A Film Rumination: The Monolith Monsters, John Sherwood (1957)

7/10 (Good)

John Sherwood’s The Monolith Monsters (1957) is by far one of my favorite  B sci-fi (ish) monster movies!  I’m being very generous with rating but, this is a hilariously average (but wonderful) romp with one of the more peculiar “monsters” matched up with some of the best 50s special effects I’ve seen.  The Monolith Monsters is without doubt one of the more interesting films of the 1950s American Realist Science Fiction movement and B sci-fi in general (I’m not counting films that transcend their B movie status and enter the ranks of the greats — The Monolith Monsters has no pretensions of being anything more than a B movie and unabashedly isn’t).

The most arresting quality of the film (besides the special effects) is John Sherwood’s creation of a small town ethos with a kaleidoscopic group of characters instead of concentrating solely on the two leads.  The plethora of secondary characters with substantial screen time include the local newspaper writer, a geology professor, the local police chief, the local doctor, a doctor from the city, etc.  Sherwood manages to enhance the isolation of the town and its resulting close-knit ethos with a bleak and isolated setting — a town at the dusty rock strewn edge of the California desert.

I was also surprised by the female lead, Cathy (Lola Albright) — the male geologists value her input and ask her to help with the experiments although she’s not a scientist but rather the local school teacher.  All in all there’s nothing egregious about the film’s gender dynamics — something which often plagues films of this period and beyond.

Brief Plot Summary

The film begins, in pseudo-documentary mode, with a brief voiceover introduction (with accompanying stock footage — of course!) on meteors.

The premise is simple: a meteor from some unknown distant part of the galaxy crashes into many small pieces near a dusty California town.  The meteor, unactivated by water, is benign.  Various towns people pick up the interesting rock (which looks like obsidian) and bring it to their homes.  However, a particularly large chunk is accidentally activated by contact with water and kills a geologist.  This meteor has the ability to turn people completely rigid by sucking out all the silicon from their victims’ skin.

On an excursion into the country one of Cathy’s students picks up a large chunk of the meteor and brings it home.  Later that evening the rock is activated when the girl drops it in a bucket of water and the meteor grows and destroys her entire house and kills her parents.  And the coolest part is the fact that the little girl’s hand has its silicon sucked out by the rock!  She’s sent to a city doctor who comes up with a cure.  It’s up to the local geologist Dave (Grant Williams fresh off the success of The Shrinking Man) and his one-time professor to apply the principles of this medical cure to defeating the meteor which is cascading down the valleys destroying everything in its path (the picture below)

Final Thoughts

The images of the meteors growing, cracking, growing again, rumbling down the valley destroying buildings are absolutely spectacular!  I was shocked at the quality of these 50s effects (even if the premise sounds hokey watch it for the last third)! The film is also blessed with a surprisingly solid plot that doesn’t falter (although the ending is painfully abrupt).

All in all this is a must watch for anyone who loves B sci-fi or popular 50s entertainment!  The small town ethos, the relatively ok acting, the special effects, and straightforward well-paced plot make this an endearing little gem.

20 thoughts on “A Film Rumination: The Monolith Monsters, John Sherwood (1957)

  1. Yeah, the “monsters” are a purely geological phenomenon from outer-space… American Realist 50s sci-fi — tehehe

    No, I’ve not seen The Creeping Terror — it’s supposed to be one of the worst films of all time 😉 The Monolith Monsters is almost an actual “good” film.

    • Actually, The Monolith Monsters sounds pretty good, all things told.

      Creeping Terror is a must, however. It could also have been called “The Shag Carpet Who Wore Tennis Shoes” or “It Came From A VW Combi.” I brought it up solely because of the strange concept of Monsters… and because I thought you might “enjoy” it.

    • You’re welcome — at the moment it’s my favorite B sci-fi film — as you can probably tell from this blog I review/like a HUGE range of films (from Jules Dassin’s seldom seen masterpiece He Who Must Die to The Monolith Monsters — hehe).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Pingback: Detour: The Monolith Monsters « top50sf

  3. Your views on this film echo my own.

    I first saw this movie at a very, very young age but was immediately captivated by the story and the effects.

    For a long time after that, I could never find out what the title of the movie was (long before the internet was around and not that many SF cinema books either) and kept and asking people about it. When I finally find out and was able to secure a tape to watch it again, I worried that it would not live up to the memories.But this really is a true gem of the B movies.

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Joachim, There`s no need for being defensive about its B-movie-ness. It delivers the goods. I only saw this last year for the first time after decades of hearing about it and expecting it would be a let-down. It`s terrific. [I wonder if the effect on those who touch the rocks inspired Ballard`s The Crystal World?] I rank it alongside Magnetic Monster and Gog as B movies that don`t get all insane with the impossibilities and stick with improbabilities–the kind of movie you can watch without fear of hitting on something really silly. Now, The Creeping Terror is something else–am I the only person who noticed it has the same `living machine consumes people to gather information` obstacle as Star Trek the Motionless Picture? 😀

    • Hmm, I’ve hear about Gog. As I mentioned recently I’ve been finding it neigh impossible to watch B movies — unfortunately, I am rather possessed with a case of film elitism which thankfully doesn’t stretch over to sci-fi — I’m perfectly happy about reading bad science fiction as long as I can write a bad review… haha

  5. I think film fans with eclectic tastes–as opposed to those fixated on,say, classic Hollywood to the exclusion of all else, or European [French] `joy and sadness of it all!` films–go in for periods of viewing. You`ll see one film on Iranian fruit sellers struggling under the boot of oppressive capitalism too many, and you`ll be watching Godzilla sequels. When that happens, well, stop and watch something GOOD. 😉

  6. Hi

    I was going through some of your older posts and when I got to this one I had to comment. This ranks with “Them”, I love the opening, as my one of my favourite 1950’s B movies. Along with the great 1950’s cars, the fact Ginny is placed in an Iron Lung is sadly very evocative of the period when polio was such a threat. I also found the fully realized small town a nice change from the narrow hero heroine focus of many of the SF films of the period. Okay I also like Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, I am a huge Harryhausen fan. I have low film tastes. Based on your review I may try to briefly redeem myself and watch Tales From The Gimili Hospital.

    Happy viewing

    • Before you watch any of Guy Maddin’s feature length films, I recommend watching his most famous short film first. If his odd style appeals to you, then I recommend The Saddest Music in the World + Brand Upon the Brain. He is one of the more original directors out there. That said, he is also one of the more polarizing directors out there…. He is sort of the Barry N. Malzberg of film but all about nostalgia.

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