Giant from the Unknown/The Giant of Devilís Crag/Giant from Diablo Point/The Diablo Giant (1958) -**
Some movies elicit from me a form and degree of affection that I am simply powerless to account for or defend. It isnít just that they arenít good (I mean, if I need to explain to you the allure of a movie that isnít good, then I canít imagine what youíre doing here to start with), but that they arenít even entertaining in any recognizable way. Hell, occasionally a movie will somehow charm me although it canít even inspire that species of cruel mirth that vicious children might derive from mocking the severely handicapped. Giant from the Unknown is one of those inexplicable aberrations. Its disregard for the norms of quality filmmaking comes with barely a glimmer of the joy and inventiveness on display in director Robert Cunhaís slightly later Frankensteinís Daughter. Its technique is agonizingly pedestrian despite a premise that was notably absurd even by the lenient standards of the bottom half of a 1958 drive-in double bill. It is and seemingly aspires to be nothing more than a cheaply made, slow-moving, and for the most part deathly dull stinker, with listlessly dire acting, ritualistically inane dialogue, and a monster that appears hell-bent on doing as little as possible. And yet! As I write this, it is but an houró no, not even tható since I finished watching Giant from the Unknown. Its gloomy rottenness and time-dilating tedium are absolutely fresh in my memory. If you asked me this second whether I enjoyed the hour and a quarter that I spent in this movieís company, I would honestly and without hesitation tell you, ďno.Ē But as Ahriman in his lightless cosmic sewer is my witness, I want to watch it again, right now!
In one of the woodier and less arid sections of Southern California, in a little hamlet of no consequence whatever to the outside world, Sheriff Parker (Bob Steele, from Nightmare Honeymoon and Revenge of the Zombies) has just met his whole careerís quota for serious trouble. Sheep have been disappearing. Cattle have been turning up horribly mutilated. One villager has had his whole chicken coop wiped out in a single night. And now Old Man Banks has been mauled to death. Whatís more, Parker has seen nothing to indicate who or what might be committing these acts of wanton destruction, and the residents who live up in the shadow of a big rock formation called Devilís Crag have been talking none too quietly about ďthe Curse.Ē Indian Joe (Billy Dix, of She Demons and Radar Men from the Moon) will be happy to explain that to you, if youíd like. His people used to bury their dead up by Devilís Crag in pre-Contact times, and you know how it goes with Indian cemeteries in crappy old horror movies. Parker doesnít want to hear any of that curse shit while heís around, but he wonít have much choice in the matter if he canít come up with a living and breathing suspect right quick. Indian Joe might seem at first glance like a safe bet, what with being poor, a tad crazy, universally despised, and non-white, but going after him would be a little too much like endorsing the power of his ancestorsí hex for Parkerís comfort. That being so, the sheriff does the next best thing, and starts picking on the local egghead.
That would be geologist Wayne Brooks (Earth vs. the Spiderís Edward Kemmer). Brooks is quadruply desirable as a scapegoat, for not only is he a (1) smart-assed (2) intellectual (3) from out of town, but he even has (4) a history of interpersonal friction with Old Man Banks. Ohó and Wayne is friendly with Indian Joe, and Devilís Crag is his favorite rock-hunting site. Heís perfect! Sure, thereís no actual evidence linking Brooks to the murder, let alone to the attacks on livestock, but when has a little thing like that ever stood in the way of a small-town lawman? Luckily for Brooks, though, Sheriff Parker is just smart enough to know that trumping up a criminal case against someone takes much planning and forethought, so the geologist is free for the present to go on gathering his rocks in peace.
