Friday, 1 November 2019

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)

A likable low budget monster movie with limited ambitions.

Directed by Irvin Berwick
Produced by Jack Kevan
Screenplay by H. Haile Chace
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Edited by George A. Gittens
Production company: Vanwick Productions
Distributed by Filmservice Distributors Corporation (United States), Grand National Pictures (United Kingdom)
Running time: 71 minutes
Budget: $29,000


Les Tremayne as Dr. Sam Jorgenson
Forrest Lewis as Constable George Matson
John Harmon as Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper
Frank Arvidson as Kochek, the Storekeeper
Jeanne Carmen as Lucille Sturges
Don Sullivan as Fred
Pete Dunn as Eddie/the Monster
Joseph La Cava as Mike
Wayne Berwick as Little Jimmy


Read on for more.....

Spoilers follow below....

“The Monster Of Piedras Blancas” 

With your host….. 
Fergus Fontaine!!! 

Fontaine: Good evening to everyone and welcome to tonight’s episode of “Monster Hunters” where we take you to the ends of the earth in search of strange and mysterious monsters, and where we try to separate fact from fiction and truth from myth and legend. 

We now look back at the year 1959 and examine unbelievable events that were reported to have occurred in the sleepy lighthouse town of Piedras Blancas some 60 years ago.

It is said that a superstitious lighthouse keeper was in the habit of leaving food (at first fish and then later exclusively meat scraps) for a sea monster that inhabited a nearby cave.

Of great concern to the locals was the fact that dead bodies kept turning up in the town and on the beach. It was claimed that these people had been killed by the monster. 

What exactly was the nature of this alleged monster? From where had it originated? A clue fortuitously turned up when a local aspiring scientist whom we’ll meet shortly, identified a scale located near one of the dead “victims” as belonging to a "diplovertebron," a supposedly extinct prehistoric amphibious reptile that lived in the Late Carboniferous period, about 310 million years ago. The Diplovertebron was a medium-sized animal, around 50 cm in length that was thought to have inhabited European Carboniferous swamps in what is now the Czech Republic.

So how could such a creature supposedly have existed in mid-20th Century coastal California?

As you watch tonight’s program, you might well be reminded of our previous program featuring the 1954 capture of a supposedly extinct prehistoric amphibious creature dubbed “The Gillman” or “The Creature From The Black Lagoon.”

Tonight, we’ll piece together our story of the Monster of Piedras Blancas from local news and police reports and eye-witness accounts from locals at the time, as well as the recollections of those few who are still alive. We have some photos of the participants in the event of 60 years ago as well as reconstructions of certain incidents from that time.

In fact we have two of those very people right now, Lucille and Fred Sullivan. [Camera view shifts to an elderly couple in their late seventies.] Thank you for taking the time to join us tonight Mr & Mrs Sullivan. We’ll start with you, Lucille. Can you tell us what your role was in the story of this mysterious creature?

Lucy: Oh dear, yes, but please call me Lucy. Of course I was much younger back then and had not long returned from boarding school after a ten year absence to live with my father who everyone just simply called “Sturges.” I was just plain old Lucy Sturges back then. I’d only recently started returning home for summer vacations.

On one particular fateful day my father went riding into town on his bike after warning off some kids who were walking along the nearby cliffs. It became a bit of habit with him and earned him a reputation as being a cranky crazy old man! Dad then rode to Kochek’s store to pick up his meat scraps, but I seem to recall that he was told that they had been sold to someone else, I think.

Fontaine: A fateful day it certainly was, for on that day according to Constable George Matson’s report, two bodies each with their “head ripped clean off” were located on the beach by a small fishing boat. The constable noted that the bodies looked like they had no blood left in them.

The two deceased men were the Rinaldi Brothers and their corpses were brought into the store in a wheelbarrow where the proprietor Kochek placed them in the refrigerator until an autopsy could be completed.

Lucy: Yes, and after leaving Kolchek’s store, dad came down to the Wings Café where I worked behind the counter. When I told him I had to work late, he seemed to be very concerned about me returning home in the dark. He could be very over-protective at times but on this day something else seemed to be playing on his mind. I tried to assure dad that I would be fine. 

Fred: I offered to bring Lucy safely back home in my jeep. I’ve retired from my work as a marine biologist but at the time I was just a biology student – that aspiring scientist you referred to! I managed to convince Lucy to join me in collecting marine specimens. At least that was my excuse! I much later eventually convinced her to actually marry me!

