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The Monolith Monsters


Title: The Monolith Monsters
Year Of Release: 1957
Running Time: 77 minutes
DVD Released By: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Directed By: John Sherwood
Writing Credits: Jack Arnold & Robert M. Fresco

Starring: Grant Williams, Les Tremayne, Lola Albright
Taglines:
1. Mammoth skyscrapers of stone thundering across the earth!
2. The most startling science fiction concept ever brought to the screen!
3. Now The Amazing Monolith Monsters Reveal Powers Shocking Beyond Belief!
Alternate Titles:
Monolith (working title)

Review Date: 1.1.10

Shadow's Title: "The Cocky Rockies"

Quick buy:

 
Characters
Ben Gilbert – There’s always the one poor fool who is the initial victim of the threat, dying minutes into the film. That would be Ben here, who works for the Department of the Interior. He ends up turned to stone within minutes. Still, even then he showed more personality than Al Gore.
Dave Miller – He works with Ben and undertakes solving the mystery of the strange black rocks. Has a propensity for wearing stupid hats and has the hots for local teacher Cathy Barrett. Easily angered, he decides that to stop the threat, they need to start blowing things up.
Cathy Barrett – She teaches school in San Angelo and has developed a strange fixation with one of her young students, Ginny Simpson. If Ginny’s parents had not died, I’m sure Cathy would have ensured a freak accident befell them so that the young girl could be all hers.
Martin Cochrane – Editor of the local newspaper. In a town like San Angelo, a big news day must involve jaywalkers or stolen cookies at a bake sale. I’m sure the threat of the monoliths had him ready to cream his shorts with sheer joy at the prospect of something to write about.
Chief Dan Corey – Head of the local police. For a community leader, he is rather poor at his job, all the discoveries and good ideas coming from other people. Still, he was smart enough to not hog the limelight or stand in anyone’s way, readily agreeing to every course of action.
Professor Arthur Flanders – One of Dave’s old college professors. Dave calls him in to help uncover the truth about the mysterious black rocks. Fascinated by the enigma, he throws himself into solving the problem. He was pretty helpful and integral to the final resolution.
Doctor Reynolds – San Angelo’s resident physician. He’s baffled by Ben Gilbert’s death, shipping the body off to specialists in Los Angeles for further help. He kind of sticks around, popping up now and then, but makes no significant contributions to the overall situation.
Doctor Hendricks – The slick big hospital doctor in Los Angeles who accidentally prevents Ginny Simpson from becoming an oversized paperweight. Sure, he thought he was being helpful, but what cured the girl wasn’t what he thought it was going to be. Still, he was a decent guy.
Ginny Simpson – One of Cathy’s students. She brings a meteor rock home from the desert that promptly levels her house and turns her parents into lawn ornaments. Cathy obsesses over the catatonic girl, staying with her while she fights for her life in the hospital.
The Monolith Monsters – A meteor that crashed to earth. When in contact with water, it expands until the water supply is gone. Growing into a towering spire of rock, it collapses and shatters, each piece beginning the process over once again. By film’s end, there are dozens of them.

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

AKA The Biggest LoserAh, the 1950’s. The golden age of the modern nuclear family. With the post WWII economy booming, things were looking bright for America. Destiny had never been so clear. Alas, there are always things that stood in the way of that shining glory. The atomic age ushered in an entirely new spectrum of national fears and among them was the insidious Red Menace posed by the Soviets and the fear of runaway science, frighteningly brought to reality by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of the Second World War. Added into the mix was the wide spread, but less prevalent fear of death from outer space, most usually imagined in the form of some violent alien species hell bent on wiping out mankind before he could get around to inventing the really good things like the internet and ipods. All manner of unearthly threats were brought to cinematic life for the entertainment of the masses. Amorphous blobs, giant robots, funky green men, invisible invaders and even…rocks. Yes, you read that right, rocks. How could rocks from outer space threaten mankind? Read on, my friend.

