Tuesday, July 25, 2017

#2,392. The Monster that Challenged the World (1957)

Directed By: Arnold Laven

Starring: Tim Holt, Audrey Dalton, Hans Conried

Tagline: "Crawling up from the depths... to terrify and torture!"

Trivia: The majority of the underwater scenes were shot at Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles

The Monster that Challenged the World, a sci-fi / horror film directed by Arthur Laven, has the look and feel of a “B” picture (it was released as part of a double bill with 1957’s The Vampire). Yet thanks to an engaging story this movie manages to overcome the limitations of its budget, and, in the end, is a very entertaining creature feature.

Based on a story by David Duncan (who would later write the screenplays for The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage), The Monster that Challenged the World is set in the Salton Sea area of California, and concerns the U.S. Navy’s battle with a group of underwater creatures, man-sized mollusks that act (and eat) like the common snail. 

Shortly after a minor earthquake rocks the coastline, a Navy skydiver, testing a new parachute, lands safely in the sea, and a boat, piloted by Seamen Johnson (Jody McCrae) and Sanders (William Swan), heads out to meet him. When Johnson and Sanders fail to report in, John Twillinger (Tim Holt), the hard-nosed Lt. Commander of a nearby Naval base (from which the parachute test originated), leads a rescue party to their last known coordinates. Once there, they find seaman Johnson dead aboard the vessel, and the remains of the parachutist floating in the water, looking as if all the blood had been drained from his body. Adding to the confusion is the appearance of a sticky substance on the side of the boat, which is taken to Dr. Jess Rogers (Hans Conried), head of the base’s research department, for analysis.

The next day, Commander Twillinger, along with Dr. Rogers, Sheriff Peters (Gordon Jones), and two of Rogers’ assistants, sail to the spot where the bodies were discovered. Rogers’ men dive to the bottom of the sea, and while there come across what looks to be a large, gelatinous sac, which is promptly pulled to the surface. Moments later, one of the divers, George Blake (Dennis McCarthy), is killed by a giant creature, which then attacks the others. Commander Twillinger fights it off, and they speed away to safety.

Based on his analysis of the substance recovered from the boat, as well as what he’s seen of the creature, Dr. Rogers is confident that they’re dealing with some sort of oversized mollusk, and that the sac they pulled up is actually one of the monster’s eggs. Dr. Rogers believes there are many more of these enormous snails (which can also live on land) down there, each capable of laying thousands of eggs, and if they aren’t destroyed soon they will overrun the entire area, and, eventually, the world.

With no time to lose, Twillinger, Rogers, and Sheriff Peters put every man they have on the case, hoping that they’ll uncover the mollusks’ secret lair before it’s too late.

As with many low-budget sci-fi movies produced during the 1950s, the creatures in The Monster that Challenged the World look a bit flimsy when in motion (i.e. – the attack on the boat carrying Commander Twillinger and the others). Yet , despite this, the giant mollusks still pose a convincing threat (there’s even a fairly effective jump scare involving one of the creatures). The film’s real strength, though, isn’t so much its monsters as it is the story that surrounds them. Tim Holt, a former cowboy star who also played Humphrey Bogart’s partner in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is quite good in the lead role, and the hunt that his character initiates to find these mammoth snails has its moments (especially later on, when the creatures make their way into a nearby canal system). Not even an out-of-place romantic subplot featuring Holt’s Commander Twillinger and widow Gail McKenzie (Audrey Dalton) is enough to sink this otherwise solid motion picture.

Though not as memorable as 1954’s Them! or ‘55s Tarantula, The Monster that Challenged the World is nonetheless one of the decade’s more intriguing monster movies.

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