THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS"
The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a 1959 monster movie that has been very difficult to find. It's one of those old movies that somehow got lost to time. A core group of fans has been clamoring for a proper home video release for decades. They finally get it with Olive Films' Blu-ray, out September 13. This marks a chance to rediscover a better-than-average creature feature from that era, or to discover it for the first time.
The story is set in a tiny lighthouse community, where a series of grisly murders take place. Victims are beheaded and left without any trace of blood. Dr. Sam Jorgensen (Les Tremayne) wants to find out the cause of these deaths. He comes to suspect that the town's lightkeeper, Sturges (John Harmon), may know more than he's letting on. Meanwhile, Sturges' daughter Lucy (Jeanne Carmen) tries to prevent her boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan) from checking out the caves that her father has warned him to stay away from. When a prehistoric amphibian is spotted in town, panic fully sets in.
The Monster of Piedras Blancas is far better made than a lot of the '50s monster movies were. Much of it was shot on actual locations rather than sets, which gives it a more authentic, wide open feel. Cinematographer Philip Lathrop went on to become an Oscar nominee for his work on The Americanization of Emily and Earthquake. He photographs the movie with real atmosphere, making the town look beautiful while also giving the monster attacks a sense of menace. The performances are above par, as well, with little of the stilted acting that marked many similar pictures from the era.
The biggest flaw is one that was common to these kinds of movies in the '50s: it takes forever to get to the monster. Not until 45 minutes in does the creature make his first real appearance. There's a lot of people standing around talking about it before you actually see the thing. Pleasingly, though, The Monster of Piedras Blancas doesn't hold back once the title figure arrives. The design of the beast is more horrific than you might expect, even if you do see the zipper in the back of the costume. And there's a shockingly graphic scene of the monster holding a severed head – a sight that was certainly rare back then.
Olive Films' Blu-ray transfer is absolutely gorgeous. Despite the movie's age and low budget, the image is sharp and clear. Sound quality is also good. Even if not an all-time classic horror movie, The Monster of Pietras Blancas is well worth seeking out for fans of old-school black-and-white horror.
For more information on this title and other great releases, please visit the Olive Films website.
The Monster of Piedras Blancas is unrated. The running time is 1 hour and 11 minutes.
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