Tuesday, June 17, 2014


"The Fiend That Walks Lovers' Beach !"

    MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS was a late entry in the 1950's monster on the rampage genre that because being independently produced (with some under the table help from Universal) was able to push the envelope a bit farther with the blood quota and even work in some some almost there nudity. Produced just a few years after the start of Hammer's color drenched Gothic horrors and just before the start of Roger Corman's more "adult horror" Poe cycle MONSTER must have seemed a bit arcahic to moviegoers (in spite of the above mentioned added attractions). It was heavily promoted by Famous Monsters of Filmland "Shock Award Winner !" (which most likely came about as the result of tossing Forry a few bucks) and thanks to a much reproduced promotional still featuring the monster and a severed head it become will known to monster movie fans even if it was never seen by them.

   Made by Jack Kevan (producer) and Irwin Berwick (director) as the initial film for their newly formed company Vanwick Productions, the pair had previously worked at the by now struggling Universal International who where at the time (as all the major studios) grappling with the growing popularity of TV and ever shrinking revenues. Berwick had worked as mostly as an uncredited dialogue director while Kevan had toiled in obscurity in the makeup dept where he did the majority of design work on THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON among others but as because of the studio hierarchy system makeup dept. head Bud Westmore had received all the credit. Because the studio was struggling so badly at the time it made available to the independent production team both equipment and personal at a greatly reduced rate, with Universal likely receiving some money off the back end.

   Thanks to the major studio help, even though its a cheap low budget picture MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS is nice looking cheap low budget picture (which helps offset the sometimes flat direction a bit) and the monster (as designed by Kevan) while seemingly totally out of its element as far as its amphibian roots is still a great looking piece of monster design on a budget. Using some left over molds Kevan used the Metaluna Mutant's feet from THIS ISLAND EARTH and the clawed hands coming from THE MOLE PEOPLE with the creature as a whole looking to be an offspring of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and THE SHE CREATURE. Although shot entirely on location it was actually filmed in the California coastal town of Caycuos and the Point Conception lighthouse as that evidently is a cooler looking lighthouse then the actual Piedras Blancas location (although Piedras Blancas does sound a bit more exotic then The Monster of Point Conception).
    Opening with an eerie scene of claw reaching over a rocky outcropping and pulling something out of a metal dish we're then introduced to crusty lighthouse keeper Sturgus (John Harmon - oddly all the characters in the credits are just identified by their occupation such as "lighthouse keeper", "doctor" and so on) who angrily yells at a couple of fishermen to keep away. Later the two fisherman are found beheaded and drained of blood and just to let us know we are watching a 50's monster movie the local doctor (and so it seems minister) is played by Les Tremayne who seem to specialize in playing slightly crotchety military and professional types (most famously in WAR OF THE WORLDS). In town Sturgus stops by the local grocer Kochek who is one of those ethnic store owners that seemed to frequent movies and TV of this era who gesture wildly and yell constantly in some vaguely European type accent (here concerning a local legend about a monster).

    Sturgus daughter Lucille played by 50's pin-up model Jeanne Carmen (who's life story would make a pretty cool movie in itself) and her love interest is played by Don Sullivan (THE GIANT GILA MONSTER) who made a bit of a name for himself in low budget movies for a few years around this time. Sullivan also serves as the scientist/hero type role in the movie as he identifies one of the monsters scales as belonging to a type of prehistoric fish (although its never explained what type of scientist he is or what he's doing here). The movie tries to do something different with the premise of the monster as it turns out Sturgus has been secretly feeding the cave dwelling beast with meat scrapes for years and sent Lucy away to school after the death of his wife to protect her (its somewhat hinted at that the monster wants to get "intimate" with Lucille).
   Stalking into town one night the monster kills Kochek and later pops out of a doorway swinging a decapitated head and frighting off the local population. The severed head (later seen laying in a cave with crabs scuttling about) and Lucille's midnight skinny dipping both seem jarring in the context of other 50's sci-f/horror movies and most have made quite an impression on young movie goers at the time. Also in a kind of shocking scene a young girl is killed and beheaded with her father carrying her back to town in a scene reminiscent of FRANKENSTEIN (it's left as a mystery to what the monster is doing with the heads). The monster is kept largely unseen for a good chuck of the movie (we see shadows and clutching claws), although in the climax we get to see in in all its glory and plus in true monster movie fashion even get to carry off a nightgown clad Lucille.

    In spite of its obvious budget restraints (anytime somebody needs to drive somewhere they use the same dilapidated jeep) the movie does manage to convoy a creepy atmosphere with the largely outdoor and coastline setting helping (in addition to the lighthouse). Jeanne Carmen looks a bit to old to have been "sent way to boarding school" (she was 29 at the time) but does look good in a nightgown and must have put young imaginations into overdrive with her skinny dipping scene (and plus you got Les Treymayne).
   Pin-up (and "A" list party girl) Jeanne Carmen ran away from her Paragould Ark. home at age 13 to become a dancer in off broadway NYC and later a stripper. Working in 1950's Las Vegas she hung out with mobsters, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and later discovered a talent for trick golf shots which she parlayed into a respectable career. Later working in "B" movies some of her later stories including a close friendship with Marilyn Monroe and an affair with JFK have become somewhat suspect although her book My Wild Wild Life is a fun read.
   It turned up occasionally on late night 70's TV, but since then has been kind of hard to see (having never been given an authorized DVD release and rarely showing up on TV in recent years). It's surfaced occasionally on AMC in a nicer looking print then the usual copies that have been floating around - unfortunately with an ever present AMC logo burned into the corner. Republic is suppose to have the rights (they issued a VHS long ago) which means that Olive Films might have access to the materials if available.




  1. Excellent stuff, Dick - I know the name of this one but never seen it, and those stills really do look great. Lovely write up as always, this one is going up high on my monster movie list (how could I resist with such lovely looking severed heads?).

    1. It's a good one and as you said its hard to resist severed heads (and Jeanne Carmen !)