Due to superb animation largely executed by Pete Peterson, The Black Scorpion (1957) remains one of my favorite films of all-time. Next to THEM! (1954) it’s my favorite giant “bug” film. I like it a lot better than Tarantula (1955), which seems dull to me now (I wish it had been animated).
The Black Scorpion offers plenty of action, voluptuous Mara Corday, a volcano, and a chasm full of cannibalistic scorpions, an odd articulated clawed worm, and a “trapdoor spider” —ah, but this blogger doesn’t believe Willis O’Brien meant the arthropod (joint-footed organisms) to be a trapdoor spider. Ok, it lives in a tunnel with a trap-door, and it springs out of its lair like a trapdoor spider. The scene is so effective it startled the liver out of me as a kid —I jumped clean out of my pajamas and an afghan blanket.
The stop-motion animated arthropod that pursues young Juanito looks nothing like a trapdoor spider, which are powerful and stout burrowing spiders with short stubby legs. They are the bulldogs of the Order Araneae. Let’s take a look at the scene and the trapdoor arthropod. This occurs approximately 56.30 into the movie. Juanito stumbles upon a large circular object that is ever-so-slightly moving. He lifts it up!
Out pops a hairy, tear-drop shaped beast. In the image below you can see it has extended pincers. Trapdoor spiders don’t have outstretched pincers. Hmmmn.
Run Juanito! So, what was Willis O’Brien showing here? I think he based the design of the trapdoor arthropod on the look of a pseudo-scorpion. They’re tailless, bulb-shaped arthropods with extended pincers. Except pseudo-scorpions have 8 legs and palpal chelae (the pedipalps or pincers). O’Brien’s creation has 6 legs like an insect, plus the pincers. Maybe it was cheaper to animate! In any event, O’Brien certainly based his creations on known animals. Ray Harryhausen has remarked that O’B certainly understood animal locomotion and anatomy.
This scene from The Black Scorpion also offers us a glimpse how some of the footage and creatures from “The Lost Spider Pit Sequence” (King Kong, 1933) may have looked. The 6-legged trapdoor pseudo-scorpion is definitely creepy and a memorable stop-motion creation. I like it better than the title creature!
Modern pseudo-scorpion, below, approximately 1mm long (about the size of a grain of rice).
Images from Pete Peterson’s Trunk: