The Giant Claw (1957)

Directed by Fred F. Sears [Other horror films: The Werewolf (1956), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)]

I’ve only heard the vaguest notions about this giant monster movie, but that doesn’t really matter, as many of those late ’50’s giant monster movies aren’t really that different. This one certainly possesses some charm, and I think the science used in the film went all out, but boy, what a regrettable monster design.

I mean, that design looks so, so bad, the main problem being that the face that they use for the close-up doesn’t look threatening in the least, but extraordinarily goofy. It doesn’t do the movie any good when the main focus, the monster, just looks so ridiculous.

Aside from that admittedly large issue, though, The Giant Claw is okay.

The scientific explanation for this giant bird was certainly detailed. I got the whole matter/anti-matter stuff (you’re reading a guy who’s read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown multiple times), but once they got into mesa and stuff, I got as lost as that general. They could have just stuck with a giant bird, but whoever worked on the science in this film just went all out with an explanation I didn’t follow in the least, so I appreciate that.

Really, the only two performances that matter are those of Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth and The Creature Walks Among Us) and Mara Corday (Tarantula and The Black Scorpion), and I have no complaints with their characters. Their growing romance is sort of cute, and their plane banter was fun. I thought the two worked well with each other, and that helped make them feel not so stereotypical.

Oh, I guess you could count the Rod Sterling-esque narrator as another character. Seriously, as the narrator (who probably has a name, but I can’t find him credited) speaks at the beginning, it sounds legit just like the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, almost hilariously so. And this is before Twilight Zone started, so it makes me wonder if this was more influential than we knew.

The Giant Claw isn’t a great movie, but I didn’t have a terrible time with it, and it’s not like it takes a lot of time to get through either. Also, as horrible as the bird looked, seeing it destroy building or just pick up whole trains like a boss was sort of cool. And that science – some in-depth stuff.

6.5/10

From Hell It Came (1957)

Directed by Dan Milner [Other horror films: The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)]

So a member of an island tribe is killed, and he comes back for revenge as a murderous tree? Good stuff, good stuff.

To be honest, while the monster itself is beyond goofy (the design for the tree creature just looks incredibly silly), I thought a good portion of this was at least enjoyable, and I definitely didn’t have a poor time with it.

Some of this is due to the setting, being a small island filled with restless natives while American scientists are trying to research a localized plague. To be fair, the plague doesn’t really play into the story at all, but I did like the idea of the scientists being worried about being overtaken by the natives, given that there’s only three of them and God knows how many members of the island tribe. It gives off almost a tense vibe at points (though I noted that those poison darts also never came into play).

None of the leads were particularly impressive, though. I think John McNamara was the most interesting, as Tod Andrews’ character rubbed me the wrong way with some sexist remarks and Tina Carver, despite being a scientist, still came across as second best to the other doctors. At least we got some humor from Linda Watkins, who’s British commentary cracked me up (and worth mentioning that Watkins was born in Massachusetts, so I wonder if she spent some time abroad to get that accent).

I can understand why this movie’s gotten rather negative reception, but I found much of it more charming than disappointing. I don’t think by any means From Hell It Came was a good movie – it’s still below average in my eyes – but I did personally have fun with it at times, if only for it’s ludicrous story, so take that for what you will.

6/10

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Horror of It All (1964), The Gorgon (1964), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

The Curse of Frankenstein is a classic that I don’t really have that much to say about. It’s not as classic a movie as 1931’s Frankenstein, but this Hammer production is still one of the best renditions of the story.

A large part of this is the very solid cast, and who could expect differently coming from a Hammer movie. Peter Cushing is a favorite of mine, and he’s been in so many movies of the genre that it’s really hard to narrow down his best performances. Playing Frankenstein here, Cushing was fantastic, and his sole focus on his work (at the expense of his fiancé, Hazel Court) was, as always, fun to watch.

