Monolith Monsters, The (1957)

The Monolith Monsters (1957), directed by John Sherwood.

A California desert SF genre film where we have no actual monsters, just growing rock crystal towers that may cover the entire planet if unchecked. They are not malevolent or even living, just unthinking natural processes. Which doesn't mean they are not scary -- think of hurricanes or nuclear fission. Or viruses. They can also petrify human flesh; sorry about that.

Rocks can be scary, especially those falling from the sky. They are so old, so mysterious in their history and origins: Lovecraft's The Color Out of Space or the original Outer Limits episode Corpus Earthling. The monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) are spooky, though decidedly unnatural.

I find the concept in this film intriguing and the monoliths themselves beautiful in a menacing sort of way: how the ground trembles from their distant thunder, their inexorable rebirth from the shattered remains of their fallen towers, a symbol of immortality.

On the down side: the acting is often low energy and rough. It takes our heroes forever to discover that water makes the rocks grow, something the audience knew in the first few minutes. Even at only 77m long it seems a bit padded in spots. For the models and crystal special effect: bigger would have been better.

How do you stop the monoliths? The same solution was used to kill the deadly walking plants in The Day of the Triffids (1962).

Grant Williams also starred in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) the same year. Lola Albright became a regular on Peter Gunn.

William Schallert has one scene as the unhelpful meteorologist. A prolific character actor, he was also president of the Screen Actors Guild for a time.

Some of the score is new but much is recycled from other Universal SF/horror films of this period: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) . Those clashing chords and dissonant horns: you know what you are in for.

Jack Arnold gets a writing credit but commentators say he didn't write a word of it.

Finally: how did they do the monolith effects? They look like brittle anthracite coal to me. They were actually balsa wood models painted shiny black. They were pre-scored to break apart and contained packages of smaller wooden "crystals" to give that shattering effect.

I would never have thought of that.

I have this on DVD in "The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection" but the thumbnails are from the more recent Shout Factory Blu-ray, which has two commentary tracks: