The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)
What is a diplovertebron?
It’s a prehistoric amphibious reptile thought to be extinct. Fossilized specimens have been found about 100 miles north of here… But this is living tissue…
Here’s a fact I have never revealed until now: My father is buried with a VHS copy of The Monster of Piedras Blancas. It was one of his favorite b-monster films, so I slipped it in the coffin before he was laid to rest. Some might question my dignity on the matter, and my dad is probably really sick of watching it (he probably would’ve preferred The Maltese Falcon), but it’s done and literally buried now. I found it appropriate because we watched the film dozens of times together. Like my dad, I love the film and think it is one of the best of the “men in rubber suits” monster films. Men in rubber suits you ask? Before the days of CGI, monsters were created through traditional animation (cartoon bats in Son of Dracula or the Monster from the ID in Forbidden Planet), stop-motion animation (King Kong), makeup and prosthetics (Jack Pierce’s makeup on Frankenstein’s monster), puppets and animatronics (the Rancor in Return of the Jedi and the dragon Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer), pneumatics and hydraulics (the Giant Squid in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and the shark Bruce in Jaws), slimy goo (The Blob), Rob Bottin’s effects in The Thing (which use several techniques), and prosthetic body-suits (e.g. Godzilla, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mole Men and so forth).
Film historian Bill Warren isn’t too impressed with the title monster from TMFPB (Warren, 1986). He writes:
Certainly the design of the Monster from Piedras Blancas isn’t as interesting or as logical as those for the 1950′s Universal Monsters, although it is well constructed… [It] seems to be designed solely to be scary. It follows no obvious logic… in that its body parts seems to hang together (though it has the [Metaluna] Mutant’s feet and the hands of the Mole People), it completely misses on the basis of amphibious monster logic… The head is preposterous… It’s a monster, all right, and certainly ugly –but it does not make sense… [and later] The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a plot contrivance…
I like the “diplovertebron” monster and don’t find him illogical at all. He does have the Mole People’s claws -and puts them to good use cleaving off people’s noggins. I find the claws totally logical for slicing and dicing —some digging creatures such as the Giant Anteater of South America use their claws in defense. (Ok, I know the monster is totally offensive). The claws are splayed outward enough for swimming too. The pincer “mutant” feet also remind me of a crustacean which are generally aquatic. Illogical? Maybe. The MFPB is an amalgamation of several beasts. He reminds me of the Monster from the ID which follows no rules of evolutionary biology. As you recall, that monster spawned from Morbius’ subconscious was bi-pedal, but had the hooked claws of an upside down hanging sloth! The MFPB is also a mosaic of monster parts. That’s part of his charm. Maybe the diplovertebron is a “mutation of the reptilian family” and it is an animal anomaly, not following the rules. Take at look at 570 million year old living fossil Peripatus (a velvet worm with arthropod-like characteristics) if you don’t think anomalies exist in the animal kingdom.
I don’t get too logical with monster movies —to me the more ridiculous, the more entertaining. I think that is why I often prefer Kaiju films (long live Goji!).
TMFPB is a perfect double-feature paring with the superior Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)(slated for re-make in 2013 -BOO HISS). Both films follow the number 1 rule in monster movies: Never ever show the monster up front.* Both films reveal the monsters slowly by showing claws or providing sounds in the early parts of the films, and as a result tension builds. Watch Jaws and you’ll notice a similar technique was employed. When we finally see the monsters, we jump.
The MFPB was probably designed and sculpted by Millicent Patrick and rendered as life-casts by Jack Kevan, who both worked on most of the Universal monsters of the 1950′s (Warren, 1986). The monster was played by Eddie “Pete” Dunn, who also appears in the film as a bar-tender. The film stars voluptuous Jeanne Carmen (who was allegedly friends with Marilyn Monroe ), Don Sullivan (The Giant Gila Monster), Les Tremayne (you’ve seen him in a zillion roles), and Forrest Lewis (who you’ve also seen). The plot is standard fare: butcher keeps meat scraps to feed prehistoric diploveretbron; butcher runs out of meat scraps and monster rips off people’s heads; sexy girl on beach attracts diplovertebron; young lover doesn’t like that; a specialist, a law man and the young guy figure things out; butcher gets killed; crabs crawl on head at beach (I think Spielberg saw this film); diplovertebron chases sexy girl in a lighthouse; young guy comes to rescue…. (I won’t spoil the ending…)
Currently, TMFPB isn’t available as a commericially-released DVD. A VHS tape from Republic Films was released several years ago. Generally you can find a copy if you look hard enough at horror conventions or on-line.
*However, I love the monster in the opening of Night of the Demon.
Peripatus — http://www.teara.govt.nz/files/di13259enz.jpg
Bill Warren, 1986. Keep Watching the Skies! McFarland.