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Monster that Challenged the World, The

Kino // Unrated // August 11, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Strike that; it's more like The Monsters, plural, that Challenged the World. A legion of gargantuan, nuclear-irradiated mollusks have been unleashed from the depths of the Salton Sea. These creatures feed on the moisture locked within our bodies, draining every ounce of blood and water until nothing but a dessicated husk remains. The clock is frantically ticking until these monsters leave the Salton Sea and spread like wildfire throughout the country...across the globe. Like the man says: The Monster that Challenged the World. A crack team of Navy investigators and a handful of the local authorities are all that stand in the way of these creatures devouring mankind and slathering the entire planet in their slimy trail.

With a title as ominous as The Monster that Challenged the World, chances are you're picturing something like this:

The stinger at the end of the trailer. Sorry, kids: nothing like this in the film proper.

[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

Trailer? Yes. Movie? Not so much. The good news is that this naval research team is enormously resourceful and talented, so there are never any oversized snails stomping on skyscrapers like some kind of...I don't know, Gastropodzilla. The bad news is that...well, the Navy's a little too effective. Most of these '50s creature features are littered with failed attempts by the military at taking down oversized beasties. Here, once the Navy fully comprehends what they're up against, the creatures are dispatched without all that much fuss or too many casualties. So, I guess the monsters aren't challenging the world so much as challenging to challenge the world.

This isn't The Creeping Terror with its sentient shag rug or some irradiated insect movie that's all cutaways and an occasional hairy limb threatening our hapless heroes. The mollusks in The Monster that Challenged the World look incredible. This is a full-sized beast -- a rarity in this era -- brought to life without any stop-motion animation or mattes. The design, craftsmanship, and even the puppeteering of the creature are all first-rate, and the look of it is still unnerving enough to make my hair stand up on end nearly sixty years later.

[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

A staggering amount of time, energy, and money had clearly been invested into creating the mollusk monster: so much that the budget only allowed for one. The resident scientist (Hans Conried) notes that there must be an entire colony of these creatures lurking beneath the sea, but we only see them one at a time, and there's not even any clever editing to suggest that more than a single beast poses an immediate threat. When Tim Holt's naval commander asks "can you imagine an army of these things descending upon one of our cities?", imagining it is pretty much all you can do. Taking much the same approach that Jaws would a couple decades later, The Monster that Challenged the World bides its time before fully unveiling its ravenous killer, either attacking off-screen or glimpsed only in shadow. In theory, that's a solid approach, although the creature is in nearly every single shot in the trailer I'd watched immediately beforehand, blunting the impact somewhat. The first attack is nicely staged and remains reasonably effective all these years later, with a couple of seamen trying to retrieve a parachuter but instead being silently picked off one by one. The pacing from there is perhaps too relaxed. The creature doesn't fully appear on-camera until just past the half hour mark, and the movie has fewer than twenty minutes remaining before it rears its head again. The urgency of the threat posed by these mollusks to the world at large is never really felt, and their sparse appearances further diminish any tension there may otherwise have been. On the other hand, it must be noted how grisly some of the attacks are, and the camera doesn't flinch from eye-gouging or dehydrated corpses. Still, it's just a shame to create such a magnificent monster and then resist seemingly every possible temptation to capture it on film.

For a while, that doesn't really matter. The terrific opening sequence (after the overly expository voiceover is out of the way, at least), followed by some charming writing and a slew of likeable characters, won me over enough to hold my interest even when there wasn't a maleficent mollusk to be found. Veteran western star Tim Holt stars as a naval commander still acclimating to a new role and unfamiliar surroundings. Commander Twillinger's cowpoke accent may be a little odd, but it works for him by accentuating that fish-out-of-water element. Audrey Dalton makes a greater impression as a recently widowed mother assisting the scientific brass. Perhaps because the screenplay was, uncharacteristically, written by a woman, Dalton's Gail Mackenzie is a stronger, better realized female lead than average. She's not onboard to merely get coffee for the menfolk as in, say, It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Gail is a love interest, but she's the one in the driver's seat, and she's not relegated to any sort of damsel in distress role until the very end. Even then, she's a swift-acting guardian rather than an ineffective puddle of tears. The Monster that Challenged the World is more interested than most in fleshing out its characters and in memorable personalities, and its sense of humor is dispensed with a reasonably deft touch.

