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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C. McMullen Jr.
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GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN - 1958
USA Release: Jan. 3, 1958
Warner Bros.
Rating: USA: R

As of 2021 and the nearly ubiquitous acceptance of digital over film recording, an obtuse form of movie making has reared its drowsy melon.

Long stares at something, anything which, as the seconds tick into tedium, become nothing at all.

How long does anyone stare at a still photograph of a treeline? 5 seconds? 30 seconds?

Now how long is someone willing to put up with that time while they are watching a motion picture? Emphasis on Motion?

There is this unaware form of indie movie making that takes advantage of a digital hard drive that can while away the minutes and still have an hour or three of space left on it. This is used to pad out scripts that only have a 15 page run time.

Occasionally, if the story is done just right, as we saw in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, the audience is willing to sit in the dark and stare at a video of Katie and Micah doing nothing more than sleeping. Why? Because there is a timestamp counting down in the bottom corner of the frame letting us know that we are actually watching a sped up version of reality. We know that strange things happen at a certain time of night in this tale and, even though we may spend 30 seconds or more watching nothing more happen than the sleeping couple move in quicktime, that impending payoff is rushing toward us like a high speed freight train, even if that train is far away when we begin.

Scene after scene after scene of morose people staring off into space does nothing for us, and I blame digital. Why?

Because 2 hours of recording 8K video is cheap.

A 2 terabyte high quality SSD card is about $300 dollars cheap.

A massive 1000ft standard roll of medium grade movie (not print) 35mm film, shot at 24 fps, will give you 11 minutes of shooting. The current cost hovers around $800 per roll.

No, if you mess up a shot you don't get to erase and start over. If your thumb-fingered low budget indie crew accidentally exposes an entire roll of film? Tough! Buy another $800 roll!

Are you sure you got the shots you wanted? The boom mike isn't in the picture, is it? No shadows of the crew? In fact, you don't even get to see what you've shot until you pay for your roll to be developed and printed onto a second roll of film for your daily (Of course a second roll! You aren't going to risk damage to your master, are you?).

So by the time you see your daily, you're in the can for around $1,200 for your master print and the cheap quality film daily. If all went well? You have to pay for another cheap roll of film: a work print for the editor to use. Looking at about $2,000 for that 11 minute roll and, after editing you'll be grateful to have 2 usable minutes out of it all. That's if all went well. That's if nobody flubbed their lines. Repeatedly.

If your expensive light meter was off and the color or light level (too dark, too bright) is a mess? Tough! Scrounge up another $2,000 to shoot that scene over.

"Damn it, Feo!" You may say, "What does this possibly have to do with the movie, GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN?"

Back in 1956 and 57, Producer Arthur A. Jacobs round up a budget that, adjusted for inflation in 2021, would be just shy of $500,000. With that he could afford virtual nobody writers like Frank Hart Taussig and Ralph Brooke (BLOODLUST!, RIGHT HAND OF THE DEVIL).

Considering the cost of just film alone, you can imagine that back in those wild and woolly days, whatever went wrong in a fixed-cost, non-studio movie just had to be accepted and the producers would hope people wouldn't notice.

Also, because of the expense of film, movie directors, like Richard E. Cunha couldn't dawdle around with incompetent filmmaking trying to disguise itself as "artsy". Even the worst movies got Straight To The Point!

In GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN, the California mountain town of Pine Ridge has its citizens all in a state of barely suppressed panic. There be danger in them woods!

Adding fuel to the embers, a teenage Charlie Brown (Gary Crutcher: STANLEY) tells the gathered folk what the sheriff is bringing to them. Only this isn't butchered livestock like before, this is neighbor Harold Banks. When Sheriff Parker (Bob Steele: THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE, NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON) arrives, followed by a pickup truck, he lets the coffee shop owner (Oliver Blake: HOUSE OF HORRORS, HOUSE OF WAX [1953]) pull the cover from the dire remains of Banks. While we don't see it, the townsfolk are horrified at the sight and the panic is aflame.

The Sheriff tells everyone to calm down - you know, right after he let them see the butchered remains of their friend and neighbor.

