The Monolith Monsters

The threat is fairly abstract
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1957
Director: 
John Sherwood
Starring: 
Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette
The Setup: 
Rocks from outer space multiply exponentially.
Discussion: 

My friend, who pretty much devours up movies, recommended this one as a typical 50s monster movie with a very unusual monster: Rocks that, when exposed to water, grow upward into these towers. Then the tower topples over, breaking into fragments, and those fragments then start growing, etc. This sounded rather fascinating to me [as I'm sure it does to you!] and so I got that shit in my DVD player right quick. Also on the same disc is The Incredible Shrinking Man, which is also super-fun if you've never seen it.

We begin with a fairly lengthy lessson by voice-over about how meteors are always striking the Earth, etc. Then one finally hits in the desert outside this Southern California town, leaving these splintered black fragments all around. Someone brings them in to Grant Williams as Ben, who puzzles over them with self-depricating newspaperman Martin, played by Les Tremayne of Ellery Queen and other things. Ben spills some water on them and they fizzle ominously. Soon we meet handsome Dave, our hero, who goes over to Ben's house and finds the place destroyed! But all there are is all these pieces of rock! They also find Ben, who has "turned to stone," but not in the way that he'll crack apart when he topples over, which is always kind of fun.

The next day wholesome blonde schoolteacher Cathy is out in the desert with her charges, one of whom, Ginny, she speaks with for a second. We learn that Cathy is dating Dave. Ginny of course picks up one of the rocks and takes it home. When her mother won't let her bring it in the house, she dumps it in a tank of water outside--and we know what that means.

So meanwhile everyone's all freaked out over what happened to Ben, and realize that little Ginny took a rock home. By the time they get there the place is destroyed, and there's a ton of broken rock shards around. They can't understand how these tiny rock pieces could have destroyed the house--and at this point, neither could I--but it gets explained once we realize that they get huge, then shatter to pieces. Anyway, Ginny is now all catatonic, and guess what? Is slowly turning to stone. Her parents have already made the transition. You'll be amazed how casually everyone in the film handles the rock with their bare hands, EVEN after seeing how it turns people to stone.

So they tuck precious little Ginny into an iron lung--not sure how that's supposed to help--and Cathy is nearly falling apart over the affliction of her little charge because "Ginny was special." What--so the rest of your students can just DIE? And all because you had one little conversation with the girl? I tell you, it pays to have connections. That apple for the teacher could mean life or death. They soon surmise that the rock is a super-silicon-sucker, slurping up the silicon out of everything--even people!--and Martin announces with finality that "It's been gathering the secrets of time and space for billions of years!" Yeah that, or it's a ROCK. Okay? Let's not overthink everything here. It's not fucking V'Ger, okay? Jesus.

So Dave and Martin repair to Dave's lab [So he's a sheriff / scientist? Is THAT it?] where they expose the rock to everything they can think of. Note wording of "everything they can THINK of," because this is a decidedly thick duo. We see them exposing it to fire and, well, can't think of what else to expose it to! We at home of course know that the thing reacts to water, which is not exactly #3,754 on the list of things to expose something to. Hello, it is an ELEMENT. But the movie is trying to generate some kind of "the answer was so simple they missed it!" suspense. Unfortunately it only makes our main characters seem developmentally disabled. By the way, let's talk about Martin's self-depricating attitude. For the first hour here, everything he says is followed by some comment about how he's just an old tardbag and no one should listen to him. He writes articles that no one reads in newspapers no one cares about anymore. He's just a lowly newspaperman, so what could he know about science. Etc. It passes the point where you want to reassure him "Aww, no you're really smart," and start to want to say "Yeah, so why don't you just fuck off, useless old codger?" But let's get back to SCIENCE. Our intrepid idiot heroes toss the rock into the sink and inadvertently get it wet while making more coffee, then are amazed as it starts to grow. So they're ahead of the game now, right? Wrong. Because even as the thing is growing in their sink and they realize the deadly consequences the slightest exposure to water could wreak, it takes them MINUTES to connect, or even notice, the TORRENTIAL RAINS OUTSIDE. And what that might mean. Dumb heroes--get used to it.

Nevertheless, now is when things take a turn for the COOL. They drive back out to the mountain where the meterite landed and--huge black towers of crystals! Then it topples over, and those crystals start to grow! So they call this meteorologist to try to ascertain how long it will rain, and we divert into a bit of "comedy" as the guy prattles on forever. Meanwhile they've realized that if they just shoot some silicon into little Ginny she'll get all better, and sure enough, it works. You didn't think they were gonna have the guts to kill off the adorable kid, did you?

So the rains stop, more bullshit transpires, and then a farmer comes into town screaming about how his farm was destroyed. You see, the crystals are still growing, even AFTER the rain stopped. At this point you wonder ANEW at our lead character's idiocy as apparently he just assumed the crystals would stop growing and DIDN'T DRIVE OUT TO CHECK?! I'm sorry, we're supposed to respect this guy? Then Dave stops some kid and tells him to gather up all the other kids who have bikes, because he's got a very important delivery job for them. The kid asks how much they'll be paid! All right kid, THAT'S the American way! But he receives a stern rebuke about the needs of humanity, blah, blah, and our two leads take a moment to decry the decline in human values, etc.

And now, a bit of geography. We study a map in detail and see that the crystals landed in this valley, and the natural curvature of the valley will bring them barrelling right through town! But then another scientific breakthrough has informed them that SALT WATER arrests the growth of the crystals! So then you think "Well so how are they going to get that much salt water?" Well, watch and learn, young apprentice.

Dave stands before the big illustration of the town and actually draws diagrams, but I'm afraid it didn't make sense to me until I saw it. You see, they're going to blow up this dam, which is going to shoot all the water RIGHT over these huge salt piles that just happen to be there, directly in the path, and it's all going to mix up, and then flow along this conveniently-present trench that divides the valley with the crystals from the town. I need hardly tell you that all proceeds according to plan, and the crystals growth is arrested. Then everyone hugs each other and we have triumphant music, while you at home are like "But wait a minute, isn't this AT BEST only a temporary diversion? Aren't those crystals going to start growing again the very next time it rains? Has ANYTHING been solved AT ALL?"

Well, no. Because the movie has successfully written itself into a corner, and created a villain from which there IS no escape. So you'll just have to deal with it. The trailer is on the disc and isn't much special except for the amusing line "As thrill crowds upon thrill!" Which is a blatant lie, as there just aren't that many thrills here. In fact, once it's over, you can look back and be sure that the whole thing about the crystal turning people to stone is just there so it will have some kind of visceral menace against PEOPLE, as opposed to the more boring toppling and crushing farmhouses or whatever. Snore.

Anyway, pretty fun in that early 60s monster movie way, and featuring a quite unusual monster--one so threatening they couldn't even figure out a way to kill it off--so if that's you thing, well, this will provide 80 minutes of diversion from the dishes, or updating your resume, or the all-consuming emptiness of modern life, or whatever.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, if you like that whole monster movie vibe, but want something a little different.