Friday, December 2, 2011

Sea Beast Movies: The Monster that Challenged the World

The title of this one really enticed me. Then I found out it was about oversized mollusks in the Salton Sea and I was like, how can this not be fucking awesome? Actually, it wasn't that awesome, although more respectable than some sea beast films in its execution. It's black and white, made in 1957, and not cinematically gorgeous at all. It won't scare you, except maybe for the stock footage of a film featuring close ups of real-life snails. That was fucking disgusting. One thing I did like about Piranha was the quirky editing style and the fun the editor had from cut to cut (and actually, there was a point in Piranha where The Monster that Challenged the World was on a TV, a little hat tip to this very film). None of that quirky editing fun here. But mollusks! Large mollusks!

Does that look like a mollusk to you? In the first shot I thought it looked like if R2D2 was some kind of evil insect-owl. Later on I privately renamed it the Glistening Turd Monster. Anywho, it's 1957, so can't expect much from the special effects crew. The marine growths and egg sacs they find throughout the film look like straight-up jumbo-sized garbage bags.

So as far as the sea beast genre goes, I buy the plot -- the Salton Sea has a couple earthquakes, emerging a legion of oversized human-killing sea beasts that emit "simple marine secretions." Ha. Anyway, the plot was actually pretty solid in this film. The writers, god bless them, really tried to make sense out of this story. The dialogue wasn't awful. I found myself a little surprised at the decent acting at times. This movie rode somewhere in the middle of so-bad-it's-campy-fun and wow-this-is-actually-an-impressive film.

Basically, every character in this movie is a dude in uniform. Navy dudes. Scientist dudes in lab coats. Deputies. Sheriffs. The main character (played by Tim Holt, best known from Treasure of the Sierra Madre) is Navy Lieutenant Commander John Twillinger, or, as he is known affectionately to some, The Man with Three Titles. He has a secretary, Gail (Audrey Dalton), who is his sidekick/lady friend throughout the movie. The love story is grosstown. It's just, like, why? Get to the fucking sea beasts already. I really wish sea beast movies didn't insert unnecessary romances, by which I mean any romances at all.

Gail seems bored all the time and kind of bummed out. Maybe that's because she has a little girl named Sandy who tries so hard to be cute you want to puke every time she speaks. When her character first came onscreen oozing with corn syrupy little kid cuteness I had high hopes that she would perhaps fall victim to the mollusk's ... whatever mollusks eat people with. Gail and Sandy are the only real female characters in the film. I didn't have much hopes for strong females in this one, considering one of the first lines I remember a lady uttering in the film was "Just consider me a piece of furniture!"

All right, so basically this movie is a race for the Navy dudes to find where the giant bloodhungry mollusks' eggs are before they hatch. They search the bottom of the Salton Sea. They search wells. They have some run ins with the mollusks, who claim some victims. Favorite victims of the film: teen Jody and bad boy Morty, forbidden lovers sneaking out for a swim. Moral of their story is, don't disobey your mom or sea beasts will eat you. But overall, not that many victims. No bloodbaths. However, the climax of the film involves a faceoff between the mollusk and Gail and Sandy that for a moment reminded me of the infamous "Heeere's Johnny!" Shining scene.

Sadly, Sandy lives. Apparently fire extinguishers can kill giant human-eating mollusks. You learn something new every day! And the makeshift family walks into the sunset again for another ho-hum shove-domesticity-down-your-throat-even-after-giant-sea-snails-almost-took-over-the-world kind of ending.

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