The Monster of Piedras Blancas
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|The Monster of Piedras Blancas|
Poster for the film's theatrical release, on a double-feature with Okefenokee
|Directed by||Irvin Berwick|
|Produced by||Jack Kevan|
|Written by||Irvin Berwick|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||George A. Gittens|
|Distributed by||Filmservice Distributors Corporation|
|April 22, 1959 (US)
The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a 1959 science fiction/horror film written and directed by Irvin Berwick and starring Jeanne Carmen, Les Tremayne, John Harmon, Don Sullivan, Forrest Lewis and Pete Dunn. Influenced by The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the film was produced by Jack Kevan, who had supervised the manufacture of the Gill-man suit at Universal-International, and created the Piedras Blancas monster costume. Kevan employed several of his former Universal associates on the picture including soundman Joe Lapis and prop master Eddie Keys.
The setting is the sleepy lighthouse town of Piedras Blancas. Sturges (Harmon) is the lighthouse keeper of the town and is very superstitious and concerned for the safety of his teenage daughter, Lucy (Carmen). He leaves food for a sea monster who lives in a nearby cave. The locals disregard him at first, but they begin to take notice when the bodies of people murdered by the monster are found on the beach. A local scientist identifies a scale as being from a "diplovertebron," a prehistoric amphibious reptile presumed long extinct.
- Les Tremayne as Dr. Sam Jorgenson
- Forrest Lewis as Constable George Matson
- John Harmon as Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper
- Frank Arvidson as Kochek, the Storekeeper
- Jeanne Carmen as Lucille Sturges
- Don Sullivan as Fred
- Pete Dunn as Eddie (The Monster)
- Joseph La Cava as Mike
- Wayne Berwick as Little Jimmy
Both Berwick and Kevan toiled in unbilled obscurity as contract employees at Universal-International. Berwick had been an uncredited dialogue director at U-I and at Columbia prior to that, working with the likes of William Castle and Jack Arnold. Kevan in particular chafed under the stewardship of Bud Westmore, the head of the studio's makeup department,who seldom allowed employees like Kevan or sculptors Chris Mueller and Millicent Patrick to receive publicity. Berwick and Kevan formed Vanwick Productions and became independent producers. Their first film, The Monster of Piedras Blancas was designed as a takeoff on U-I's popular Creature from the Black Lagoon, whose iconic monster suit Kevan had helped create. For this movie's fictional "diplovertebron", Kevan cut cost and labor time by using existing molds for the feet (cast from those of the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth) and the oversized hands (designed originally for The Mole People.) Actor/stuntman Pete Dunn wore the green-hued monster suit in the film, and did double-duty playing the bartender. Parts of the rubber monster suit showed up years later in the TV show Flipper, in the episode "Flipper's Monster", which was directed by Ricou Browning, who had performed the Gill-man swimming scenes in Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Universal gave a great deal of unofficial cooperation to the production, since it was going through a period of budget problems. Vanwick received sweetheart deals for production vehicles and equipment, the studio's way of helping the many laid-off technicians who found work on the independent film. The end budget was $29,000.
Top-lined Sullivan would appear in a number of other genre films afterward, such as The Giant Gila Monster. This was the only lead role of cheesecake model Carmen, best known as a trick-shot golf "expert." Character actor Lewis was primarily known for his radio work, as was Tremayne. Wayne Berwick, who played "Little Jimmy", was the son of director Irvin Berwick and the godson of prolific actor Harmon.
The film was shot entirely on location, but oddly enough, not at the real Point Piedras Blancas, which is north of San Simeon on the California coast. The lighthouse locations in the movie were filmed at the Point Conception lighthouse near Lompoc, and the movie's "town" was actually the seaside town of Cayucos, about 30 miles south of the real Piedras Blancas.
Several scenes broke new ground for onscreen gore, such as the monster making a shock entrance carrying a bloody human head, and a later shot of the same head with a crab crawling across the face. The film was released on a double bill with Okefenokee, a bayou melodrama.
Berwick and Kevan made several other B-films, notably The Street Is My Beat, before Kevan left show business to start a cosmetics company. Berwick continued to direct and produce low-budget features into the 1980s., including the cult classic Microwave Massacre. In 2005, he co-directed the 1950s spoof The Naked Monster, which featured Carmen and Harmon in a lighthouse segment which sends up the 1959 film. Tremayne also appeared in the spoof (albeit in a role patterned after his part in The War of the Worlds), and Berwick supplied an off-screen radio voice.
The film received mixed to negative reviews. Internet movie reviewer James Rolfe stated, in his review of the 1982 film Q, that he hates The Monster of Piedras Blancas because the monster is never seen until the climax. Leonard Maltin awarded the film 1 1/2 stars out of 4, calling the film "obvious and amateurish" and also criticizing its sluggish pacing. Allmovie gave the film a positive review, calling it "a horror movie with a lot of familiar elements but just enough offbeat touches to keep viewers coming back for 50 years or more". Dave Sindelar from Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings gave the film a mixed review, complimenting the film's gory effects, the music (which the director performed), and Sullivan and Tremayne's performances. However, he criticized the film's script and dialogue, and the monster's design.
- "Wayne Berwick Filmography". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
- "Filmography for Eddie Keys". Turner Classic Movies.
- John Johnson (1996). Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties. McFarland. pp. 335–. ISBN 978-0-7864-0093-5.
- "Interview with actor Don Sullivan". The B-Movie Cast. 23 April 2007.
- "Q - The Winged Serpent Review". Cinemassacre. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
- Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
- Eder, Bruce. "The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1958) - Review - AllMovie". Allmovie.com. Bruce Eder. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Sindelar, Dave. "Fantastic Movie Musings & Ramblings - THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959)". scififilm.org. Dave Sindelar. Retrieved 7 January 2016.