The Film: 5/5
I was chomping at the bit to see if I could review this, because it’s a hardcore “memory movie” and a favorite one at that. As a reviewer there’s nothing more fun than reviewing a “memory movie” and this one comes with two memories from two eras. The first time I saw it was during the mid-70s which would date me around the single digits. It was summer as I recollect, and me and my brother and possibly by mother and/or grandmother was in the living room at the time the movie was one. I still don’t remember what got us all to watch it. It may have been something I saw in the TV guide or it may have been my grandmother’s discovery. Sometimes she would know of these movies before me or my brother did and let us know.
I knew this movie was different from anything I had seen up to then by the opening credits. There’s this night shot of the ocean, the horizon and this white dot on the horizon, as the creepy music begins this white dot gets close and closer to the foreground during which it starts to look very misty to me. I didn’t equate creepy music and mist with monsters. I think I knew ahead of time the name of the movie and all I could think of before the white, misty dot reveals the movie’ title was ghosts.
Is this about ghosts?
What does a white dot have to do with monsters?
Any horror movie about the ocean unsettles me. They still do. Probably because I can’t swim and have had nightmares all my life about either drowning, or being in the water with something underneath coming up to get me, or trapped in a sinking car, or even weirder more nightmarish scenarios I can’t even begin to tell you.
I remember after the title is revealed asking my mother or my grandmother what “challenged” meant. I don’t believe that word was in my personal lexicon yet. Titles back then had a big influence on whether I would want to watch a movie and with this one I assumed at some point a giant monster would be seen, because with a title like that, to “challenge the world,” you need to be gigantic!
I remember being very impressed with the reveal of the creature. It was a design I had never seen before. And I always carried with me two particular scenes: the one when that research assistant gets grabbed around the neck by the monster underwater and his faces collapses, and the ending encounter with the creature in the lab. I remember being a little bit startled seeing that guy’s face sink in. You have to remember this was long before horror movies entered my life and anything horrific displayed on screen pretty much shocked and revolted me.
The next time I see The Monster That Challenged The World is June of 1994. It was airing one Saturday on TNT and it was during my new job at Service Merchandise at the mall. I had just got it a week before and I remember being disappointed it was airing during a day I had to work. The only thing I could do was set the timer on the VCR, and watch it when I got home. When I first saw it back in the 70s I don’t remember following the plot all that well. When you’re that small you pretty much just react to the visuals and seeing it again in ’94 made me suddenly realize this movie was about giant, prehistoric snails.
I so wanted to keep that recording but generally when I recorded anything from TV I cut out commercials and I couldn’t do that this time. I watched the movie but fast forwarding through commercials was just such a turn off I never kept the tape.
When MGM started up their line of Midnite Movies back in 2001 and they added The Monster That Challenged The World to it, I pretty much jumped for joy.
This is a flawless little monster movie (the only one in existence about giant, prehistoric snails. Someone needs to end that trend ASAP) that takes place in and around the Salton Sea in California back when it was a thriving resort area. An earthquake unleashes the monsters that were previously trapped in egg form since prehistoric days. The main characters are Navy personnel due to the Naval base nearby and the first victims of the snails being Naval parachutists on routine maneuvers over the sea. Three are killed. The parachutist and the two soldiers charged with picking him up. Only one body is found on the boat by our hero, Lt. Commander, John Twillinger (Tim Holt) and his search team, along with a massive splash of fluid that looks like cum. It’s not cum, it’s just some cummy-like substance the snails ooze from their mouths on land.
Our heroine is Gail MacKenzie (Audrey Dalton), the secretary at the research lab Twillinger sends the cummy snail fluid to. Speaking of which the movie’s resident scientist is Dr. Jess Rogers played by Hans Conried. An actor I have seen before but could not readily place when I saw it back in 1994. Since then I’ve learned he’s done a ton of classic TV episodes from shows I used to watch when I was a kid. Rogers has two assistants one of them is Tad Johns (Max Showalter). I have never seen Showalter in anything else until this summer when I reviewed on my DVD News Flash: The Reviews site Olive Film’s blu-ray of the Jack Lemmon comedy, How To Murder Your Wife (1965). But he’s not that guy that gets his face sucked flat in that fateful dive later on in the movie as they explore the area where the quake hit. That would be McCarthy as George Blake.
The movie is nicely plotted and paced in my opinion, with the snails seemingly ferreted out and blown up mid-way through, only to surface again later and start randomly slithering ashore to feast on some juicy man and girl meat, leading to that aforementioned tense encounter in the lab. All thanks to a little girl who couldn’t leave well enough alone, turned up the temp on a thermostat she shouldn’t have been touching and allowing the egg in captivity to grow and hatch. She and her mother, Gail, just so happened to be there that morning the snail rampages and it ends up trapping them in a closet. Twill comes to the rescue and so does a few soldiers who gun that crazy mother of a snail down right there for all the cameras to see.
Audio is in a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio setup with the aspect ratio being 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen. Kino’s transfer is a big improvement over MGM’s Midnite Movies version for two reasons—it’s now widescreen and the clarity is much improved. This transfer is brighter making a couple of the night shots more vivid.
Extras include the movie’s theatrical trailer and a commentary from film researcher and historian, Tom Weaver. He gives previously unknown to me factoids about the making of the movie, the characters and even some biographical info about the actors. It suddenly occurred to me out of the blue how much it reminded me of Them! (1954). First time ever that entered my mind. I couldn’t tell you precisely why I had that vibe just that I did and then a day later listening to Weaver’s commentary he begins to relate how similar Monster is to Them! and what those similarities are. Talk about coincidence. He also gives you a blow by blow of the deficiencies Monster has and why it isn’t his favorite. I acknowledge those deficiencies (he’s absolutely right), but I love this flick nevertheless.
Kino did a superb job (in transfer and extras) in making anyone who owns the DVD to want to upgrade to this blu ASAP. My work here is done!