Wayne is also free to befriend Professor Frederick Cleveland (Morris Ankrum, from The Giant Claw and The Zombies of Mora Tau), the archeologist who arrives in town the same morning as Banksís body comes to light, and to begin putting the make on Clevelandís dim but pretty daughter, Janet (Sally Fraser, from War of the Colossal Beast and It Conquered the World). (I swear, one of these days, I am going to get to the bottom of the nigh-universal assumption made by these movies that accomplished men of science like their women dumb and incurious.) Cleveland is investigating a sideline on the career of a famous local conquistador. Specifically, heís hoping to trace the independent activities of one of the noted explorerís lieutenants, a soldier called Vargas. Nicknamed ďthe Diablo GiantĒ (which is rather peculiaró surely either ďthe Devil GiantĒ or ďel Gigante DiabloĒ would make more sense), Vargas was a huge and fearsome man, and a fiend even by conquistador standards. After he went rogue from the main expedition with a handful of followers, his former commander did everything he could to suppress the story of Vargasís rampage. The historical record is therefore scanty in the extreme, but Cleveland has reason to believe that the Vargas party passed this way en route to their mysterious fate. Brooks canít recall ever seeing anything he recognized as a sign of Spanish presence in the region, but he has assembled quite a collection of Indian artifacts in the course of his own fieldwork around Devilís Crag, and the archeologist is welcome to look them over if he thinks they might shed some light on the matter.
Speaking of Wayneís fieldwork, we really ought to take a closer look at it, because itís going to be distinctly relevant later. The reason he spends so much time in the vicinity of Devilís Crag is that thereís something funny about the soil chemistry up there. It retards decay of all kinds and promotes the preservation of anything buried in it, whether organic or inorganic, but that isnít the half of it. As Brooks discovered to his considerable astonishment when he once broke open a large chunk of sedimentary rock that he found near the Indian burial ground, the soil of Devilís Crag can actually induce suspended animation in living things and sustain it indefinitely. There was a live lizard inside that rock, of a species that has long been extinct! Brooks hopes to isolate and identify whatever causes this incredible effect, even if that sounds more like a job for a biochemist than one for a geologist.
Anyway, Professor Cleveland does indeed spot something exciting among Wayneís Indian artifacts. Presumably this wasnít apparent when Brooks found the stuff piecemeal over the course of his research, but with the whole collection in front of him, Cleveland can see that several of the more irregular bits of stone are really fragments of a single item. The broken trinket is a crossó not something that pre-Contact Indians would be likely to make on their own. The only Europeans who might have been in the neighborhood at the right time to inspire the carving of the cross were Vargas and his men, so Cleveland is happier than a pig in shit with his discovery. The very next morning, he has Brooks take him and Janet up to Devilís Crag to hunt for any further sign of the local Indians having dealings with Spaniards. Naturally, that irritates Parker something fierce, but thereís nothing he can really do about it. Brooks, behaving remarkably like a real scientist, prepares a map of the Devilís Crag area with a grid drawn over it, enabling the men to conduct their search systematically. Theyíll be using metal detectors to probe the ground, on the theory that Indians didnít use much metal, whereas conquistadors literally walked around covered with the stuff. After a full day in the field without so much as a beep, it looks like the venture is going to come up bust, but then Janet decides that she wants to play with a metal detector too. Having no inclination toward scientific or systematic thinking, she wanders clear off of Wayneís grid, and thus is it that she finds a conquistador graveyard tucked away in the woods beside its Indian counterpart. Thereís no indication that any of the bones or equipment belonged to Vargas specifically, but thereís also little question but that these were his men.
Once he and Cleveland have the graves pretty well excavated, Brooks turns his attention back to the mystery of Devilís Cragís preservative soil. A thunderstorm came through and beat the shit out of the area a few days before the Clevelandsí arrival, and the runoff has exposed a lot of stuff that had been buried the last time Brooks came up here. The most interesting of the new features is a large outcropping of fractured sedimentary rock apparently identical to that in which Wayneís lizard had been encapsulated, and although Brooks doesnít see anything to suggest that chipping it open will yield a similar find, he does now have plenty of the petrified sediment to subject to chemical analysis. The freshly uncovered outcropping will doubtless be of interest to Cleveland, too, for right beside it are a battleaxe and a suit of conquistador armor sized for the comfort of a man more than seven feet tall. Indeed, were it not for the fact that the sun is on its way below the horizon when Brooks spots the axe, preventing him from making a thorough survey, the find would look more impressive still, because the Diablo Giant himself lies buried right alongside his equipment. Heís been in suspended animation these 350-odd years, and he wakes up sometime during the night after Wayne almost discovers his grave. Vargas (Buddy Baer) is apparently somewhat disoriented at first, for itís only after Cleveland has dug up and cleaned his arms and armor that the revived conquistador comes round the campsite to claim them. He nearly claims Janet, too, but withdraws when the girl gets spooked by the sound of him tromping around outside her tent, and shoots off her revolver. Instead, the first victim of the Diablo Giantís second career of rapine is Anne Brown (Jolene Brand), who together with her brother, Charlie (Stanleyís Gary Crutcher), had been in the habit of acting as Wayneís research assistant. Thatís just the sort of link Sheriff Parker has been looking for, especially once Charlie admits that he saw the antique necklace that his sister died clutching among the stuff at Clevelandís dig when he went up there to visit Brooks on the previous afternoon. Parker arrests Brooks for Anneís murder, meaning that the sheriff will be paying attention to everything except the real problem the next time Vargas strikes.
