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Monster of Piedras Blancas, The

Entry updated 12 June 2023. Tagged: Film.

US film (1959). Vanwick Productions. Directed by Irvin Berwick. Written by H Haile Chace. Cast includes Frank Arvidson, Jeanne Carmen, Pete Dunn, John Harmon, Forrest Lewis, Don Sullivan and Les Tremayne. 71 minutes. Black and white.

Misanthropic widower Mr Sturges (Harmon) will angrily warn off any passers-by who get too close to his lighthouse; set on the mainland, this is but a short distance from a coastal town. Here we see a group of locals staring into a small boat, where two fishermen's corpses lie: we do not see them, but overhear that their heads have been "ripped clean off" and bodies drained of blood. This is not the first such occurrence, and storekeeper Kochek (Arvidson) – referring to the theories of Constable Matson (Lewis) – observes that in the old days people would not have been blaming bad weather and the rocky coast for such deaths, but "the Monster of Piedras Blancas". Kochek becomes the next victim: a large fish-like scale is found near his body, which the local doctor Sam Jorgenson (Tremayne), and Fred (Sullivan), a young marine Scientist, run tests on. They conclude it's similar to but larger than the scale of a Diplovertebron, "a prehistoric amphibian reptile, thought to be extinct" (they existed: a type of Embolomere, about 50cm long, which were predatory tetrapods during the Late Carboniferous period).

Lucy (Carmen), Sturges's daughter, only recently returned from ten years at a boarding school, now rushes in to say her father is lying injured near the caves by the lighthouse. We have previously seen him putting out food here, something he does regularly. Fred, who's romancing Lucy, questions Sturges, who is adamant that the legend of a monster is false but nonetheless becomes agitated when Fred suggests investigating the caves. Meanwhile, a child's body is found and taken to Kochek's ice room for storage: but when Matson enters a reptilian Monster (Dunn) bursts out, carrying the decapitated head of a local youth. Sturges now reveals to Lucy that for many years he's been putting out food for a creature that lives in one of the caves: initially providing fish, he'd once put out meat scraps, whereafter it refused anything else. Recently he'd run out of meat and tried fish again: clearly the monster is dissatisfied and has been targeting Kochek's shop, smelling the meat stored there.

Fred theorizes the monster is a mutation (see Mutants) and likely Intelligent: he wants to trap it – Matson wants to kill it, but Dr Jorgenson supports Fred's plan, feeling the creature may answer many questions about Evolution. However, the creature has been watching Lucy bathing nude and now, after seeing her wearing only underwear, kidnaps her – Sturges shoots at it, to little effect, and it throws him from the top of the lighthouse as Fred and the others arrive. Noticing that it does not like torches shone in its face, Fred tells Lucy to turn on the beacon: with the monster blinded by the light, Fred is able to push it over the railings and it falls into the sea. The film ends.

The final scene is a little unsatisfactory: having an amphibious creature fall – albeit from a great height – into the ocean is hardly a conclusive ending. The reptilian monster suit is moderately good, though giving it the kinesics of an ape is a little absurd. The film was made cheaply ($29,000) by an independent company, one of whose founders was director Berwick; the other was producer Jack Kevan, who worked on the special effects for The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and other Universal-International sf/horror films. The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a slow moving and talkative film with only a couple of brief Horror scenes, but this does heighten their effectiveness; they are graphic for their time. [SP]


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