After a brief science lesson about meteors – narrated by the recognizable voice of Paul Frees - and some cheap FX, we see a meteorite coming crashing to Earth, creating a large fiery crater. This is the cue for the opening credits and music to assault our senses, the bombastic melody enough to blow your eardrums if not careful.

We see Ben Gilbert, who works for the Department of the Interior in the local district office located in the small town of San Angelo. Ben is driving through the desert when he has to stop his overheating vehicle and refill the radiator. Littered on the ground in all directions are small dark rocks, near obsidian in appearance. Finished with his task, he collects one of the strange rocks and continues back to town.

He arrives in San Angelo, which seems to skirt the desert and farmland of southern California. As he is cruising through town, I realize I have seen that town square before. Why it’s Hill Valley from the Back to the Future films! I almost expect Biff Tannen to come roaring around the corner in his car. Alas, this is just the Universal studios back lot, utilized in filming countless movies and television shows, including both this film and the trio of Marty McFly films.

Ben parks his car and heads for his office. Martin Cochrane, the editor of the local newspaper, stops by for a visit after locking up his own office a few doors away. Ben shows him his newly discovered rock and admits that he doesn’t know what it is. A cursory examination proves it to be quite unusual in composition. Martin bemoans the fact that there is nothing to write about in the small community. Ben says that maybe he can write an article about the new rock. As you can see, this town is about as exciting as a flea circus.

Later that night, the wind has picked up quite a bit. It seems Ben sleeps at the office (either that or he got booted from his normal digs) and has left the windows open, allowing a strong breeze to knock over a clipboard, which in turn breaks a beaker and douses the new rock with water. Hearing the racket, Ben awakes and closes the windows before heading back to bed. But, wait! There’s something wrong with the new rock. It’s reacting to the water that was spilled on it. Ben walks closer and…the music swells and the film fades out. I can only assume that something unpleasant happened.

For a stiff, his shadow seems to have moved.This is an obvious freeze frame.The next day, Ben’s partner at the district office, Dave Miller, returns from a trip to Bakersfield. Surprised to see Ben’s car parked outside but the office locked, he enters to find the back workroom a total mess. There are strange black rocks everywhere and poor Ben is as still as a statue and standing propped up against the wall. In fact, he is a statue, having been petrified in some fashion. Needless to say, he is very, very dead.

Out in the desert we now see Cathy Barrett, a local school teacher that has brought her students here to…you know, I’m not sure why she brought them out here. To learn about the desert? How to get stung by a scorpion and fall on a cactus while spasming in pain? Maybe she intends on conveniently “losing” a few of the more troubled students while she’s out there. For whatever reason, the school she teaches at must be extremely poor, as she has ferried the kids in her own car rather than a school bus. The students run around crazy as kids will do, except for young Ginny Simpson, who finds one of the dark black rocks that are scattered all over the hillside. After their excursion to the desert, Cathy returns Ginny home where the last thing the girl does is drop her new “souvenir” into a tub of water before running inside for dinner.

Later at Doctor Reynolds’ place, Dave, Cathy, Martin and Police Chief Dan Corey await the autopsy report on stone cold (literally!) Ben Gilbert. Reynolds emerges and says that he has to send the stiff (ha!) away for someone else to examine, as he can’t explain what happened to Ben. It seems his entire body – organs, skin, and muscle tissue – has been welded into a single mass. There are just no clues to what befell him. Dave brings up the condition of the lab and the multitude of black rocks, producing a sample from his pocket. Martin says that when he left Ben, there was only one such rock. Cathy chimes in and says that her student, Ginny, had picked up a similar rock when in the desert and took it home with her. Dave suggests checking up on her, just in case there is a correlation between the strange black rocks and Ben’s demise.

Dave, Cathy and Chief Corey pile into Dave’s car and head out to the Simpson farm. There they discover the house reduced to a pile of lumber amidst a massive amount of black rocks. Ginny is found alive but in shock, unresponsive to Cathy’s words. It’s too late for the girl’s parents however, who are found in the same condition as Ben was: hard as stone. Chief Corey stays behind while Dave and Cathy take Ginny to the Doctor’s place and summon additional help.

Dave further examines the rock, but is confused by its structure and composition. It seems the rock, aside from a trace of iron phosphate, is comprised solely of silicates: chert, feldspar, flint, etc. He has no idea how a single piece can multiply like they’ve seen. Meanwhile, young Ginny has taken a turn for the worse. It seems her hand has turned to stone and the effect is spreading. She needs to be taken to Los Angeles to see a specialist named Doctor Steve Hendricks. Dave volunteers to take the girl and naturally, Cathy, who has developed an almost unhealthy fixation with the young girl, accompanies him.

In Los Angeles, things get even worse for Ginny. The infection spreads, paralyzing muscles and requiring her to be placed in an iron lung in order for her to breath. Doctor Hendricks is just as puzzled as Reynolds was, having no clue as to what is happening to Ginny. All anyone knows is that those strange black rocks are connected in some fashion. Dave decides to call upon his old college professor, Arthur Flanders, in the morning, in hopes that he can be of help. Knowing how bad Ginny is, Hendricks urges Dave to go immediately and get Flanders out of bed if necessary.

Like everyone else, Flanders is puzzled by the rock’s composition. He theorizes that it’s a meteorite and that is why no one has encountered it before. The professor wants to return to San Angelo to examine the accident sites as well as look for a possible point of impact. They had better hurry, cuz Ginny only has about eight hours to live. Cathy opts to stay behind to watch over the child.

At the Simpson farm, Flanders notices something that couldn’t be seen previously because it was too dark. It seems the ground is discolored where the strange rocks are touching it. The affected soil is lifeless. Back at the District office, Dave and Flanders explain to Chief Corey and Doc Reynolds that the silica content of the soil, as well as that of the building materials in the Simpson place, is missing. Flanders thinks that the multiplication process has a side effect: the absorption of silica from anything the rocks come into contact with, be it wood, soil or people. This might explain why folks have been turning to stone. This information is relayed to Los Angeles where Ginny is being treated while Dave and Flanders going searching for the original meteorite.

Looks like Godzilla's latrine.They follow the old San Angelo road up into the mountains and come across the place where the rocks are scattered all over. They search closer and locate the crater housing the parent meteorite. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Doctor Hendricks is injecting Ginny with Silica (no smart ass remarks about her being too young for breast implants), hoping to artificially replenish in her body what the meteor rock had taken.

Returning to San Angelo, we see that night has fallen and the wind has once again picked up. In the district office of the Department of the Interior, Dave and Professor Flanders work at unlocking the secrets of the meteor rock, trying various methods to get the rock to grow. Nothing seems to work. As they ponder the mystery, the sound of rain and thunder is heard outside, heralding the approach of a storm. Eventually, by sheer accident, a sliver of rock in the sink is exposed to water when Dave pours out a pot of coffee. Testing and confirming the results, they conclude that as long as there is water, the rocks will continue to grow.

Cue the thunder. Dave sees the rain through the window and in a collective “oh, shit” moment, the two men put two and two together and race back up into the mountains to check on the meteor. They don’t make it all the way, however, as the road is blocked by towering monoliths of rock, reaching hundreds of feet into the sky. When they grow too unsteady, the massive rocks collapse and shatter, the smaller pieces beginning the growing process all over again.

Pardon me a moment while I ask the obvious question: how in the hell can water (which is nothing more than oxygen and hydrogen) cause a rock to grow? It would seem to me that there is not enough energy within the water to result in such an accelerated increase in mass and volume. Then again, I’m no scientist. What do I know?

Dave realizes that the monoliths will follow the natural canyon slope and plow right through town. He tries to convince Chief Corey to evacuate San Angelo before the monoliths arrive. Calling the weather bureau, they determine that the rains will end in a few hours, long before the rocks reach town. With two days before additional precipitation arrives, that gives them a small window of opportunity to devise a way of stopping the rocks.

