Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Giant from the Unknown (1958)

The rural Californian town of Pine Ridge is on edge after a series of animal mutilations, which have culminated in murder. The sheriff suspects local geologist Wayne Brooks, who's just started helping the old professor Cleveland and his daughter Janet with their expedition. Cleveland is searching for evidence of the giant Vargas, a conquistador renowned for his cruelty. After a chaotic storm exposes a hidden rock, it turns out that Vargas is more alive than anyone dares realise...

Giant from the Unknown comes to us from director Richard E. Cunha, known for such b-grade 'classics' as She Devils, Frankenstein's Daughter, and Missile to the Moon (as well as some work on the minor gem Bloodlust). I was also under the impression that he directed The Neanderthal Man too (another mid-western indie horror film, about science gone amuck), but nope, that was someone else. Out of all of Cunha's movies, Giant is perhaps the best, or at least the best made. It's got a good concept, just the right level of craziness, while taking itself seriously.

The movie's setup isn't too bad, although it does take its sweet ass time. And the first act does raise a few plot holes, with the discovery of mutilated animals. I find this especially strange considering the monster hasn't actually come to life at this point! It's my theory that this was inserted at a late stage, to try and smooth over the fact that it takes 35 minutes before anything actually happens. If so it doesn't work, but oh well.

Once the film gets going it's entertaining enough, with a good climax. Although characters will often act stupid, usually to prolong the film to an acceptable runtime. Like when Wayne stealing a police car gives the sheriff all the evidence he needs to conclude the man who was with him this whole time is the murderer. But by far the worst example is when a posse has successfully surrounded Vargas, and all seems lost for the giant...until one absolute moron decides to sneak up behind him, and hit him with his gun! Did using it escape your attention?!

Wayne is your typical hero. Good looking, clever, and the only sane man in a town of skeptics. Janet is a fine love interest and sidekick, while her father is a likeable guy. He's a bit of a dope though. This search for Vargas is his life's work, yet after the course of a single uneventful day he decides that enough is enough, and that he should give up chasing this foolish dream. Jeez, you guys, at least give it another day or two! And naturally Janet immediately finds this evidence after 5 minutes of pissing about with the metal detector. The importance given to a plaster cast is also amusing.

The film's villain is a decent one, though him not being able to speak (through an awfully convenient excuse) does feel a bit weird, since he may be an asshole, but he is just a normal bloke! Speak Spanish and you'll be able to chat up a storm with him! His appearance and size are effective, and he even manages to be intimidating despite the movie's best attempts to make us laugh, with howlers like "Why do they refer to this Vargas as a giant?"-"Well, fragmentary accounts of the period relate that he was a man of extraordinary size.".

The local sheriff is a real piece of work! He's mistrustful of Wayne to the point of obsession, even though it should be plainly obvious this average geologist hardly beat a man to death. The guy even has the balls to threaten a Native American with vagrancy charges! Nevermind that that's a bullshit charge anyway, with no real basis in law, he's an Indian! He was here when your great grandpappy was still chasing maidens in the old country.

Indian Joe is a somewhat enigmatic character. He knows something bad is up, and warns the townsfolk, but doesn't trust them. He is however friendly with Wayne, and they share some good scenes. Unfortunately Joe dies offscreen halfway through. Not a bad decision, but it does deprive us of one of the more interesting characters. At least the discovery of his body does serve to suitably shame the angry mob. The fuckers were all set to lynch Joe, thinking he's the killer just because he knew enough to warn them!

There's a resident young couple in town, who face bad luck during their date. I felt bad for the girl, riiight up until I saw her run towards the giant to escape from him, then just stands there and does nothing but scream as he advances. Run, you dumbass, run! He weighs like 500 pounds, and is covered in armour, I'm sure you're faster! Her brother doesn't far much better during the climax, with his famous last words of "A man's job, huh? Well I'll show 'em".

Ed Kemmer and Sally Fraser are decent leads, while Morris Ankrum delivers a reliable enough performance as the kindly old professor. Buddy Baer makes for a pretty imposing villain, all without saying a word. As hard as it is to take a man decked out in old fashioned Spanish armour seriously, he does well!

The make-up effects for the giant are done by industry legend Jack Pierce (the man behind creations such as Frankenstein, and The Mummy), and it looks good, though quite subtle. He basically just looks like a regular guy who's been covered in a lot of dirt. Sill, it's convincing for what it is.

The direction here is pretty neat! The California wilderness works well, and there are moments both close-up and distant that look great, namely the final encounter. It's brief, and not entirely convincing (watch out for the reappearing railing!), but great nonetheless.

Giant from the Unknown has its sillier and unbelievable moments, but is a decently fun time, and worth watching for fans of b-movies...

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