Despite a certain rather obvious essential goofiness, I believe there was a fairly decent horror movie to be made with the idea driving Giant from the Unknown, and there are a few points during this filmís 77 lethargic minutes when Cunha looks like heís giving serious thought to making it. The Diablo Giantís great size and strength, and the nominally science-fictional method of his resurrection notwithstanding, the key point about Vargas is that he is a monster in the moral sense more than the physical. A depraved and violent man from a depraved and violent milieu, he is revived after three and a half centuries of suspended animation, and immediately resumes doing what heís always doneó preying upon those smaller and weaker than himself. His status as a man instead of a thing gives a nasty edge to the attack on Anne Brown (and would have given a nasty edge to the scene in which Vargas spies on Janet changing into her pajamas, had that bit not been missing from the probable ex-TV print that I saw). We know how 16th-century bandits in general and conquistadors in particular tended to treat women who fell into their clutches, and this is supposed to be a guy whom even the other conquistadors thought was a terrifying bastard. Unfortunately, Giant from the Unknown leaves it almost completely up to the viewer to make those connections, and never addresses at all what is easily the most interesting aspect of the premise.
Think how much the world changed between the 1590ís and the 1950ís, and remember that Vargas was sealed up in that rock the entire time. Heís never seen a motor vehicle, an electric light, or a repeating firearm. When the Indians buried his comatose body (or so Cleveland speculates), believing him dead of the same disease that exterminated his followers, they were the sole permanently settled inhabitants of the area. These days, however, Joe is apparently the only Native American living on or around Devilís Crag. Vargas would know nothing of the United States of America, but he might well recognize the language of the other characters as English, and surmise that the territory he had so recently (to the best of his knowledge) claimed for Spain had been overrun by his nationís most formidable rival. And of the greatest significance in light of the two scenes I mentioned above, there wasnít a single white woman on the western half of the continent the last time Vargas was up and about. Cunha and the two screenwriters (Ralph Brooke and Frank Hart Taussig) make no use of any of that, though, preferring to treat the resurrected conquistador as just a bigger, beardier, and very much lazier equivalent to the Creature from the Black Lagoon or the Monster of Piedras Blancas.
They also leave some important things hanging, and commit a truly awesome continuity fuck-up. There is every indication within the scene itself that the first time we see Vargas awaken is also the first time heís done so. He makes no effort to gather up his stuff like youíd expect him to if he were used to rising from his grave by now, he seems generally dazed and confused, and heís so covered with crud that a single nightís accumulation hardly seems adequate to account for it all. So I ask youó if Vargas wakes up only after Brooks finds his weapons, then who in the hell killed Old Man Banks and all those farm animals?!?! And on a tangentially related note, the dialogue repeatedly hints at some prior history of strife between Parker and Brooks, in terms that unmistakably imply that the story is going to come out sooner or later, yet it never does! I can just barely swallow the anticlimactic way in which the two characters eventually agree to put their differences behind them in order to concentrate on the threat posed by Vargas, but there needs to be some manner of resolution to their subplot. A quick ďhereís why we donít like each otherĒ detour would have done the trick well enough, but we donít even get that much. Nor does anything ever come of the romantic triangle that Giant from the Unknown half-heartedly sets up among Wayne, Janet, and the doomed Anne Brown early on. Jack Pierce (who designed and executed Buddy Baerís subtle but effective mummification makeup) looks to have been about the only person involved in making this movie who brought even their C-game.