I received as an early birthday present from my good friend Tim Durbin a Kino Blu-ray of the 1957 sci-fi monster movie THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD. Believe it or not, I had never actually seen this film.
An earthquake strikes the area around the Salton Sea in southern California. The quake unleashes from under the sea a group of gigantic mollusks, who kill some men from a nearby naval base. The base's security officer (Tim Holt) starts an investigation, and helped by a scientist (Hans Conried), plots to stop the mollusks from multiplying. Unfortunately the mollusks infiltrate a local canal system, and things look bleak....but the resourceful officer and his mates manage to head the monsters off, and stop the scientist's attractive secretary (Audrey Dalton) and her young daughter from being attacked by one to boot.
THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD was made by the same people behind other 1950s genre films such as THE VAMPIRE and THE RETURN OF DRACULA. All three of those films are formulaic, but they each have little touches to them that make them stand out from the many other monster movies made during the same period. Screenwriter Pat Fielder, who worked on all three films, had a knack for giving supporting characters life, and making them more than just filler for the story. The people in THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD have a workaday reality to them, which makes the overall story more believable.
Longtime cowboy star Tim Holt plays security officer Lt. Twillinger, a no-nonsense, let's-get-the-job-done fellow. He's good in the typical Kenneth Tobey-John Agar role. Twillinger's driving personality is softened by a romance with Audrey Dalton's character. Dalton isn't a generic damsel in distress here (she would play that role later in William Castle's MR. SARDONICUS). She doesn't even get to wear a nightgown, or get carried off by one of the mollusks. (There is a scene where a young lady takes a dip in the Salton Sea while wearing a white swimsuit very similar to the one Julie Adams wore in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON--you can probably guess what her fate is.)
The big highlight of this movie is the main creature built for it--a life size practical special effect that is quite unique and effective for the period (even if its moves are a bit jerky at times). The best attribute of this creature is that the actors are able to realistically interact with it. The mollusks (it is suggested that their large size is due to radiation) literally suck the innards out of their victims, leaving them as withered husks. There are some grisly shots of the aftermath of the mollusk attacks. Director Arnold Laven avoids overuse of the creatures, and creates a lot of low-key suspense.
The story is helped out by lots of location footage shot throughout Southern California, which makes the film appear to have a higher budget than it did. The movie's down-to-earth approach works well for a production such as this.
The Kino Blu-ray includes an original trailer, which is far more exploitative than the actual film. There's also an audio commentary by Tom Weaver. His talks are always informative and entertaining. At one point Weaver steps aside and allows film music expert David Schecter a chance to discuss Heinz Roemheld's excellent music score.
I was impressed with THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD. The monsters are very well done, the characters are not boring or annoying, and while the story is somewhat predictable, it is realized in an effective fashion. THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD can easily get lost in the shuffle among the many other sci-fi/horror features made around the same time, but it holds its own against some of the more famous genre titles.