Playing his long-time mentor and eventual foe, Robert Urquhart did a great job, and during their many arguments about the morality of Frankenstein’s experiments, Urquhart and Cushing really get into it, and you can really see his disappointment in Frankenstein toward the end of the film. These two are easily the most important, but Christopher Lee brings a lot as the Creature, playing a very different version than Karloff did, and Hazel Court too was a nice, although somewhat unimportant, addition.

I also really liked the layout of the story, with the bulk of the horrors occurring via flashback told by a condemned Cushing. The ending was somber, and truthfully I felt pretty bad for Frankenstein, though I certainly think he had his problems when it came to approaching his experiment (though the base of the experiment, I thought, was perfectly valid).

This is a Hammer classic, and I enjoy it more than the following year’s Horror of Dracula. Both are good movies, quality re-imaginings of classics, and I’d easily recommend the both of them to fans of classic horror.

8/10

Night of the Demon (1957)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur [Other horror films: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), War-Gods of the Deep (1965)]

It’s twice now I’ve seen this one, and maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it’s that great. Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon, depending on your location) is good, and it has a solid atmosphere, but I don’t see it as much more.

What I like about this one (which, by the way, is based off an M.R. James story) is the undeniably dense atmosphere. It’s a black-and-white film, which goes a long way to allow some scenes to work really well, especially during the fog-drenched sequences, which were very appealing. The titular demon doesn’t pop up that often, but that also had charm (despite the fact the demon doesn’t necessarily look amazing).

Dana Andrews does decently well here, though the skepticism he portrays is a bit much. I’m an atheist, but when presented with evidence of a God or gods, I’d be willing to believe. But no matter how much Andrews’ character sees, it takes him a long time to make that leap. Any skeptic worth his or her salt would, upon receiving evidence, accept a claim. I don’t blame him for mocking the seance (that was not a controlled experiment whatsoever, and as such, of course a man of scientific learning shouldn’t be expected to buy that), but past a certain point, he should have been more willing to accept that something’s going on.

Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis are both good additions, especially MacGinnis. I don’t think I’d go as far as to call him amazing, but I really did like what he brought to the film (though of course, I don’t see why Satanists are portrayed in such a negative light as they generally have a peaceful religion). Others who I enjoyed, though neither one was that important, include Liam Redmond and Peter Elliott.

If there’s one thing about the movie I think is close to flawless, it’d be the finale, which takes place on a train. Talk about tense – that moment was very much the engaging story I wish the first eighty minutes had been. Not that the story here wasn’t worth it, but it really shined during the conclusion in a way it didn’t for me leading up to it.

Night of the Demon isn’t a movie I love, but I do like some things about it. Ultimately, I’d place it around average, and though I don’t personally like it near as much as many others tend to, I’d still suggest it for those looking for a piece of 50’s British horror that might make an impact.

7/10

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Directed by Edward Ludwig [Other horror films: N/A]

The last time I saw The Black Scorpion, I thought it was a bit below average, so seeing it again with fresh eyes, I have to admit that I had no idea what I was thinking. It’s not that this film is utterly amazing, and I don’t care that much for the final 15 minutes or so, but for much of the movie, I thought it was a very effective and occasionally suspenseful creature feature.

Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas, and Mara Corday all did well, but I don’t really think any of them were spectacular, especially trapped within the generic 50’s character roles. I did like Rivas’ character quite a bit, but of course the female protagonist fell for the white guy instead.

Special effects in The Black Scorpion were mostly well done. The scorpions looked mostly fantastic (until there was a close-up on it’s face, in which case they looked goofy), and the cave sequence was very solid (which included the best scene in the film, being a tense rope sequence), so there weren’t many issues there.

I think that The Black Scorpion is mostly solid with some decent sequences, such as the aforementioned rope scene, along with the the train derailment. I won’t say that it’s amazing, but I had a lot more fun with this and the initial mystery of the deaths than I did when I first saw it.

7.5/10