At the hospital in Los Angeles, Ginny wakes from her catatonic state. It seems the silica injection worked and she will all right…well, until she remembers that her parents are dead. Cathy tries to call Dave with the good news, but can’t get a line through to San Angelo because the town has lost power. Doctor Hendricks has the California Highway Patrol dispatch a car to the town to locate Dave.

Looks like the dog found Mrs. Higgins' "special" brownies.The ChiPs guys arrive, find Dave and using their radio, he is able to communicate with Doctor Hendricks. Relived to hear that Ginny is going to be okay, Dave thinks the same solution used on her to arrest the infection could also be used to control the rocks’ growth. Hendricks agrees and relays the components he used. As they’re talking, a local named Joe Higgins, who lives on the outskirts of town, comes rolling up in his truck, bewildered and in shock. Before he can explain anything, Chief Corey knows what he is going to say: giant towers of rock destroyed his farm and killed his livestock. As an example, Higgins shows them the family dog, still being cradled by his two kids. However, the poor pooch is as hard as granite and looks like he’d make a better door stop than family pet. A scream pierces the air. It seems Mrs. Higgins has the same affliction that Ginny had. Her hand has turned to stone.

Doctor Reynolds communicates with Doctor Hendricks, making plans for the latter to bring a portable iron lung for Mrs. Higgins. Meanwhile, Mr. Higgins informs Dave that the monoliths are still growing, even without rain. It was them that smashed the power line that runs into town, explaining San Angelo’s lack of power. With only six and half miles between the monoliths and town, Dave rushes out to check on their progress. Flanders returns to the lab to work on a way to stop them with Hendricks' formula, while Chief Corey and Martin devise a way to warn the people of town that the time has come to flee. Using a hand-cranked press, Martin produces a flyer that is distributed by an army of kids on bikes.

Checking on the progress of the monoliths, Dave sees that the soil is still quite saturated with water, allowing the rocks continued growth. He times the cycle of each growth and collapse, determining that they only have seven or eight hours until the rocks come crashing through town. Flanders has had no success in using Hendricks' formula to stop the growth of the rocks. Things are looking rather grim and property values in town are probably plummeting faster than Enron’s stock.

Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

After numerous more failed attempts, they realize it wasn’t the components of Hendrick’s formula that did the trick, but the saline solution he used to hold them all together. Meanwhile, Cathy has returned, accompanying Hendricks who is just in time to save Mrs. Higgins with his iron lung.

Brainstorming ideas for stopping the monoliths before they destroy town, Dave feels they need to be halted just as they emerge from the canyon and before they can spread across open ground. However, his idea for covering a swath of terrain with salt from the nearby salt flats is too time consuming.

Consulting the map again, Dave comes up with a new idea that can be summed up thusly: Blow Shit Up. His idea is to detonate charges at a local dam, releasing reservoir water that will then follow the wash down the valley. Passing over the salt flats, it will absorb enough to stop the Monoliths when they exit the canyon. The crucial element will be timing; blowing the dam at the right instant so the water will hit the monoliths at the proper moment.

The problem is, the dam is privately owned and with the governor unreachable, Dave would be exceeding his authority in deciding to destroy the dam. Still, with little time remaining and no other option, Dave can’t wait for the Governor to give the go ahead. He races off to locate and plant the dynamite with a small army of helpers from the salt mine. Once everything is in place he heads back to San Angelo. The monoliths continue their inexorable march toward town. With still no word from the Governor, who is on his way to survey the disaster area, the time arrives to detonate the dynamite. Dave gives the word and KABOOM goes the stock footage.

The reservoir water comes pouring down the wash, soaking up salt from the salt mine (now obliterated…and yes the workers there were warned to flee) and the salt flats. The salty flood crashes into the monoliths and within seconds their advance is brought to a halt. Now nothing more than big useless chunks of rock, they collapse for the final time.

