Monster That Challenged That One Really Small Science Lab

Hollywood’s single instance of a killer sea mollusk movie is luckily a competent ’50s thriller, even a touch forward thinking and self-referential. While the decade swarmed with crackling Geiger counters, Monster That Challenged the World recognizes the audacity of bunching together these monster pictures in such numbers. “I’m tired of people jumping to wild conclusions about radioactivity,” quips a scientist – while studying radioactive juices excreted by the titular beast.

While often caught in the routine, Monster That Challenged the World exhibits a now lost sense of patience and certainly restraint. Narration and images of military bases fill space, but the feature is not without its marketable stunts. The kills are quick, shown only by close-ups of fearful faces. Bodies in morgues, drained of their fluids with passable, made-up-to-look-dried-out dummies standing in for the corpse, help the leisurely pace.

Routine follows the cast, led by Tim Holt as a military commander and Hans Conried as the exposition dropping scientist. Surrounding them though is a pokey, often scene stealing roster from a rare instance of an on-screen ’50s era single mother (Audrey Dalton), a coroner who pulls the olden food gag (stashing it in unused cold storage), and Milton Parsons who swallows the screen as a creepy museum curator – whose failed proposition 14-A is the film’s running humor in the second half.

A touch a levity does not hurt. The Monster That Challenged the World is a creepy crustacean, a supreme model of well devised, live action puppetry. It’s convincing as far as it can be, even if the match to the supposed real world creature it’s based upon is dubious. Making a home in the Salton Sea, the critter(s) pump out eggs and munch on local folk. The threat feels credible despite the often rudimentary dialog meant to enhance it, chatter already stale for the genre by release in 1957.

The monster is worth staying for

Note the world isn’t challenged so much as a river basin. Maybe a resort shop or two as well. Still, the emphatic title is a pleasing example of overselling horror and images to follow are enough to let the marketing shtick go. The monster is worth staying for, if not as impressive in scale as the irradiated desert ants in Them!, than certainly more effective in motion.

Monster That Challenged the World doesn’t exist in fear over isotopes or bombs; it merely uses them for a cheap narrative jump start. It’s a passe film which exists because the sub-genre was hot, and images of soldiers saving their American homeland still resonated a dozen years after WWII. Compared to the litany of monster cheapies of the time – using the same rote formula – Monster That Challenged the World is a memorable romp with its own touch. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

"Hey kid, want to buy some candy?" @ 1:18:46

Kino Lorber issues the film to Blu-ray picking it from MGM who handled DVD duties. End results are mostly positive. Grain is light, too much so, and the hallmarks of light filtering pop up. Faces carry a pasty quality, lacking in the firmest of definition. Images are too glossy and sometimes feel coated in chalk.

Imperfect as it may be, print damage has been quelled outside of the opening credits. Only a few lines and scratches will show through. Fade ins and outs lose only a little sharpness. Print quality appears close to the master and scanned in acceptable resolution – with the filtering. Even underwater cinematography is well managed.

Gray scale is well maintained, giving the B&W image some density. The film has seen 4×3 and 1.85:1 versions throughout the years, the Blu-ray matching the widescreen format. Monster That Challenged the World was likely an open matte production, so preferences determine which way is “better.”

Images hold to a level of clarity unexpected for a minor monster flick of the ’50s. Compression is excellent. It’s, “the best it’s ever looked,” if that cliché has not run itself dry along with the Salton Sea. Despite the obvious problems, complaints are few. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

Mono audio maintains clarity when it comes to the fine score. Even at their peaks, instruments are clear. Other than an explosion leading up to the finale, there are no instances of muffled audio, drop-outs, or popping. Dialog follows suit, if featuring an imperceptible increase in quality from MGM’s Dolby Digital DVD edition. It’s doubtful the expectations for the DTS-HD track were particularly high. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Kino goes further than MGM’s release, adding a well researched commentary from historian Tom Weaver. He’s an active speaker who will pull in others to fill in the gaps. It’s a fine track. The original theatrical trailer is then the final bonus. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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