The sleepy little town of Piedras Blancas isn't exactly equipped to handle a rash of ghoulish murders. You could count the number of working automobiles on one hand and still have a couple of idle fingers left over. There's not a hospital nor a morgue to be found anywhere within its limits. The Rinaldi brothers, discovered with their heads severed as if by a guillotine, had to have their remains stored in the grocer's meat locker, for crying out loud. It's a nightmarish end, to be sure, but two fisherman out at the dead of night, pitted against a mighty squall...terrible things can happen. The truly disturbing thing is that every last drop of blood has been drained from their bodies. They didn't bleed out; they were pumped dry. In the wake of their deaths, Mr. Kochek (Frank Arvidson) is quick to warn anyone stepping foot into his store about the monster of Piedras Blancas. The local constable (Forrest Lewis) frets that Kochek's prattling on about that old legend is sending the townsfolk into a panic, but after a stern talking to, that's it for stories of murders or monsters.
...that is, until the day that the Rinaldi brothers are laid to rest. Their coffins are barely in the ground before a panicked child dashes through the funeral service. He'd just stumbled upon Mr. Kochek's lifeless body -- or, at least, what he think was once Mr. Kochek. Without a head, it's hard to say. The legend goes that the monster keeps to the rocky beaches of Piedras Blancas, but this ravenous creature has acquired a taste for more than raw fish, and he's expanded his hunting grounds to sink his claws into more of it.
If you were to just thumb through the screenplay for The Monster of Piedras Blancas, it'd look like a paint-by-numbers drive-in monster flick. John Harmon stars as the universally reviled lighthouse keeper who knows more about the creature than he's letting on. There's a beautiful girl (Jeanne Carmen) whose unconscious body is destined to be lugged around by the monster leading up to the climax. Lucy is going steady with Fred (The Giant Gila Monster's Don Sullivan), who sciences-as-a-verb with Dr. Sam Jorgenson (Les Tremayne) to uncover the true nature of the beast.
As routine as all that may sound, it's executed surprisingly well. Jack Kevan may have piecemealed the monster suit from a slew of his other films -- drawing heavy inspiration from Creature from the Black Lagoon's Gill Man, recycling the clawed hands of The Mole People, slapping on a little Metaluna Mutant for good measure -- but the end result still looks fantastic. The location photography in Point Conception, California is equal parts beautiful and haunting. It wouldn't be the same movie without these rocky, desolate, inhospitable beaches and towering lighthouse. Even greater an asset is the film's generally capable cast, and I remain as ever in awe of Les Tremayne's dulcet voice. I appreciate the efforts to make the townsfolk interesting, from Mr. Kochek's Mexico-by-way-of-Eastern-European accent to the little boy's immobile leg as he runs to tell everyone about the decapitated corpse he's discovered. (That tyke went on to direct Microwave Massacre, by the way.) There's some genuine pathos to the lighthouse keeper's plight when it's fully revealed as well as the responsibility he feels for the murders he knew were so inevitable. It's also very much worth noting how gruesome The Monster of Piedras Blancas can be, particularly the creature lugging around a bloodied, severed head. This isn't a blink-and-oops-you-missed-it shot either; it's explicit, and the camera holds its gaze longer than you'd expect. Let's just say that Olive Films' cover art is truth in advertising.
If you don't have a soft spot for '50s creature features, The Monster of Piedras Blancas isn't going to do much to change your mind. The creature isn't fully unveiled until the final reel. Some of the dialogue creaks and groans. It's mostly well-acted, but the weak links are...well, weak. Character motivations -- human and monster alike! -- don't always hold up to any real scrutiny. With the killer aim and impossible reach that Sturges has, you'd think the old man would be in the major leagues rather than locked away in a lighthouse. I've always been a sucker for these sorts of movies, though, and for my money, The Monster of Piedras Blancas is better than most. The film has languished in obscurity for entirely too long, deprived of a home video release for more than a quarter of a century, and it's a thrill to rediscover it on such an achingly gorgeous Blu-ray release. Recommended.
I know how you feel!
My jaw dropped too after giving this disc a spin. The Monster of Piedras Blancas made the rounds ages ago on Voom's late, great Monsters HD, but I can't imagine those satellite broadcasts looking anywhere nearly as magnificent as this. Olive Films' Blu-ray release certainly looks as if it's sourced from a brand new master rather than whatever Monsters HD was airing more than a decade ago. The fine-grained image is a complete and total knockout, looking warm and filmic from its first frame to the last. Contrast is consistently spot-on, and the levels of definition and detail on display here eclipse anything I could have expected. There's scarcely a nick nor a fleck of dust to be found anywhere throughout the film's lean 71 minute runtime, and the authoring of this Blu-ray disc is top notch as well. As disappointing as it was that The Monster of Piedras Blancas hadn't been lavished with an official home video release in the DVD era, Olive Films has made it worth the wait.
The Monster of Piedras Blancas has clawed its way onto a single layer disc at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
...and The Monster of Piedras Blancas sounds as good as it looks to boot. Presented in two-channel mono, this 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack really is marvelous. Dialogue in particular sparkles, coming through as clear as a bell. The score and sound effects can more uneven by comparison, but certain effects -- particularly the crash of waves by the shoreline -- still pack quite a wallop. There are no flaws of any sort to speak of: no intrusive background noise, pops, clicks, dropouts, or anything to give me even the least bit of pause. Outstanding.
Also included is an optional set of English (SDH) subtitles.
There are no extras.
The Final Word
It's not a top-tier creature feature, no, and it's too competently crafted for the so-bad-it's-good crowd, but I love The Monster of Piedras Blancas just the same. Unavailable (officially, anyway) on home video for entirely too long and rarely aired on cable/satellite, it's a thrill to see this more gruesome take on the Gill Man carve a path onto such a beautiful Blu-ray release. Recommended.