With the monolith threat ended, word finally comes from the Governor, who says to not blow up the dam…unless it is absolutely certain to be successful. Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief, especially Dave, whose ass is now officially off the line.

"We're melting!"The end.The End

 

The story here unfolds according to the standard 1950’s sci-fi template. There are strange deaths that lead to a mystery to be solved. Once the threat is realized, attempts are made to neutralize it, but fail. When things are looking the gloomiest, an eleventh hour solution is thrown together that just barely saves the day. All in all, basic stuff for the era, but this is a movie that is more than just the sum of its parts.

After all manner on otherworldly threats, it’s nice to see something different. I’m sure most people had never thought about giant rocks from outer space as a threat. At least not ones that don’t just hurtle out of the sky and squish you flat. The idea behind the monolith monsters can be somewhat frightening. There is no living, breathing or thinking organism to combat, just lifeless rocks and chemical reactions as your foe. They are more a force of nature than a rampaging threat on the loose. As such they might not be quite as scary or as terrifying as some drooling beast about to gobble you up, but they still make for an unnerving threat.

Aside from all the rocks, the humans populating the film fare pretty well. While this film is no deep examination of Humanity, you can still expect the characters to behave realistically, making decisions and reacting to their circumstances like one would expect a real person to do. This lends a little bit more credibility to the outlandish tale. Killer rocks from outer space? It sounds goofy, but if these people are damn well taking it seriously, why not the audience? The actors really help sell this, giving it their all. There are lots of small “character” moments that really let these people come to life, allowing the audience to cheer on their efforts.

Produced by Universal, the film is competently made with both cheesy and well done FX. The miniatures used to showcase the monoliths as they crash into buildings is not very convincing, whereas some of the composite shots showing the people in town and the monoliths in the distance, look very good. Sure, there are goofs here and there, but a 50’s science fiction or horror film without one is a very rare thing indeed. Check this one out.

 

Expect To See:
Desert Hijinks
Desert Hijinks – Plenty of running around in the desert in this one. From kids on a field trip to desperate scientists and civic authorities.
Giant Monsters
Giant Monsters – While colossal towers of shiny black rock aren’t you’re usual giant monster, they fit the category all the same.
Science
Science – There is plenty of scientific goobledy-gook in the dialog. Science is used to determine the nature of the threat and counter it.
Stock Footage
Stock Footage - Not a whole lot of this one. We get a dam exploding, shots of rushing water and the meteor crash at the film's beginning.

 

Movie Stats 
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: 3
Catatonic kids: 1
Petrified dogs: 1
Cigarettes smoked: 2
Pipes smoked: 1
Rainy and windy storms: 2
Alcoholic drinks consumed: 0
Caffeinated drinks consumed: 4
Structures destroyed by monoliths: 3
Structures destroyed by man: 4
Times Martin complains about his job: 3
Times Dave wears his goofy hat: 5

01 Min – Stock footage alert!
03 Mins – Ever heard of a parking brake?
12 Mins – New meaning to “getting stoned.”
23 Mins – At least she isn’t screaming, “Them!”
27 Mins – Cameraman’s shadow can be seen.
37 Mins – Ask Dr. Stupid!
42 Mins – All together now: “Oh, shit!”
52 Mins – Poor doggy.
56 Mins – That’s worse than a Viagra overdose.
57 Mins – Monoliths destroy farm.
72 Mins – KABOOM! Stock footage alert!

76 Mins - Let the lawsuits begin!

Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time a geological related term, statement or reference is made, take a drink.


Images Click for larger image

"If he farts one more time, I'm pushing him out and grabbing the wheel."

"Catatonic? You mean she's stopped talking? That's the best news I've had all day, Doc."

The things kids will use when the toilet paper is gone.

 
Killing people and destroying homes is one thing, but once the Monoliths ruined the cocaine stash, that was the last straw.


"Dude, now ain't the time for rock, paper, scissors."