That's how you calm people Down?

Then he says that they all better prepare themselves for questioning because, as far as he's concerned, they're ALL suspects.

That's how you calm people Down?!?

Only now do we notice the drunk American Indian sitting on the sidewalk. His name is - the unbelievably Hollywood stereotyped name for any male Native American - Indian Joe (Billy Dix: RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON [TV], SHE DEMONS) and he laughs and tells the crowd that they will all die because they are white and so cursed.

The Sheriff gets up in his face and threatens him in the cringy argot of the time.

Townsfolk rhubarb says all livestock deaths and now the death of Banks, took place at Devil's Crag. The Sheriff sagely deduces that Devil's Crag must be where all the killings are (bloody brilliant) and everyone should stay away from there.

Some of the folk point out that they live there. In Bidenesque tones, the Sheriff tells them to go live somewhere else.

Someone says local Geologist, Dr. Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer: SPACE PATROL [TV], THE SPIDER), had a run in with Harold Banks when Banks shot at him. The Sheriff nearly rubs his hands in glee, as he hates college boys. At that moment Wayne walks up and the Sheriff gives him the business.

Sheriff is nearly ready to arrest Wayne on mere suspicion, but then a Jeep drives up. The two out-of towners are Archeologist Dr. Frederick Cleveland (Morris Ankrum: TIME TO KILL, ROCKETSHIP X-M, FLIGHT TO MARS, RED PLANET MARS, INVADERS FROM MARS [1953], EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU, KRONOS, BEGINNING OF THE END, THE GIANT CLAW, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN, HALF HUMAN, TOWER OF LONDON, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES) and his perky daughter, Janet (Sally Faser: IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, THE SPIDER). Dr. Cleveland is too old to be a college boy so the Sheriff warns them not to hang around these parts.

Dr. Brooks sees Janet and takes an instant lust to her, walking right up, brassy as hell in front of her father, and openly flirting before he even knows her name.

Janet welcomes the attention of the handsome young man and, when her Pop realizes that Brooks is a fellow scientist, he also seems to welcome the chance of getting his spinster daughter the hell out of his life, and so enthusiastically encourages the budding booty-call.

And all of this happens in like, 10 minutes!

TRIVIA

Gary Crutcher decided he'd rather write than act and went on to write several feature films including two Horror Thrillers, STANLEY and THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL.

The Long Arm of the Giant!

The following people all had exceptionally successful acting careers, overwhelmingly playing in every type of tale except Horror Thrillers. Yet today, the low budget independent, GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN is at the forefront of their most remembered work.

Morris Ankrum had nearly 300 movies to his credit, and nearly all Shit Kickers and Crime dramas, including several long running TV shows and popular movies.

Yet this is the movie for which he's most remembered.

Bob Steele was the big name in this flick. In his time he made over 200 movies. During his heyday he was churning out around 10 movies a year, as a leading man, and they were all hits! Bob's thing was making Shit Kickers.

If you've ever watched the old 1960s TV show comedy, F-Troop, Bob played Trooper Duffy, the old fart who bores people with his tales of once being a famous cowboy. The referential joke was that Duffy was really recounting the plot for one of his many movies. For Western fans, his character was a trivia game of trying to remember which old movie he was really talking about.

Oliver Blake was a staple in The Thin Man movie franchise, the Ma and Pa Kettle movie franchise, and often played in Humphrey Bogart movies (Casablanca, The Jungle Queen).


Writer Ralph Brooke was so inspired by his work on GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN, that he ditched his half-ass acting career and set about writing and producing his own scripts.

The First Roll!

Over dinner at the lodge, the story is fleshed out as Cleveland tells Wayne that he is writing a book but can't finish it until he discovers the remains of the Diablo Giant, Vargas (Buddy Baer): a Spanish Conquistador who died over 500 years ago.

500 years before 1957 is 1457 - over 40 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Caribbean Islands - and that giant bastard and his Conquistadors made it all across the North American continent to modern day California? Let's hear it for overachievers!

Dr. Wayne invites Dr. Cleveland and Janet back to the makeshift lab in his bungalow to see his local findings.

