The Monolith Monsters (1957) | Killer rocks from outer space aren’t the only threat in this classic sci-fi adventure

The Monolith Monsters

Gargantuan-sized crystals from outer space threaten to turn a peaceful Californian desert town into a petrified forest in The Monolith Monsters Universal’s thrilling 1950s sci-fi from genre favourite Jack Arnold.

From Outer Space They Came – Meteor Borne, Meteor Strange!
When splinters from a meteorite crashed in the Arizona desert begin to grow and multiple, geologist Dave Miller (Grant Williams, aka the Incredible Shrinking Man) has until the next rain fall to unlock their secrets and find a way to halt their encroachment on the salt-mining town of San Angelo. It’s also race against time for his teacher girlfriend Cathy (Lola Albright), when one of her pupils starts turning to stone after handling the alien crystals. Can a vaccine be found in time to save the girl, save the town, and save the world?

Stranger Than Anything Science Had Ever Discovered As Thrill Crowds Upon Thrill!
Throughout the 1950s, American science fiction became an ideal host to foster people’s fears and paranoia with anti-Communist propaganda, and director Jack Arnold’s 1953 sci-fi, It Came From Outer Space led a pack that would include ready-made classics like Invasion of the Body Snatches (1956) and The Blob (1958). But with The Monolith Monsters, another fear fuelled the film’s narrative: xenophobia.

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The most startling science fiction concept ever brought to the screen!
The giveaway is the lack of ethnic diversity in the film’s altruistic utopian town that’s nestled in a valley surrounded by protective mountains and populated by compassionate and caring medics, teachers and cops, and community minded citizens. This is a world straight out of Leave It To Beaver territory, where everyone – from the switchboard operator to the paper boy – happily unite when their town’s purity is threaten by the ‘invasion’ of the non-white extraterrestrial crystalline rocks, which – god forbid – also reproduce at a rapid rate. It doesn’t take much to read this as a metaphor for Euro American prejudice against Latinos and African-American communities, at a time when the civil rights struggle was still in its infancy. Of course this interpretation shouldn’t overshadow the fact that The Monolith Monsters is an entertaining and inventive sci-fi. Think ‘Tremors meets Gremlins in the Arizona desert’.

The visual effects, made up of matte paintings of the town (which reinforces the closed nature of the desert community), and miniatures and model-work, are surprisingly effective; while the crashing trumpets and thunderous sound effects bring a real sense of size and foreboding to the visuals, especially when the skyscraper-high crystals approach the town. Keen ears will recognise the familiar voice of Paul Frees as the film’s narrator. He also lent his distinctive tones to another film with a veiled ‘reds under the bed’ menace message, George Pal’s War of the Worlds (1953).

Screenbound Pictures’ pristine transfer of the film really showcases the visuals and sound effects, which makes this a must-have. Well, it is a Universal Picture after all. Also included on the DVD is a restored trailer which has hilariously been edited to exploit the film’s apocalyptic potential.

The Monolith Monsters is out on DVD in the UK from 15 February 2016

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About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on February 9, 2016, in Must See, Sci-Fi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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