Fontaine: According to Constable Matson’s report, he questioned your father, Lucy about the Rinaldi Brothers and whether he saw them or knew anything about the circumstances surrounding their deaths. He denied knowing anything but the Constable felt that perhaps he was holding something back. Either that or it was just his irascible nature. 

Matson also obtained a statement from Kolchek concerning the Rinaldi brothers which the latter also related to your father, Lucy and to whoever else would listen. I quote; “I went out on the pier to look at my lobster traps, when I see the boat way out over there by the breaker line, but it was low in the water and looked like it was empty. But I did not pay much attention until it drifted near the pier. Then I seen them. Like slaughtered steers! Their throats cut clean! Funny thing though, not much blood around.”

It seems that the constable was of the belief that the Rinaldis were caught in a squall and wound up on the rocks. Kolchek’s statement, however makes it clear that he felt the brothers’ deaths had nothing to do with rocks and squalls and that instead, it was “something living that did it.”

We next have a signed report from the local MD, Dr. Sam Jorgenson who conducted an examination of the Rinaldi Brothers corpses at Kochek's store. In the report, he confirmed that their heads had been cleanly and expertly severed and that death was instantaneous. 

Lucy: I noticed that when dad came home after his visit to Kolchek’s store, he was in a particularly irritable mood. As I said before, he’d always been a bit over-protective towards me, but on this occasion when I told him I had to work late, he made a point of telling me that he didn’t like me coming home after dark and ordered me not to come home late.

Fred: I also know that Lucy’s father didn’t think too much of me at the time, so it was no comfort to him that I would be bringing her home. 

Lucy: Well, dad was not exactly the friendly type. I remember when I was at work I overheard Constable Matson asking dad about what time the squall started and when he started up the fog horn and if he had seen anything unusual. This just set dad off complaining about how nobody ever listened to him and warning that someday “they” would learn. When I think back though, dad’s behavior did seem to be a bit at odds with what I knew of (or what I thought I knew of) him as his daughter.

Fontaine: Going back to Dr Jorgenson’s medical autopsy report, both victims’ jugular veins, carotid arteries, esophagus and trachea, “were cut straight across. There was a complete transection of the spinal cord.” In other words, viewers, [looking directly at the camera] their “heads were severed from the trunks” and “death was instantaneous.” It almost appeared that they were like 19th century, “victims of the guillotine.” An accident? Not likely as “the manner of death was identical in both cases and it had all the earmarks of a conscious act” perpetrated as some folks in the town like Kolchek began to fear, by some kind of inhuman beast.

What logical explanation could account for the fact that despite the victims’ heads being severed from the trunks almost as if by a surgeon's scalpel, “the main arteries were distended several inches… if something had been attached to pump out the blood!?” After all, it is generally well known that “when a person is killed the heart stops pumping almost immediately” and “there's always some blood left in the body.” In the case of the Rinaldi brothers’ corpses there “wasn't any blood left in them.”

I understand, Lucy that you experienced a strange feeling after you came home from your time at the beach with Fred. 

Lucy: Why yes. Fred and I had a wonderful time at the beach, you know being young and in love and all! Fred brought me back to work in his Jeep and then in the evening he brought me home. I would have invited him in but it would have only upset dad. After Fred drove off, I decided to go for a swim instead of going directly inside the house. You know, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched by someone or…. [Pauses and looks down before going on]. After my swim, dad not surprisingly lectured me about swimming at night and actually threatened to send me back to boarding school! My, was he angry! I know I came inside the house quite late after a night time swim, but still….. 

There was clearly some reason for why dad was the way he was at that time. But it wasn’t always so. “When I was a child he was lots of fun…...I remember, it was just before my 9th birthday. Father hadn't been feeling too well that afternoon. There was a ship in trouble off the coast and [father] had to stay in the tower. Mother got worse, but wouldn't let me call him until early morning. He phoned for the doctor, but they refused to come out in the storm. When they returned, Mother was dead. They were so much in love.

When [father] was first transferred [to Piedras Blancas] he wouldn't have anything to do with anybody. Shortly after, I was sent away to boarding school.” It must have been really lonely for him. 

Fontaine: Well, Lucy, it seems that your dad may have had some grounds for being concerned for his daughter’s welfare. I have here a clipping from a local newspaper from the time, The Piedras Blancas Bugle which carried the following report. It’s quite brief and viewers can see it on their screens while I read it:



Yesterday morning local Piedras Blancas storekeeper, _____ Kolchek was found dead in the rear office area of his store.

