Avalanche on an Anthill
Both the Cold War and space race surrounded the release of 1957’s The Monolith Monsters. Consider this clever sci-fi an amalgam from those fears, with pure black rock raining from space, and the resulting [communist] debris coming to smash the small western town of San Angelo.
It takes but a single scientist, a doctor, and a reporter to sort this mess out. In ‘57, the United States’ best still resided in tiny, self-sustained towns, and much of the fiction set itself there too. San Angelo is nearly crushed by alien rock, growing with any exposure to water. It’s a slow, percolating menace, with Monolith Monsters’ internal clock driven by a little girl turning to stone. She’s stuffed in an iron lung, further exaggerating the threat of this unorthodox space stuff, and in turn, creating a rush to defeat the stones.
While Monolith Monsters’ overall story stays within the B-realm of Universal’s 1950s output (and of general sci-fi from the same era), this is one for true science geeks. Chemists and geologists finally get their monster movie after years of paying nuclear physicists their due. The premise sounds silly – living, growing rocks – yet Monolith Monsters’ premise is arguably more grounded than any other genre shenanigans of this period. Tarantulas won’t grow 50-feet tall. A rock will, albeit not in a 24 hour period.
Perfect fodder for a new era of war
Perfect fodder for a new era of war
With that thin script come thin characters. No one breaks out from predetermined roles. The lone woman in the cast, Lola Albright, sits around waiting for men to say something first. William Flaherty arguably has the most to do as a grouchy police chief, and classic bit player Les Tremayne is never short of totally entertaining in any role. Grant Williams doesn’t do much in the lead, far better in the same year’s philosophical classic, The Incredible Shrinking Man. But don’t blame Williams; blame the paper thin characterization.
Monolith Monsters doesn’t call for much else. It’s a story of an average American town overcome by outlandish circumstances and how those average people band together to ward off the enemy. Perfect fodder, then, for a new era of war, both inspiring for the showcase of ingenuity and striking in contrast with bright desert beauty shattered by a dark, penetrating force. Isolationism and superiority were socially ingrained; Monolith Monsters took that idea and turned it into a monster stone saga.
A middling visual effort earns a stand-alone release from Scream Factory. The disc’s presentation carries the hallmarks of an older scan, lacking in the finest modern resolution and missing natural sharpness. Some processing remains, creating slight ringing and on occasion, a processed appearance.
Likely provided by Universal, the scan comes from a great looking print. It’s bright and clean with no damage or dirt to speak of. Gray scale range allows for depth, pushing limits under the western sun while allowing the deep black of the rock to show wonderfully.
Encoding handles a tough grain structure, a bit buzzy if still organic. Detail seeps in with adequate definition, including the detail of a few miniature sets. Cinematography doesn’t allow for typical facial texture; most of Monolith Monsters is shot in a mid-range, static and pedestrian. The Blu-ray release handles that fine.
Most of the score comes from other Universal offerings, including The Deadly Mantis. That works for the chilling mystery as the horns and creepy violins push tension, all while this DTS-HD mono track does some fine work in keeping those highs rich. Scoring is stout and organic, with minimal to no loss of detail.
Even with age, the rumbling earthquake makes for an output of bass, small if accentuating enough to matter. Drums in the music likewise deliver equal fidelity.
The always great Tom Weaver handles commentating duties on the first track, with historian Mark Jancovich digging deeper into the decade’s subtext on the second. Trailers and a still gallery come in next.
As another bonus, a 2:00:1 ratio version of Monolith Monsters is offered, although marketing materials do not offer context. It’s obviously cropped, most likely for those scope theaters of the time.
The Monolith Monsters
A unique idea, The Monolith Monsters concerns towering rock towers standing in for communist space invaders, let down only by a stock script.
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