Director: John Sherwood
It’s night #7 of 9 in the series with blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies as we count down to Halloween. Tonight’s theme is 50’s Science Fiction, and I picked a movie I’ve never seen before, The Monolith Monsters (1957).
That’s a promising enough title and one that accurately describes the size and nature of the creatures advertised. The film begins by showing us meteors, “calling cards from outer space,” zipping by our planet. The ones that make it through our atmosphere without breaking up bring some form of life that remains dormant until awakened during the events like those in science fiction movies. On cue, geologist Ben (Phil Harvey) stops to water his overheated rad in the desert, spies some glittering black rocks and takes one back into the unsuspecting salt mining town of San Angelo, nestled in a beautiful valley.
We soon learn that contact with water causes this specimen to foam and expand, and poor Ben is found the next morning by fellow geologist Dave (Grant Williams), completely petrified, a solid mass standing like a statue. Their office is destroyed and shards of the black rock scattered all over the office.
Meanwhile, Dave’s schoolteacher girlfriend Cathy (Lola Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert, right near those rocks and then instructs the kids not to touch anything unusual. Naturally, the cutest little girl takes home one of the freakishly pretty stones and washes it in a bucketful of water. By the time Dave and company connect Ben’s strange death to the rock to the field trip location, it’s too late. They race to the girl’s home to find the rocks have multiplied all over, wrecked the house, turned the parents to stone and left the girl in shock and slowly solidifying.
In the race to save the girl, experts piece together a picture of a mineral that sucks silica out of anything it contacts. Right when Dave figures out that water activates these rocks, and right when you think how lucky it is that this meteor didn’t land in the rainforest, a thunderclap signals a coming downpour. The drenching triggers exponential growth, with some impressive crystalline spears rising to become towering monoliths that topple over, shatter, and then grow again until they overcome the area. The secret to stopping the advancing monolith monsters is to deactivate them chemically, with something they have a lot of: salt. The problem is how to get that salt from the other side of the valley into the monsters’ path in the few hours before the next rainfall, and the solution is dynamite.
This is a short and basic but really enjoyable story with some nice looking visuals. The massive spears of the black mineral repeatedly stabbing up into the sky and tipping over are odd and huge enough to be threatening, the exploding dam and flooding footage is mixed with some good miniature work to make for a fun climax, and the desert surrounding this idyllic little town provides an attractive setting.
Williams and Albright are one of the best looking pairs I’ve seen in this genre, they’re sweet to each other and Albright gets to worry about the little orphan girl, so that adds some nice dimension to the standard couple in peril. There are many familiar faces in uncredited roles, like Paul Petersen as a paperboy and William Schallert as a funny weather geek who’s asked how long the rain will last and drones on about masses, pressures, currents and fronts. Casual conversation allows for funny commentary and efficient character background. In the beginning the newspaperman Martin (Les Tremayne) complains how little news there is to cover in San Angelo, while Ben craves some new geological discovery, and aren’t they both sorry. Asking for the paperboy’s help leads to gripes about “kids these days” who won’t do anything without asking to get paid, and the little student of Cathy’s pries into the reasons she and Dave aren’t married yet if they love each other so much. I had lots of fun watching this likeable group save the world from giant alien paperweights.