The Black Scorpion Blu-ray Review

Creepin’ and Crawlin’ in Mexico

After stop motion animator Willis O’Brien completed a vicious insect attack sequence for 1933’s King Kong, the scene was cut from the finished film due to the violence. Since lost, the sequence lives as a holy grail of monster cinema and that’s okay. O’Brien, along with fellow animator Pete Peterson, managed to get an entire film out of the idea.

The Black Scorpion isn’t the pinnacle of giant insect-dom. That’s forever the untouchable Them. For a micro-budgeted production coming at the tail-end of the ’50s monster cycle though, Black Scorpion has its share of thrills.

Credit goes to O’Brien and Peterson, filling Black Scorpion with eye-catching carnage. The underground, prehistoric beasts – not reanimated by radiation surprisingly – munch on people, tear up a train, and even brawl with each other. The climax, involving helicopters, tanks, and other militaria, leaves Black Scorpion on a stellar finish.

It’s not always so pure. Getting anywhere is a slog, even at a choppy 80-minutes. Sci-fi regulars Richard Denning and Mara Corday chug an expected romance along, adding the film’s only sliver of characterization. Stock players fill in other space and Mexican locals half-act their way onto the screen.

Black Scorpion is Them restruck, but without the studio-budgeted class

This tale doesn’t need much. The “exotic” Mexico setting is more or less a backdrop for two visiting American scientists to save a country, which in Black Scorpion’s view, barely rises above third-world status. Mexico’s military hovers near total incompetence, and their scientists only a smidgen better. Given the era, it’s no place for a woman either. Corday is shuffled to safety before the men stare down the gargantuan arachnid. At one stage, she’s asked to simply take notes; the men will handle everything else.

If this sounds like a cut-and-paste, it mostly is, although even Them had a touch more respect for the female lead. Black Scorpion is Them restruck, but without the studio-budgeted class afforded to Warner’s earlier production. Black Scorpion makes due with leftovers (even using the ant’s chirps from Them for sound effects), concocting a disjointed tale with the lone purpose of crude junk food escapism.

That’s okay. It allows the crummier, rushed effects to pass by without too much critical bluster. O’Brien and Peterson matte in the scorpions unconvincingly over live action, and close-ups of a scorpion’s mug certainly betray any reality. When the stop motion works though, Black Scorpion is competent enough to earn a pass for those seeking a lesser genre entry of the era. The big bug munches a helicopter and smashes a couple of tanks. That’s worth wasting an afternoon.

Video

This is an odd one. The first reel of Black Scorpion is flirting with disaster. Chunky grain and clear signs of filtering fight with the otherwise clean print. Muddy detail and pitiful banding swarm the image. Heavy macroblocking erodes detail. The DVD release looks better. That’s no exaggeration.

Then, Black Scorpion turns. Once inside Corday’s home, it’s suddenly gorgeous. Not all of the problems resolve themselves. Banding still sticks itself inside shadows and contrast clips the upper end of the spectrum. Otherwise though, that filtered look disappears. Grain becomes perky and natural. Natural sharpness takes over and detail shines.

Issues inherent to the film itself include haze added to the stop motion scenes with frequency. Chemical dissolves take their toll too, but that’s a remnant of the era. Warner’s release otherwise respects the source material after that appallingly poor start, coming in line with the rest of Warner Archive’s gorgeous Blu-ray output.

Audio

Signs of those first reel issues exist in the audio too. A DTS-HD mono track carries notable hiss for the first 30-minutes or so. Degraded fidelity causes some wobbly treble.

While not a grand mastering job, Black Scorpion loses the hiss and other signs of age loss after that muddy start. Dialog cleans up and the stock store sounds organically aged rather than rotting. Most of the sound effects, from screams to the insect roars, come from sound libraries and hold issues inherent to that process.

Extras

If it’s stop motion, Ray Harryhausen will end up being featured. Here he is in the brief Stop Motion Masters featurette, detailing his passion for King Kong. Then, his slice of work from Irwin Allen’s The Animal World is offered, running 11-minutes, but sadly not restored for HD. Finally, Pete Peterson’s test work on two unreleased monster flicks come in next.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Summary

Willis O’Brien and Pete Peterson animate some truly killer insects in this late ’50s monster cycle entry with plenty of fun scenes.

Overall
3
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User Review
2.5 (2 votes)

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 21 Black Scorpion uncompressed screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 10,000+ already in our library), exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.