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Mutant ants, gigantic grasshoppers, an octopus big enough to destroy the Golden Gate bridge - these were just a few of the monstrosities swarming across movie screens in the fifties and all of them were the result of nuclear experimentation or radioactive waste. But probably the most unusual creature spawned by modern science was the hideous star of The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) - a prehistoric sea snail with pincer-jaws and huge, bulging eyes. It all begins when an underwater earthquake at the bottom of the Saltan Sea releases the eggs of some abnormally large mollusks. When the eggs hatch, caterpillar-like entities emerge and begin preying on the local population. Naval commander Tim Holt decides to take action when he discovers some human bodies sucked dry of all their liquids.
Complemented by impressive special effects and fast pacing by director Arnold Laven, The Monster That Challenged the World is a cut above the usual grade-B science fiction thriller of the fifties. One particularly impressive sequence even pre-dates Jaws (1975) in its depiction of a midnight swim where a young girl is attacked and pulled under the water's surface. Her body is later discovered by two frogmen in an equally shocking scene which was also recreated in Steven Spielberg's shark epic. But the overall tone of the film is campy by today's standards and the dialogue is full of howlers like Tim Holt's incredulous comment, "Can you imagine an army of these things descending upon one of our cities?"
The Monster That Challenged the World was shot in sixteen days on a budget of $200,000 and reportedly Holt suffered a broken arm during one of the film's action sequences. According to co-producer Arthur Gardner in Science Fiction Movie Stars and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver, "The mollusk monster was conceived by us and executed by a very good special effects man named Augie Lohman. Augie went on from that picture to do many, many famous special effects films (Barbarella, 1968). The monster stood around ten feet high, and the exterior was made of fiberglass. All the movements were controlled by Augie and two assistants - it took three men to operate it. It worked with a series of air pressure values. I believe it cost around $15,000 to build, and weighed about 1,500 pounds."
Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter), who plays one of the research scientists/frogmen in the film, recalled a personal crisis during the making of The Monster That Challenged the World in Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks by Tom Weaver: "My problem was that I was so terrified of water! They took us out in the ocean and I said, 'I, I just can't go in - .' They said, 'Just go under the water far enough that we can at least see you coming up.' I was terrified to even do that, but I did it. The close-ups were done in a big water tank - they had these huge tanks on a soundstage and put us in there, and the camera shot in at us through a (window). Then, of course, they had regular divers do the deep sea stuff. Anything with water, I've always been terrified of, coming from Kansas, where we have little creeks and that kind of thing. No water that you can go under!"
Producer: Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy
Director: Arnold Laven
Screenplay: David Duncan, Pat Fielder
Cinematography: Lester White
Editing: John Faure
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Art Direction: James Dowell Vance
Cast: Tim Holt (Lt. Cdr. John "Twill" Twillinger), Audrey Dalton (Gail MacKenzie), Hans Conried (Dr. Jess Rogers), Barbara Darrow (Jody Simms), Max Showalter aka Casey Adams (Dr. Tad Johns), Harlan Warde (Lt. Robert "Clem" Clemens), Jody McCrea (Seaman Fred Johnson).
by Jeff Stafford