The Monolith Monsters (1957)

reviewed by
Shane Burridge

The Monolith Monsters (1957) 77m.

The only movie about killer rocks you'll ever see. It's hard to believe such a story pitch was ever greenlighted, and just as unbelievable to see that it actually works. Concept is similar to that of J.G. Ballard's creepy novel 'The Crystal World', and execution follows the pattern of other more well-known genre films of the time: it has an ominous opening narration (usually a prerequisite for these films); a desert setting (always popular, since this gives the monster more time to roam about killing wayfarers before it reaches the already-alerted community nearby); a hero who works for the government with some military/scientific background; his girlfriend (subject for possible paper: Why are the leading couples never married in 1950s SF/horror films?); a quasi-scientific rationale for the monster's creation; and a race against time to find a means of defeating the invading creature. Where it differs most dramatically is the choice of monster. It falls back on that SF staple, the silicon-based lifeform - if it is a lifeform. The monoliths of the title are spires of obsidian, neither living nor dead. Their only means of movement is to grow into spindly obelisks which then splinter and topple forward. This is one of the few monster movies you'll see where you feel nothing whatsoever towards the monster (e.g. pity, revulsion, admiration, fear), but perversely it is this complete lack of connection that makes the monsters more threatening - they are truly alien.

Film manages to maintain interest despite sticking to formula - the effects are good (and original); the dialogue isn't embarrassing (there's only one silly line, when hero Grant Williams remarks "You're absolutely right, it's ridiculous - but that's what they said about the wheel when someone first thought of it."); and the time element is used effectively to convey a sense of menace. My favorite moment is when Williams and his colleague are alone in a workshop trying to determine the cause of the rocks' growth, unaware that it is starting on a major scale all around them. It's too bad the film didn't work more of these ironies into the story - for example, the fact that the technology they're using to find a way to defeat the monsters is all mineral-based (at one point an early victim is kept alive for a while in an iron lung!). The science is just as specious here as in other genre pics, but at least this time around it sounds convincing. Pretty much overlooked, but just as deserving of attention as some of those other SF 'classics' that were around at the time.

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