Movie established that Fred and his daughter have spent years camping and looking for archeological evidence. So its quizzically surprising when Janet sees a tiny lizard and screams in fright.

Wayne assures them both that its no ordinary lizard, but sprung alive from inside a rock Brooks broke.

Wait. A lizard was utterly embedded in a rock and survived without air, water, or food?

The Cleveland are amazed but don't call Wayne a liar. Nor do they quickly remember that they had another pressing engagement and have to leave. Nope, they just take Wayne's word for it.

The Hell?

!!!THE SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
Leading up to 1956, people were aware of tales of toads, frogs, lizards springing out of a solid rock that someone just broke open (usually around quarries). These stories while unusual and rare, were not so rare that they were thought impossible. The telling of the tale was always dressed in commonalities - no dark and stormy nights, no abandoned spooky houses, no supernatural trappings at all. It was a just weird thing that happened in otherwise mundane circumstances and that's what made them so believable.

But were they true?

Actually, while biology scientists have dismissed the tales, they won't go so far as to rule out the possibility.

In science terms that neither makes it true or untrue. It means that more evidence is needed Before such things are to be believed.

That said, there is this from Scientific American,
The (Zombie-)Toad-in-the-Hole.

Producer Jacobs and Director Cunha were as pleased as two fan boys could be that they had semi-famous Universal Pictures make-up SFX man, Jack P. Pierce (THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, DRACULA [1931], FRANKENSTEIN [1931], MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE [1932], WHITE ZOMBIE [1932], THE OLD DARK HOUSE [1932], THE MUMMY [1932], THE INVISIBLE MAN [1933], BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE RAVEN, THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON) on the movie. For his part, Pierce, rudely dismissed from Universal when their Monster franchises ran their course, was scraping by in the late 1950s and would take any job.

Moreover, because Jacobs couldn't afford much, Jack was left with doing little more than wiping mud on actor Bare's face.

For his part, and like the rest of his family (his nephew, Max Baer Jr.. played Jethro in the hit TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies), at 6.7, former Boxer Buddy Baer was big as all get out, by gum!

Buddy also had a naturally open friendly face, like someone among your own group of friends.

And yeah, if this towering teddy of a Baer approached you with menace, that would be pretty scary. Unless your name was Joe Louis and you handed boxing Buddy's ass to him in the ring, Twice!

But then the inanity breaks out. As "Diablo" approaches one victim, his hands next to his face in the well known, "I'm Guinea Geisha" monster pose, Buddy's idea of scary was a creepy leer. In a sense the idea of being raped then murdered is, of course, horrifying. But Buddy's expression was just too dramatic. One eye squinty wild the other eye is wide and wild. Rory Guy, aka Angus Scrimm of PHANTASM could pull it off, but I've never seen anyone else do it.

Worse, the actor, Jolene Brand, made the mistake of running toward Diablo, instead of away. Then she stops, realizing she messed up. Then she turns and properly runs away from Diablo. All B. Baer can do is stop and watch all of this with confusion clearly etched in his face. As if he gave up being Diablo because he expects the director's "Cut!" and a retake.

The budget didn't allow for a second take, so they kept it all in.

Unlike DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN creature, THE WOLF MAN, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, HALLOWEEN's Michael, the ALIEN, or even FRIDAY THE 13th's Jason, there just wasn't enough abnormal about Buddy Baer's mud-crusted face to deliver the horrific monstrosity.

Actor Oliver Blake, with a face similar to actor Rondo Hatton, could have delivered scarier just as a murderous criminal than Buddy Baer could as a near immortal demonic monster.

All that said, and as goofy, cheap, and amateurish as GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN is, there is one thing director Richard E. Cunha made damn sure he wasn't going to do and that's make his movie dull!

GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN is fun in its own MSTK3 way and worth a watch.

Three Shriek Girls. Three Negative Shriek Girls

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsNegative Shriek GirlNegative Shriek GirlNegative Shriek Girl
This review copyright 2021 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Giant from the Unknown (1958) on IMDb
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