31 Days, Day 2: THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS

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The Monster of Piedras Blancas is an awkward mouthful of a title. It lacks the instantly memorable ring of something like Creature from the Black Lagoon or Night of the Living Dead. nd it’s fitting too. Monster was destined to be an obscure footnote in 1950s B-Movie Horror.

As schlocky creature features go, it’s very much a deep cut. This is not a good film, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s a grubby, almost punkish quality about it. It’s the kind of film to watch in a large group, after a couple beers; the kind of drive-in B-flick with a lurid, sensational poster no film could live up to. Ripe for rediscovery, Monster has been given and pristine new transfer and released on Blu-ray for the first time by Olive Films.

The plot centers on Sturges (John Harmon), a lighthouse keeper with a secret. For years he’s been leaving meat out by the caves along the rocky shoreline, on the outskirts of the small mid-California coastal town. Something lives in the caves, and for years the town has had a local legend about a monster. One day, Sturges fails to put the meat out, and the creature emerges from its hidden lair to hunt… and perv out on Sturges’s daughter Lucille (played by Jeanne Carmen), as she takes a moonlight skinny dip in the ocean.

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While a knockoff of the superior Creature from the Black Lagoon, I found the film notable for two reasons. First off, it contains a surprising amount of gore for the 1950s. The titular monster has a nasty habit of slicing its victims’ heads off, and leaving them lying around. It’s pure schlock in the best way; obviously fake, but still a little slimy. Secondly, there is the way in which the film deals with the trope of a monster’s would-be love interest/prey. Mostly forgoing the elegiac beauty-and-the-beast doomed yearning for an unattainable mate, Monster goes for seedy voyeurism and blunt lust.

That skinny dipping scene is all tasteless camp that knowingly plays the sexual mores of the day against the raging id that festered just beneath the surface. A shot of the silhouetted Lucille undressing to the sound of the monsters heavy breathing is surprisingly frank. In one shot that sums up everything about the film, the monsters hands reach up from behind a rock to paw at her slip in the foreground while she splashes in the surf in the surf in the background.

The monster isn’t particularly well designed, and is an awkward presence on screen. The costume was cobbled together from leftovers from other films. The creature’s feet were apparently made from the same mold used for the creature from This Island Earth, while its hands apparently were repurposed from The Mole People. It’s no Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Blob, but it has its own scuzzy charm.

Luke Tipton
Criterion Junkie / Wearer of Awesome Beards
Luke is a cinephile, dad, and handclap aficionado (not necessarily in that order) out of Valparaiso, Indiana. He works as a safety coordinator for a steel erector in Chicago, and is an occasional musician and producer. His lifelong obsession with the movies may-or-may-not have been caused by growing up without a TV in his home, and the rush of sneaking off to friends’ houses to watched copied VHS tapes of Star Wars and E.T.
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