Classics of the Corn: Giant from the Unknown (1958)

classics

The sheriff and "Indian Joe" have a bit of a showdown. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
The sheriff and “Indian Joe” have a bit of a showdown. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The small town of Pine Ridge, California is being terrorized by some kind of livestock-killing creature, and the citizens are in a frenzy over it. Things get even worse when a man turns up dead. Local Native Americans blame the victim himself, saying that any man who walks on the burial grounds will certainly die. The rest of the town has trouble taking this legend seriously, and at first they suspect that a person is the culprit, but that isn’t the case at all.

Centuries ago, a group of Spanish explorers were in the area on an expedition led by a giant named Vargas (heavyweight boxer Buddy Baer). They explored the mountains, searching for gold… and were never heard from again.

Could Vargas, who has supposedly been dead in the mountains for hundreds of years but may be trapped in a state of “suspended animation,” be the cause of the terror in the village?

Richard E. Cunha directs 1958’s Giant from the Unknown, written by Ralph Brooke and Frank Hart Taussig. This B-horror/sci-fi flick was released by Astor Pictures.

I’ll begin with the thing that bugged me most about this film: it includes a horrendous depiction of Native Americans. “Indian Joe” (Billy Dix) is such a poorly-written and stereotypical character. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at the idiocy or get angry about it.

The brave adventurers: Professor Cleveland, Janet and Wayne. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
The brave adventurers: Professor Cleveland, Janet and Wayne. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Problematic portrayal aside, this film has a classic sci-fi plot. A scientific researcher and a couple of archaeologists (Wayne Brooks and Professor Cleveland, portrayed by Edward Kemmer and Morris Ankrum, respectively) set off on an adventure to uncover the mysteries of the past. They set off on a quest to solve the case of Vargas, and to determine whether or not suspended animation exists.

There’s a great mystery element to the film as the two men struggle to decipher a past that they have very few clues about, and this is the one aspect of the story that is legitimately somewhat good. There are also a few great “Vargas attacks!” scenes – a favorite includes alternating shots of the screaming victim and closeups of the giant that just keep getting closer until you can barely identify his facial features.

There is, of course, a bit of romance involved as well. You see, Professor Cleveland has brought along his beautiful daughter Janet (Sally Fraser), who splits her time between flirting and smooching with Wayne, and taking an interest in (but not participating in) the research.

Giant from the Unknown is a pretty formulaic ’50s B-movie. It’s got the semi-bad acting, the supposed-to-scare-you-but-makes-you-laugh creature, the corny effects. But these are all great reasons to love the film, if you’re a fan of the B-horror genre.

If you’re interested in viewing this film, it is available via Netflix DVD delivery and available for rental on Amazon Instant Video.

Wayne has made a brilliant map of the archaeological site. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Wayne has made a brilliant map of the archaeological site. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

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5 thoughts on “Classics of the Corn: Giant from the Unknown (1958)

  1. That first photo had me wondering if this was, at first, a ‘Lindsey Tries to Appreciate Westerns’ entry that went awry, but no…but it sure did go awry, didn’t it? I’m almost done with my Netflix-by-mail subscription, so I think I’ll continue to save a spot for ‘The Stuff’ instead of this one, if that’s okay with you!

    And just curious: is it possible to get a copy of that map that’s suitable for framing?

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      1. Good, because it was actually next in line! I just sent back a decent one with Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan called ‘San Quentin’, and have about seven shipments left before I cancel the subscription and move to San Diego.

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