"I know bears shit in the woods,
but what left these
colossal turds?"


 
"Okay, we're lost in the desert,
but something tells me that that isn't the Stratosphere in Vegas."


 
"Have you ever seen a grown man naked?"

Looks like Farmer Joe has been growing more on his farm than just wheat and the occasional pot plant.

"So my map of the area is
actually a map of Gondor and
Minas Tirith. Sue me."

Save the clock tower? Hill Valley is doomed! Better haul ass.

"Well, there goes the
neighborhood."

 

Immortal Dialog

Dave, Chief Corey and Professor Flanders discuss the looming threat.

Flanders: "When they're no longer confined within the walls of the canyon, when they break out onto the open valley floor, their rate of multiplication is going to be frightening."
Corey: "You mean they'll grow even faster?"
Dave: "Each one that shatters will make a hundred more."
Flanders: "When that hundred shatters, there'll be ten thousand of them. The third cycle will create a million. Unless we can stop them, they'll spread over the whole countryside."

Shadow’s Comment: Those damn vegans.


A Radio announcer on the situation.

Announcer: "The governor has declared that a state of emergency exists in the area surrounding the doomed town."

Shadow’s Comment: Doomed? Nice to see such confidence from our political leaders that the problem can be resolved.

 

Keep In Mind
  • Vehicles owned by the Department of the Interior do not possess parking brakes.
  • All small town squares in the 1950's looked exactly the same.
  • School field trips are best conducted via the teacher’s personal vehicle.
  • Nothing says education like turning kids loose in the desert.
  • 8-year girls are more perceptive to the inner workings of adult relationships than most folks realize.
  • The right ratio of oxygen and hydrogen can cause certain minerals to break the laws of thermodynamics and expand their size and mass.
  • Women with silicon breast implants will have a safety buffer when the monoliths invade again.
  • When all else fails, blow something up.
  • Gigantic pieces of rock will float quite easily


This Film & Me

I first viewed this film when I was twelve or thirteen. I was watching TV one Saturday morning and perusing the TV guide when I saw the listing for this film. At the time I had no idea what a “monolith” was, but the word "monster" was what got my attention. That and the fact that the movie was from the 50's. Seeing that the film had already been on for half an hour, I quickly spun the dial on the television (this was looong before we had a TV with a remote control). I came into the movie at the point where Dave, Cathy and Chief Corey find the Simpson farm in ruins. I knew instantly that it was my type of movie and I quickly grabbed some snacks to further enhance the viewing experience. I remember being surprised at the realization that the monsters were rocks, but later thought it was a pretty nifty twist. I only saw the film that one time on TV, but it sure left an impression on my mind, the memory sticking with me for years. Sometime in the late 80's, I found an ad in a magazine for a place that sold old movies on VHS. These were tapes that they dubbed themselves and they charged a freakin' fortune for each one. I begged and pleaded with my mom to send way for some and she eventually acquiesced. The Monolith Monsters was one of three films she ordered for me, along with The Man From Planet X and Caltiki The Immortal Monster. I finally got to see the movie again and more importantly, saw the first part of the film that I had missed on TV. That cheap tape got quite the workout. When Universal "officially" released their 50's horror and scifi titles on VHS a few years later, I scooped those up, including a new copy of this film. That was my go to copy for the better part of 15 years until the movie FINALLY arrived on DVD. Naturally, I nearly fell over myself in my haste to get to the store and snag a copy.

Shadow's rating: Seven Tombstones



The Good

  • Inventive idea behind the threat
  • Some good composite shots
  • Good characterizations and development
  • Script that doesn't meander
  • Kids in film speak very little

The Bad

  • Cathy's obsession with Ginny
  • Dave's goofy hat
  • Wonky science
  • Music can be overbearing
  • Not enough terror and/or destruction

The Ugly

  • Miniature work not too effective
  • Stock footage meteorite impact
  • Stock footage dam exploding

 

 

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