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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Giant From The Unknown

Here's another bit of digression for a movie which I'd skipped at the beginning of touring 1958, on the grounds that it wasn't sci-fi. After watching it, it had to be admitted that it did have a weak claim for inclusion.

Screencraft Enterprises produced only two movies, this one, and She Demons. Both were in the far outer orbit of the sci-fi solar system. Giant stuffs in just a touch of "science" in its script to explain why a 500 year old conquistador is alive and rampaging in a California hill country. At it's heart, Giant is a monster movie. The 6' 6" giant, like any decent monster, is almost unkillable. This beast happens to be rather blandly human looking (more of a menacing homeless guy), but the monster format is the same. Still, Screencraft gets a few points for a touch of originality in their choice of monsters. Director Richard Cunha does a fair job keeping the story moving and the visuals interesting. Giant also benefits from having two B sci-fi troopers in the cast. Morris Ankrum plays the venerable archeologist. Sally Fraser plays his ravishing daughter.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Mysterious deaths of local livestock, and finally a brutal murder have the citizens of remote Devil's Crag up in arms. The sheriff and townsfolk dislike an outsider Wayne Brooks, a handsome young geologist who has been roving the hills. Suspicion is also cast upon Indian Joe. Professor Cleveland and his daughter Janet come to Devil's Crag to search for traces of Vargas, leader of a spanish expedition that predates all others into California. They meet up with Wayne. He shows them his extinct, living lizard which had been kept in stasis inside a rock. Amid ongoing friction with the sheriff and townsfolk, they search for Vargas. The search seems fruitless, but they finally find an area with spanish armor and some bones, and a huge set of armor, but no giant among them. A lightning storm awakens Vargas from the soil. He finds his armor, suits up and starts his rampage by killing a young woman. Wayne is arrested for it, but the Professor frees him. Vargas has abducted Janet. The sheriff and town mob join the hunt. Vargas drops Janet and retreats to the rocky hill. The men trap him and shoot him many times. Thinking they have him, they stop for the night. Vargas escapes. The others pursue him to a picturesque old mill. Wayne fights with Vargas. The giant eventually falls into the out-wash of the mill dam. Since the out-wash is into a "bottomless" volcanic crater lake, the body will never be found. The world will never know, but all is well as Wayne and Janet smooch in full embrace. The end.

Why is this movie fun?
Enjoy Giant as a not-very-deep monster movie with an off beat monster. Morris Ankrum, veteran of many a sci-fi B movie, is always fun to watch. The earnest zeal of Sally Fraser (who played the "other" wife (Joan) in It Conquered the World ('56) and would go on to star in (War of the Colossal Beast ('58) ) is always fun too. For more points of interest, see Notes below

Cold War Angle
As a simple monster movie, there are no Cold War analogies in place.

Scrap of Science -- The script of Giant has three small stabs at "science" to support its monster. 1. is the "extinct" lizard supposedly kept alive within solid rock by "suspended animation." 2. is some blather about the tannin in the local soil (due to oak leaves) which act as a preservative for Vargas's body which was only in a coma (not dead). 3. is the old trope of electricity animating a dormant life form. Lighting strikes near the semi-buried Vargas and he awakens. Sure, they're all a bit thin, but this is the script's claim to being "science" fiction.

Pre-Giant Killer? -- One of the interesting plot holes in Giant is all the stage setting of a mysterious killer on the loose at the very start of the movie. Cattle and other animals mutilated, a man similarly brutally murdered. False accusations fly, but who did it? Vargas himself does some killing (Ann, Indian Joe) but he wasn't awakened by the lightning bolt until half way through the movie. Who killed Howard and the cattle earlier? That guy was still on the loose, but no one cares.

Good vs. Evil -- Where Screencraft's other film, She Demons, had a somewhat gritty undertone about humanity (psychopathic Nazi doctor turning pretty girls into ugly beasts), Giant sticks to the simple hero and monster format. All tension between the protagonists is a simple misunderstanding among otherwise noble gentlemen. Vargas, the giant, is pure beastly (he never speaks, not even some old Spanish) and does nothing except kill, oh, and steal a pretty woman. Good triumphs over evil, just the way 50s audiences liked it.

They're After Our Women -- The poster (as usual) promises that the monster is after our scantily clad young women. A minor surprise in Giant comes when Vargas does abduct the female lead. He does not murder the foolish and helpless Janet. She faints when the jeep won't start and Vargas oh-so-slowly approaches. Instead of simply killing her, as he has everyone else he caught, he tosses her over his shoulder and carts her off. Maybe it's because she was a blonde, whereas the equally pretty Ann had black hair. Come to think of it, Vargas killed Indian Joe too, and HE had black hair. Nonetheless, Giant resurrects more than an old conquistador. It keeps alive the old trope of the monster (or aliens) wanting to abduct our desirable women. For that, he must die.

Bottom line? Watch Giant with some snacks and not too critical of a mind. As a monster movie, it's fair. Revived dinosaurs or giant bugs were becoming commonplace. Big mean conquistadors, however, just didn't show up much. Giant is "lite" on science, but a fun bit of fiction.


Unknown said...


First off, let's suspend disbelief. The premise is silly - but so what.

This is a fun movie.

Lightning brings back a five-hundred year old Conquistidor (poor spelling) back to life - sounds reasonable to me.

The hero knocks him off a bridge into a bottomless waterfall.

The characters are fairly well played - especially Bob Steele as the pushy sheriff.

I always like Morris Ankrum.

It was made on a shoestring budget but is well worth watching.

I have watched it several times and will watch it again.

Pop in a dvd and have a good time.


Anonymous said...

I figured Vargas’ return to activity by lightening the viewer saw was not his first time awakened. Other lightening strikes might have not been strong enough to sustain him permanently. Maybe it was a cumulative number of strikes. He might have instinctively returned to where the viewer first sees him and the final strikes brought him to full fury. But for how long? He was badly wounded.