MARCH 20, 2013
After I saw and thoroughly enjoyed Fiend Without A Face, my good friend Ryan Turek recommended The Monster That Challenged The World, another 50s monster movie that he particularly liked. So in true BC/HMAD fashion, I said I'd watch it right away and then proceeded to forget all about it for a month or so, even though I've watched several movies on Instant in between. I'm afraid to even LOOK at that recommendation thread at this point; I'd probably feel horrible for all the movies I never got around to seeing.
Anyway, it's not as good as Fiend; it's similar (Army bases, half baked romances, etc), and equally slow but the finale doesn't make up for it. The monster is pretty awesome, but it's a giant animatronic instead of stop motion beasties, and he doesn't move much - it's kind of like the end of Little Shop of Horrors where you feel the characters would be safe if they just left the room where the non-moving beast could reach them anymore, so there's not a lot of excitement to it. Plus it's a little girl in danger, and this is a G rated monster movie from the 50s, so come on! Put some random soldier in there so we can tense up a bit! That said, it's admirably kind of grim when the lovely Audrey Dalton as the heroine (also trapped/completely safe) tells the girl to close her eyes and holds her tightly, pretty much saying "We're done for, don't watch as it eats us". There's also a hilarious bit where they try to add some excitement to the proceedings by cutting to the hero and his scientist pal, who are en route to the lab where the monster is wreaking havoc (which they don't know about yet). The hero asks the other guy if he wants to stop for food, so of course the audience will be like "Oh no, don't do it!" but the movie doesn't even try milk it - scientist dude instantly says "No, I'm good, but we can stop if you want," to which the hero says "No, it's OK." It's like they wanted to scare the audience a bit but didn't feel like going through it.
I had more fun spotting the movies it may have influenced, in particular Jaws, as there's a pair of young lovers who get attacked late one night much like the opening sequence of Spielberg's classic. Plus a guy is looking out for the welfare of some kids in the water and ends up being the one to die, which is like the rowboat dude that capsizes trying to help Brody's older kid. And I swear to Christ the end was copied for Shining, as the monster is just smashing through a locked door and looking through the hole trying to get at its intended victim. But for the most part, it just follows along the pattern of other 50s monster movies, largely indistinguishable from the sort of thing they'd watch on the later seasons of MST3k where they had a little more money and thus did a lot of similar movies from the era (Revenge of the Creature in particular must have been an influence on this one). The characters are all pretty stock, with the exception of a museum employee played by Milton Parsons, who seemed to have wandered in from a Tobe Hooper movie or something. Not sure if it was the way the role was written or if it was Parsons' acting, but even though he's just a guy supplying maps and such to our heroes, he left me more unsettled than the monster did.
But alas, most of the movie is just the scientist talking about mollusks, or people listing numbers during the lengthy 2nd half attempt to find the creature in the area after dividing it into lots. Half of the dialogue during this section is just people saying "Lot 23, cleared!" "Lots 10-12 are clear..." etc. There are some isolated creature moments (including a hilarious bit where he basically eats a guy's head), but they are too infrequent, and thus the movie never really gets very exciting. You'd never know it from the Wikipedia though; while some of it is correct most of it seems to be discussing an earlier draft or a different movie entirely, including an opening attack on New York that we don't see and a scene where it "wrecks everything in its path", when in reality the monster just sort of stands in one spot and knocks some shit over. Also, he's not killed by electric shock delivered to some weak spot on his forehead - our hero sprays him with a fire extinguisher for a while before a bunch of random soldiers show up and shoot it a bunch. I want to see the Wikipedia version!
I guess it ultimately depends on how much you love these movies. If they're your "thing", then you'll probably be pretty entertained. It's well made and the characters are likable (I love how easily the hero forgives another guy for almost getting him killed; the guy tries to apologize and he's like "Nah, it's OK, things happen!"), and the monster, when you see it, looks pretty awesome. And they really tax their G rating, stabbing its eye out at one point and showing it flop to its death in the finale - I think the MPAA needs to up this one to a PG before some 5 year old sees it and tries to mimic the action on the family mollusk. But to a casual fan like me, this isn't one I'd otherwise feel the need to hunt down - it's pretty much a filler entry in the genre. And it certainly doesn't live up to that awesome title - what challenge? What world? He is sort of angered into a turf war with some army dudes, that's about it.
What say you?