That morning the funeral of the recently deceased Rinaldi brothers was held after their caskets had been brought over to the cemetery from the church. It is claimed by some people that their deaths had occurred under mysterious circumstances despite the official cause as being due to both men having been washed up on rocks while fishing in their boat during a squall.

A young boy by the name of Jimmy _____ had entered Kolchek’s store intending to buy candy. Not being able to raise Kolchek, the boy looked around the store until he stumbled across the gruesome sight of Kolchek’s headless corpse.

Jimmy immediately headed toward the cemetery and informed the local physician, Dr. Jorgenson that Kolchek had been murdered.

What is unusual about this event is that it has been suggested by some people that there are disturbing similarities between the manner of death in both Kolchek and the Rinaldi brothers’ cases.
At the moment, no further information has been forthcoming from local law enforcement officials.


Next up we have an official police report made out by Constable Matson after he and Dr. Jorgenson arrived at the store and confirmed the death of Kolchek.

Police Report: Constable G. Matson, Piedras Blancas PD

Name of deceased:  

Time of death1.00 - 2.00 am approx.

Location of body: Rear office Kolchek store No.__. Main street, Piedras Blancas.

Manner of death: Complete transection of all veins, arteries, esophagus, trachea, and spinal cord by person or persons unknown. 


Fontaine: Note the manner of death. Sound familiar? Now, Fred, can you please take up the story.

Fred: Certainly, Fergus. At the murder scene a strange what seemed to be very large fish scale was found. After Kolchek’s body was placed in the ice room and the store locked up, it was decided to have some tests performed on the fish scale at Dr Jorgenson’s house.

Initially it seemed to be too large to be a fish scale. Jorgenson and I examined the scale and we eventually concluded (to an impatient constable Matson’s immense relief) that “the structure of the specimen we found in Kochek's store (was) essentially the same as that of the Diplovertebron. Only larger.” However, the Diplovertebron is as you earlier pointed out in your introduction, a prehistoric amphibious reptile thought to be extinct!

The specimen we found was living tissue; ergo, it could not possibly be the scale of a Diplovertebron.

Suddenly Lucy came rushing into the house calling out for constable Matson. She was frantic over having found her father unconscious at the bottom of the cliffs near a cave. Naturally we raced to the lighthouse in the jeep, located Lucy’s father, managed to revive him and conveyed him back into the lighthouse, where we set him on the couch. He had a bad gash in his right arm and his leg was hurt. Strangely enough, Sturges’ dog, Ring was missing which was unusual as they were both inseparable.

I stayed with Lucy while Matson and Jorgenson took my Jeep and headed back to town. When Lucy’s father awoke, I asked him about the legend of Piedras Blancas. Somewhat evasively I thought, he only acknowledged that the coastal currents were very treacherous and that the rocks on the seaward side were covered in white with gull droppings so that in bad weather they're almost impossible to see. As a result many a ship had been lost on those rocks before the light was built, with not a record of any survivors. Not surprising with the way the surf conditions and coast the way it was. To Sturges’ way of thinking, despite all of this, “people would rather start a legend” about a monster living in the rocks.

When I suggested to Sturges that I take a look in those caves, he became quite angry and told me in no uncertain terms that they are a part of government land, that no-one was allowed there, that they are dangerous and that he did not want me on those rocks. His anger and concern seemed to be all out of proportion and unwarranted.

Fontaine: Sadly, it wasn’t long before there was yet another victim of this apparent monster. According to constable Matson‘s report, as soon as he and Dr Jorgenson arrived back in town they were greeted by the sight of a man carrying the body of his little daughter followed by a crowd of townsfolk. 

After the shocked and distraught man placed the girl's body on a table in the café, he was able to indicate that her mother had sent her to the store, the very place where a young man by the name of….let’s see here….Eddie had been left after Kochek's death.

Lucy: My, the whole affair was beginning to fray people’s nerves. It even began to affect my relationship with Fred. Fred starting asking questions that had a definite purpose behind them such as why dad wouldn’t let me come home during vacations and how long was it after I had moved there that he sent me away to school even though he had seemed to be getting better for a while.

I told Fred that it was “some thing I did...It wasn't anything, just kid's stuff….. When we lived up north he let me play around the rocks and go to the beach alone. But shortly after we moved [to Piedras Blancas] he refused me the privilege. He said it was too dangerous. The cliffs never seemed any bigger than the ones up north. So, I sneaked away one day and got caught in one of the caves by the tide. When he found me it was dark and he was furious. I'd never seen him like that. He sent me to bed without supper and the next morning I was packed off to boarding school. I didn't see him for almost 10 years.” He never gave me any reason at all and I never questioned him.

