Friday, June 26, 2020

Sea Monster Month Quick Picks and Pans

The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) Technically, this isn’t a sea monster movie, since it’s set in the Salton Sea (a saltwater lake located in the Southern California desert), but I’m not going to split hairs with this one. An earthquake creates a rift on the lake floor, unleashing a deadly prehistoric creature that sucks its victims dry. The monster, which is supposed to be an ancient mollusk but resembles an overgrown centipede, is one of the more frightening creatures to emerge from 1950s genre movies. The production rises above the pack, thanks to a solid cast, including Tim Holt as a determined Navy commander, Audrey Dalton as a widow, and Hans Conried as a puzzled scientist. Also, watch for a wonderfully eccentric performance by Milton Parsons as an over-eager museum worker.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Horror of Party Beach (1964) Radioactive waste dumped in the harbor creates bloodthirsty, googly eyed sea monsters that terrorize the population of Stamford, Connecticut (Hey, I’ve been there. This is probably the most interesting thing that ever happened in that neck of the woods). True to the title, expect scenes of reveling “teens” gyrating to the tunes of The Del-Aires, and a generous helping of frivolous butt-wiggling shots. After a series of grisly (mainly offscreen) deaths, it’s up to a scientist and a determined biology student to find a way to stop the monsters before they kill again. As long as you’re not expecting Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s a hoot.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Slithis (aka: Spawn of the Slithis) (1978) Radioactive leakage from a nearby nuclear power plant creates a new life form, which threatens the residents of Venice Beach, California. A bored high school journalism teacher (Alan Blanchard) decides to investigate the rampaging creature. Performances range from surprisingly good (Mello Alexandria as a Quint-like boat captain) to terrible (I’ve seen police in H.G. Lewis movies that were more believable). Writer/director Stephen Traxler wisely holds back on showing too much for most of the film, providing just enough suspense to keep you intrigued. It’s a fun throwback to ‘50s rubber-suited monster movies, marred by an all-too-abrupt ending.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD (Out of Print), Amazon Prime and Tubi

Blood Beach (1980) Something is lurking under the sand of an L.A. beach, gobbling up anyone that enters its domain. It’s up to a harbor patrol officer and his ex-fiancée (David Huffman and Marianna Hill) to find out what’s behind all the seaside mayhem. We don’t see the creature until the end, which isn’t a damning thing in itself. Unfortunately, writer/director Jeffrey Bloom spends too much time with the bland leads, and a whole scene is wasted with some boring secondary characters. Burt Young plays an unappealing, oafish police detective, and John Saxon (playing his superior) isn’t in it nearly enough (He has the film’s best line though, which was also its tagline: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can’t get there.”). Blood Beach has a fun premise that never quite delivers. It could have worked, but the tone is too deadpan for its own good, and the script should have been fleshed out with more interesting characters.   

Rating: **½. Available on DVD (Out of print) and YouTube (for the moment)

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959) This Creature from the Black Lagoon knock-off, set on the California coast, skimps on the action, with plenty of talky scenes to pad out the thin story. A mysterious creature (looking like a cross between the Gill-man and a pig) terrorizes a coastal town. Meanwhile, a curmudgeonly lighthouse keeper (John Harmon) harbors a terrible secret about the monster, while keeping a close watch on his grown daughter Lucille (Jeanne Carmen). Our nominal protagonist Fred (Don Sullivan, of Giant Gila Monster fame) is eager to study it, teaming up with Dr. Sam Jorgenson (Les Tremayne). The film livens things up a little with a few gory bits (explicit for the time), and the monster is pretty cool, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Nevertheless, it might be worth a look if you keep your expectations sufficiently lowered.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Reptilicus (1961) Oil workers recover the tail of a gargantuan prehistoric reptile. When the tail is brought to a lab in Copenhagen, scientists discover the cells were only dormant. Somehow, the giant creature (appearing as a poorly articulated puppet) regenerates from the tail and threatens the city. Other than being (to the best of my knowledge) Denmark’s only giant monster movie, there’s not much to distinguish this by-the-numbers flick from other genre movies. There’s an extended sequence that features a tour of the city (and famous amusement park Tivoli Gardens) to stretch the running time. If this scene was intended to bolster tourism, it wasn’t very effective. On the other hand, it’s a surefire cure for insomnia. You’ve been warned.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi

Tentacles (1976) Other than speculating why an all-star cast of seasoned actors (including Shelley Winters, John Huston and Henry Fonda) would agree to do this this Jaws rip-off (besides collecting paychecks), there’s not much reason to recommend Tentacles. Based on the dialogue, the filmmakers couldn’t decide whether the title creature was a giant octopus or squid. The scenes are a collection of tedious moments that go nowhere, leading to a confusingly edited finale. Most of the characters, including the protagonist, played by Bo Hopkins, are unlikable. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be rooting for the octopus (or squid) before the movie’s over – that is, if you can stay awake long enough. Skip it.

Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy 


  1. I think Monster That Challenged The World is great - a mix of the totally predictable, and some (but not too much) depth in the supporting characters. And I quite like Reptilicus, too, although it's nowhere near a classic!

    Thanks for the Blood Beach mention - I saw the last part of the film on late-night TV in the 80s and always wondered what it was called.

    1. I didn't have high hopes for The Monster that Challenged the World, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's a '50s gem.

      I'd love to hear the behind the scenes stories about Blood Beach. Perhaps some day it'll get a proper home video release.

  2. Hi there and hope you are well!

    I've nominated you for the Sunshine Bloggers Award as a recognition of your writing. I've included the link here - which will outline the process to you accepting and thus being honoured with the award.

    Of course, there's no pressure but I hope you'll accept!

    Best regards, Paul from Silver Screen Classics.

    1. Hi Paul! This is indeed a great honor. I'm running bit behind with blog stuff, but I plan to do a tribute post for all of my recent nominations in early August. Thank you so much!

  3. I recently watched Reptilicus and watched Slithis/Spawn of the Slithis (why did they name it to sound like its own sequel?) two nights ago. As you know, you are I have very similar opinions of Reptilicus. However, I think your review of Slithis is way too kind. :D

    1. Wishful thinking, perhaps? I must have been in a particularly generous mood when I watched Slithis. It's admittedly terrible, but I felt it had a certain charm.

      Reptilicus almost killed my desire to visit Tivoli Gardens one day...almost. ;)

  4. The Monster that Challenged the World is easily the best of this batch, filmed at a time when the Salton Sea was crazy busy with tourists. Sadly, it's now a dead body of water, and if a monster showed up today, there would hardly be anyone to feast on.

    1. I really enjoyed this film. It's hard to imagine the Salton Sea in its heyday. I kind of regret not visiting it when I lived in Southern California, but even then it probably was just a shell of its former self.