July 14, 2022

Freakish Fish People of Sci-fi #2: The Monster of Piedras Blancas

Freakish, Frightful Fish People #2: The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)

Much like the first entry in the series, The She-Creature, the Monster of Piedras Blancas is a prehistoric humanoid reptilian amphibian (or amphibious reptilian, or whatever) that likes to hang out along a section of the California coast and kill any landlubbers who are unfortunate enough to cross its path. (As I noted in the first installment, I am using the term “fish people” very liberally to include not only humanoid fish monsters, but ambulatory amphibians, crustaceans, cephalopods and other assorted mutant sea creatures.)

Although I didn’t know it when I first saw the movie, Piedras Blancas is a real place. It’s located in the central part of the beautiful California coast, just up the road from San Simeon and Hearst Castle off of Highway 1. The area is known for its historic lighthouse and elephant seal watching. (However, the movie was actually shot in Cayucos, CA and at the Point Conception lighthouse in Lompoc.)

Imagined Google Maps (TM) review of Piedras Blancas

The Monster of Piedras Blancas
is a cautionary tale about the dangers of people feeding wildlife. The film opens in a very Creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon-like way with a wicked-looking claw suddenly appearing from behind a rock and grabbing a big metal food bowl. Later, we find out that the grizzled lighthouse keeper Sturges (John Harmon) has been looking after his monster friend and feeding it ever since he discovered the thing hiding in a cave near the beach.

Sturges, probably driven batty by his lonely job, started feeding the creature fish, then gradually added meat scraps from the local store to its diet. So now the creature has decided it likes people -- for meals. And it has a distressing habit of playing with its food by decapitating it first.

When townspeople start turning up dead, the best the old coot can do is to warn his daughter Lucy (Jeanne Carmen) to stay away from the caves near the beach. Fortunately, Lucy’s boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan), the town constable Matson (Forrest Lewis) and the town doctor Jorgenson (Les Tremayne) seem to possess all their marbles, and eventually they form a posse to hunt the creature down -- but not before it’s taken a considerable bite out of the town’s population.

The Hand-me-down Monster

Jack Kevan, who produced the film, was a make-up and special effects artist who helped create some of Universal Studios’ most iconic monsters, including the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the Xenomorph from It Came from Outer Space (1953), and Monster on the Campus (1958).

With his Universal Studios connection, he supplied the Piedras Blancas monster with the claws from one of The Mole People (1956), and feet from the Metaluna Mutant of This Island Earth (1955). (For more on the making of the Monster, see my post on “How to a Monster: FFB’s Low Budget Creature Effects Awards."

"The Fiend that walks lovers' beach with the feet of the Metaluna Mutant!"

The monster is credited with being a living-fossil offshoot of the Diplovertebron family of prehistoric amphibians dating back 300 million years. In his review of the film, sci-fi historian Bill Warren concedes that the monster is scary for a B movie, but lacks the logic and elegance of Universal’s exquisitely designed Creature (well, duh!):

[T]he Monster of Piedras Blancas seems to be designed solely to be scary. It follows no obvious logic, and while individually its various characteristics may seem plausible, and though it’s well designed in that all its body parts seem to hang together (although it has the Mutant’s fee and the hands of the Mole People), it completely misses on the basis of amphibious monster logic. … The head is preposterous. It has inexplicable stubby little horns, huge flared nostrils (in a sea creature?), and a mouth which, though full of sharp teeth and inclined to drool, seems to be incapable of being opened: there are two extrusions from the upper lip which are fastened to the lower. It’s a monster all right, and certainly ugly -- but it does not make sense. [Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies, Vol. II, McFarland, 1986, p. 320]

While there's always a place for logic and consistency, Warren seems to miss the point here. Nightmares are inherently illogical, and although this unpretentious B movie can’t hold even a tiny cupcake-sized candle to Universal’s Creature, it was nonetheless effective enough to cause a sleepless night or two for some Monster Kids back in the day (including yours truly). 


  1. Interesting that Piedras Blancas is a real place - wonder if this film increased tourism? However, that the film was partly made in Lompoc rings a bell for me, since that's the location of W.C. Fields' masterpiece The Bank Dick - odd how movies can immortalize a city you've never been to! I agree with your point that nightmares don't make sense, so the PB monster doesn't have to be evolutionarily streamlined. I remember losing sleep over the walking Tree Monster in From Hell It Came, a creature that, evolution-wise, makes entirely NO sense, but such an objection never occurred to me during my tender years of movie viewing.

    1. About 15 years ago I was in the area touring Hearst Castle and taking pics of the seals. Fortunately we didn't run into any creatures out of some feverish nightmare. I too am very fond of the tree monster of From Hell It Came, which was so slow moving, it required a ton of imagination on the part of the scriptwriter to put characters in danger. ;-)

  2. Fun review, Brian! While this is decidedly the bargain-basement version of Creature from the Black Lagoon, it's not without its goofy charms. I didn't realize that the monster costume was literally made of Univeral hand-me-downs, but now I can't unsee it. It's still an effective monster, even with the piggy nose. I'm glad scares, not logic, won out in its design.

    1. Yes, this monster is much more repulsive, designed perhaps to grab the attention of teenagers at the drive-in between make-out sessions (the nasty habit of decapitating people is also an attention-getter). Jack Kevan took a page from Roger Corman's playbook by doing the recycling thing, and it works well.

  3. Great review, Brian! I didn't discover this movie until relatively late in my monster fan existence, and I was surprised by how dark and serious it is. Decapitations...yuck. Nice to see heroic Don Sullivan from The Giant Gila Monster. Now, there's an actor who deserved more of a chance than he got from the industry.

    1. Thanks Mike! This movie is a little rough, considering that pre-teens were eventually exposed to it on TV (like me at the time). Don Sullivan may not have had many credits, but his presence in both Gila Monster and Piedras Blancas assures him of a place in the B-Movie Hall of Fame Honorable Mention wing. :)