'The Monolith Monsters' (1957)

Disclaimer: Films listed here may be terrible, but they must have at least one scientifically interesting idea, however badly they may exploit that concept.


~The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Paul Langton, Billy Curtis
BW-81 mins.

"That’s silly, honey. People just don’t get smaller."
"The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle."
"And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears locked away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God there is no zero. I still exist."

This film is an example of succeeding against all odds: low budget, no-name cast, silly premise. Grant Williams gets exposed to a "radioactive cloud" and ends up vertically challenged, turning the square-cube law on its head. Unlike Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the script is as serious as it can be; it even dares to introduce metaphysical speculation (see the second and third quotes above). Williams’ battle to the death with a "giant" spider will give smaller children, and not just arachnophobes, nightmares.

~Kronos (1957)
Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence, John Emery, George O’Hanlon, Morris Ankrum
BW-78 mins.

Another film with a scientifically ridiculous premise, saved by capable actors who wouldn’t know a volt from a vote. The "monster" is a departure from the usual ’50s sci-fi fare, being of a protean nature. The FX team did a decent enough job on their $1.95 budget. Wherever he appeared, John Emery always looked like he’d bailed out of a plane without a parachute. And that really is George O’Hanlon, soon to be immortalized as TV’s George Jetson.

~The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Linda Scheley, Trevor Bardett, Phil Harvey, William Flaherty, Troy Donahue, Paul Peterson, William Schallert, Paul Frees (narrator)
BW-77 mins.

"From time immemorial, the Earth has been bombarded by objects from outer space—bits and pieces of the universe, piercing our atmosphere, in an invasion that never ends."

Talk about your offbeat sci-fi monsters, these might be the most original of all.

Wikipedia has a fine summary:

A meteor crashes near a small town in the American desert southwest. A geologists finds a fragment of it in a roadway, and not recognizing the mineral takes it back to the laboratory to study. In the morning his partner finds the lab wrecked and the geologist himself petrified. It is determined that the substance the meteor is composed of uses water as a catalyst. When damp, it grows into black, crystal-like shafts which absorb all silica nearby, including that of animals or humans who come in contact with it. Once all silica is absorbed and the monolith grows to its fullest possible height, it becomes dormant. However, it may easily topple, shattering into many fragments which waiting to grow into new shafts if they contact water. The original meteor broke into fragments scattered across the area where it crashed.

A schoolgirl on a field trip takes a fragment home and puts it in water. Her farmhouse is found destroyed and the girl is near death. She is rushed to a hospital and kept barely alive in an iron lung. Unfortunately, a rain storm is on the way. The surviving geologist races to find a treatment for the girl and to protect the town from the towering, destructive Monolith Monsters.

~20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, Arthur Space, John Zaremba, Thomas Browne Henry, Tito Vuolo, Jan Arvan, Bart Braverman
BW-82 mins.

How about King Kong with a lizard substituting for the big ape? That’s basically it. A rocket ship returns from Venus with a biological specimen that soon wears out its welcome. (In the mid-’50s, scientists still held out hope for an Edgar Rice Burroughs-style Venus—but U. S. and Russian space probes a decade later disabused them of that notion.) As usual, Earthmen don’t realize how dangerous their discovery is until it’s almost too late. There are absolutely no surprises in the plot, which proceeds in a predictably straight line; Ray Harryhausen’s excellent stop-motion animation makes the trip worthwhile, however.

~The 27th Day (1957)
Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel, Ralph Clanton, Friedrich von Ledebur, Paul Birch, Azemat Janti
BW-75 mins.

"People hate because they fear, and they fear anything they don’t understand … which is almost everything."

Most unusual: a sci-fi film that explores human nature without resorting to ray guns or killer lizards; the weakest part is the Grimms’ fairy tale ending.

From Wikipedia:

An alien spacecraft arrives and its crew randomly selects five people from different parts of the world. They choose a person from England, the U. S., China, the Soviet Union, and Germany. It seems that the aliens’ own world is doomed and they need a new home. However their code of ethics will not allow them to simply conquer the Earth. Instead, the five individuals are given the means to destroy human beings en masse, without harming animals or causing any other devastation. They must decide for themselves who will live or die. Each is given three silvery capsules, each of which can slay all human life within a 3,000 mile radius of the specified coordinate. However the capsules must be used within 27 days or they will become inert and so the aliens will die.

The remainder of the film concerns the stories of these five people and what happens to them both before and after the capabilities of the capsules are revealed to all of humankind. The Soviets gain possession of the capsules and threaten to use them unless the US withdraws all troops from Europe. The U.S. is forced to comply. Despite this, as the deadline approaches, the Soviet leader announces to his generals his intention to launch the capsules against the United States.


To be continued.

Mike Gray