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As charmed as I was for so much of The Monster that Challenged the World, the perpetually offscreen creature lost my interest somewhere around the halfway mark. Even with all the havoc that's wrought throughout the film's final act, it wasn't quite enough to win me over again. The movie takes such pains to clearly establish the assault on the lab that instead of building tension towards the inevitable, there was a nagging sense of "gimme a monster, already!" Tim Holt's best action hero days were long behind him by this point, and throwing beakers and waving around a fire extinguisher don't exactly get my pulse racing. Presaging one of the most iconic moments of The Shining, the creature's siege on Gail and her daughter (Mimi Gibson) goes a long way towards making up for it, though. It's uneven and far from a stone cold classic, but for similarly-minded fanatics of vintage genre cinema, The Monster that Challenged the World still very much comes Recommended.

The Blu-ray Disc that Challenged My Expectations! The Monster that Challenged the World really is a knockout in high-def. I'm assuming that this is a fairly recent remaster, judging by the striking level of fine detail showcased here. Crispness and clarity expectedly take a hit in shots bookending fades or dissolves, but that's unavoidable. Contrast is rock solid throughout as well, and after the first few minutes are out of the way, there's practically nothing in the way of wear or speckling. Boasting a light and beautifully rendered sheen of grain, Kino Lorber has done everything they can to ensure that this presentation is as filmic as possible: no overzealous edge enhancement, no distracting noise reduction, and no intrusive artifacting. If I pause and squint, I can occasionally see some slight imperfections in the AVC encode, but it's not at all a concern in motion. An outstanding effort all around.

The Monster that Challenged the World slithers onto a single layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

Nearly as impressive as the visual end of things is this disc's 16-bit, two-channel mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The Monster that Challenged the World's dialogue is consistently reproduced cleanly and clearly. The film's sound effects and Heinz Roemheld's score don't roar from the front channels, exactly, but dynamic range is healthy enough just the same. There are a couple of minor, scattered pops, but the audio is otherwise immaculate, devoid of any intrusive clicks, hiss, or dropouts. Nothing but the very best things to say this time around.

The only other audio option is a commentary track, which brings me to...well:

I know some people might bristle at the idea of awarding four stars to a disc with this few bullet points, but that score really is well-deserved here.
  • Audio Commentary: If you were at all on the fence about picking up The Monster that Challenged the World on Blu-ray, this phenomenal commentary track by drive-in historian Tom Weaver really ought to push you over. Recorded exclusively for this Blu-ray release, Weaver's commentary is engaging from beginning to end, a hell of a lot of fun, and exceptionally well-researched. Weaver at one point credits everyone involved with the film that he's interviewed over the past three decades, and...geez, I didn't stop to count, but if he rattled off fewer than twenty names, I'd be surprised.

    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

    Weaver, as ever, strikes the perfect balance between being both informative and entertaining. Of particular interest are the differences he draws between various incarnations of the screenplay, and I can't help but smile as he charts how the beats of The Monster that Challenged the World are all but identical to Them!. Essentially any question you could ever think to ask is answered here, from specific shooting locations to the censors' notes about the screenplay. Weaver brings in David Schecter of Monstrous Movie Music to speak about the score, and what follows is genuinely one of the most insightful analyses of film music I've ever heard. I love all the splashes of color that Weaver paints when speaking about the likes of by-then-retired actor Tim Holt and especially first-time screenwriter Pat Fielder, who doubled as the production company's secretary and even a P.A. (Unexpectedly, direct quotes by Fielder are recreated in a woman's voice. If I'd taken better notes, I'd be able to tell you who that was, exactly.) There are also an astonishing number of details about the creature itself, among them the cost that went into its construction, the mechanics of its operation, Lloyd's of London insuring that mulluskan monstrosity, and even where ol' Rosebud wound up after production wrapped.

    If you buy or rent The Monster that Challenged the World without giving Tom Weaver's commentary a listen, you're doing it wrong. More than just another extra, this is genuinely one of the most compelling reasons to pick up this Blu-ray disc.

  • This shot from the trailer is nowhere to be found in the film proper.

    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]

  • Trailer: Clocking in just over a minute and a half in length, a very nice looking trailer rounds out the extras. As seen above, some creature footage is unique to this trailer as well.

I believe the cover art is from the Italian poster, by the way.

The Final Word
The Monster that Challenged the World is dragged down somewhat by its modest budget; despite talk of a dozen or so nightmarish creatures, they rear their heads one at a time and often close to a half-hour apart. The earnest storytelling and likeable characters buoy the film for much of its runtime, but I found the back half to be kind of a slog, even though that's where the creatures appear the most. Despite titular beasts that essentially rate as supporting players and a generally uneven pace, there's still a great deal to appreciate about The Monster that Challenged the World, especially in a release that looks and sounds this great and boasts such a compelling audio commentary. Recommended.
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