Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mighty Mollusks For Minor Thrills

Ah, the 50s. A time for poodle skirts, rock 'n' roll, Cold War paranoia, and creature feature marathons watched in hot rod cars at the local drive-in. At least, that’s the understanding I have based on what I learned from Grease and the entire canon of MST3K. This decade had plenty of lows (high heeled housewives and McCarthyism come to mind) but one can't deny the rich legacy of giant killer insects spawned by a people living in fear of Russia and radioactivity. Some succeed at providing timeless scares (Them!) while others are so laughable on their own, Tom Servo & Co. don't know where to begin. The Monster That Challenged the World falls somewhere between.  

While the title is a tad clunky (‘challenge’ calls to mind a staring contest or game of ping pong) the story is typical of its time. Divers are vanishing in the Salton Sea, leaving nothing behind but a sticky white substance and the occasional dry victim who died of fright. All the cliches are in order: lab sample analysis, rebellious (if weirdly sullen) teenagers, blandly heroic leading men and pretty but helpless widowed secretaries.

That leaves the creature which--let’s face it--is the main draw of any black & white monster mash. On that front, The Monster That Challenged The World scores some nice points. What’s meant to be a mammoth prehistoric mollusk looks closer to a fuzz-less caterpillar that decapitates like a demon and screams like Chewbacca. Also, it’s not alone. An earthquake has moved a few eggs, one of which, in true film fashion, is kept alive in an unlocked lab tank. No harm there. It’s not like a five year old is going to saunter in alone and operate heavy machinery that could help to awaken the behemoth sleeping inside. Oh wait.

High Points
Several quirky minor characters (including a mama’s girl operator and the town’s bitter historian) lend an extra touch of entertainment and intrigue

The monster's first underwater decapitation is fairy graphic for 1957

Low Points
...but the blood-drained corpses do look less like tortured victims and more like window mannequins from J.C. Penney's

A scene that gets ridiculously serious in introducing a mother-daughter clash couldn’t possibly be followed by the young woman dying, could it?

Lessons Learned
Do not trust a police commander with your beloved pet

Men named Morty are never good for you

Only two things cause strokes: violent anger and fear

Never accept a sandwich if packaged and stored by a mortician

Winning Line
“Did you mention that you were available?”
That’s the first thing I tell the irritable policeman who’s just walked through the door and impatiently argued with my boss

Your enjoyment of this movie is purely based on your opinion of 1950s creature features. If watching an eight food tall worm hiss above a little girl as her leading lady mother bravely cries “Don’t worry, someone will come and save us!” is appealing, then add The Monster That Challenged the World to your collection. The DVD comes with a second film, the much better titled It! The Terror From Beyond Space (although I’ve been too Netflix-happy to keep a DVD for longer than a day and didn’t watch it), so there’s certainly a bargain to be had. One viewing was enough for me; the campiness is a little too low for my bad taste and the creepy caterpillarness probably won’t keep me out of the ocean this summer.


  1. Honestly, I need to see this. This sounds like everything I love in movies, especially from that wonderful wonderful era.

  2. There are times where you want to insert a little Crow and Servo in the bottom right corner, but overall, it has a few special things going for it. It's a creature feature in the purest sense.