth via a meteorite. When they come in contact with water they grow and grow until they fall over spreading more rocks. Yes the danger is something that simplistic but brilliant, nothing is chasing you just an unstoppable march of towering structures.
But watching it I fear some people didn’t think an audience would get the terror in such a concept and so early on in production they added something which was clearly there to have a more active danger. Being near the monoliths as they grow drains all the silicon in the area and turns people to stone. (yeah that bit I didn’t like) But about half way in (it’s not a long movie just over an hour so that’s not a big deal) you see the monoliths in all their glory and it’s very well handled, the sight of their relentless advance destroying all in their path is very well realized.
The film starts with a brief narration about meteors and thankfully that’s the only sudden educational part of the movie as… yeah the turn to stone stuff was kind of dumb, the monoliths they were fine with – an alien rock chemical reaction causing them to grow, that’s believable not the turning to stone bit though. Then we have a federal geologist find one of the rocks as well as a little teasing of what causes the reaction, (and causing us to yell at the characters for stuff we already know for the next half hour). Later when our star David Millar played by Grant Williams arrives the lab is in ruins tons of the strange black rocks everywhere and the geologist turned to stone. Next up the Simpson family’s girl (whose name isn’t Lisa) found a piece of rock and after her mother told her to wash her hands… you can see what happens, the Simpson family is dead, their farm destroyed and their daughter in shock and turning to stone.
Fortunately they realize the black rock is responsible and so David seeks his old professor, Flanders (yes, this movie has the Simpsons and Flanders, and yet they never parodied this in Hallowe’en...) and around half way through the film (not going to bother with the curing of the girl as I find the whole turned to stone thing vastly less interesting and just there to pad out the film till we get to the good bit) they completely by accident find out that water is what makes them grow… right during a rain storm. Dashing out to check on where they found the main meteorite (yeah they found that after Flanders checked the farm and discerned they were from space) we now see what we were waiting for, the unstoppable march of the monoliths.
I won’t tell you how the movie ends, and there are some flaws, remember these are rocks so rather than an heroic action of fighting them, instead it’s more, scientific (and doesn’t involve nukes or radiation in any way, which is a nice change.) so sometimes they do get a bit bogged down in formulas, theories and technobabble (though not nearly as much technobabble as Star Trek) .The final act to stop them does have some tension and action in it so there’s at least that for action lovers, but you will have to go through a lot of lab scenes.
As mentioned the turning people to stone thing I don’t think was in the original idea but it had to be added in early enough as elements of that plot play into the whole film including the solution. But I feel if anyone does try to remake this, leave that bit out and just keep the relentless march of the monoliths as the real danger.