Suddenly Fred insisted on searching the caves near the lighthouse. I strongly objected to this, because dad had given strict orders that no one was to go in or near the caves. Fred believed that dad was keeping something from him and that he was somehow responsible for three people having met with violent deaths in just a 24 hour period. Fred was doubtful about the legend of Piedras Blancas but had to check to be sure even if meant disobeying dad. Our argument culminated in me telling Fred that he shouldn't come back to the lighthouse again. [Lucy reaches over and affectionately squeezes Fred’s hand].

Fontaine: Well, back in town it seems that the truth of the legend was in the process of being confirmed. Strangely enough, we could not track down any more police reports from constable Matson or any further medical reports from Jorgenson. We only have your recollections, Lucy and Fred as well as some unconfirmed accounts relating to the following incidents from stories that were passed down to the descendants of some of the townsfolk.

One such story recalls how Matson and some town's people went looking for Eddie at the store. While a small group gathered outside, Matson entered the ice room where he was suddenly and viciously attacked and wounded by a terrifying creature. What made this particularly horrifying was that the reported monster was carrying the decapitated head of Eddie in his right claw. [Looks directly into the camera] 

Had the townsfolk finally found their killer? 
Or had he or it found them? 

Fred: We were sure by now that we were dealing with an inhuman killer that was nearly 7 feet tall and had tremendous strength. And it was on the loose someplace!

Constable Matson came and picked me up in the jeep and we went back to the café where he handed me a rifle while he grabbed a pistol from behind the counter. We got together a small posse and went in search of the creature. 

We eventually spotted its foot prints in the sand, but upon entering a cave we were horrified to find another severed head belonging to a man called, Merit, I believe. Unfortunately, another man by the name of Mike had been attacked and injured and had to have his injuries attended to. There was nothing for us to do but to regroup the next day, this time with reinforcements.

Lucy: After Fred left, dad finally told me what he had keep keeping secret for years. According to him there were many caves along the cliffs that he was sure had never been explored. He had noticed one in particular at low tide and one day, when the tide was at full ebb, he waded out through the opening and walked through it. Dad had walked for what seemed miles until he saw a light ahead. He climbed up to it and found a narrow fissure opening at the mouth of the big cave below the lighthouse. It wasn't big enough for him to get through so he had to go back. Just before he got to the entrance, he realized the tide had closed him in. Suddenly, he had the strangest feeling that he was being watched (just like the feeling I had when I went for that night time swim) and he heard sounds like heavy breathing. He then dove through the opening and swam out.

The next day dad went back to the mouth of the cave below the lighthouse and left some fish he'd caught. The following morning they were gone.

Fontaine: Is that why your father packed you off to boarding school?

Lucy: Dad had known that it wouldn't be long until I’d found that opening and squeezed through. He couldn't take a chance on that happening. Poor dad was even more lonely after I left. He even got to worrying about that poor creature in the cave, so he fished every day and left his catch for it. Finally, he just couldn't catch enough so he got meat scraps but it wasn't long before the fish was refused by the creature and he had to get more meat scraps.

Having fed this - whatever it was - all these years, dad felt responsible for what had happened. It was as if he had a protective feeling towards this creature like it was his own. He also felt less lonesome after I left knowing there was some living creature nearby. It was something for him to hang on to seeing that he didn’t get along with the rest of the townsfolk.

I ended up helping dad get to the lighthouse so he could tend to the prisms. He couldn’t bear the thought of a ship going aground while the creature was out hunting as “there wouldn't be a single survivor” left. 

Fontaine: In the meantime Fred, you, the doctor and constable Matson concocted a plan to capture the creature using a net.

Fred. That’s right. While the doctor, the local garage owner and I were working on the net, Matson came to the garage and asked me to call Lucy as he did not see the lighthouse light on and was somewhat concerned. I tried to call her on the phone but got no response. The doctor and I decided to take the Jeep to the lighthouse while Matson gathered a posse together and would meet up with us later.

Fontaine: What had happened to you, Lucy? 

Lucy: Oh, I shudder to think about it! The creature had come to the lighthouse and forced its way through the front door. I thought it was dad and called out to him but when I opened my bedroom door I was confronted by the creature. I screamed in terror before passing out.

I soon regained my wits to discover that after firing his gun dad was being pursued by the hideous creature up a spiral staircase leading to the lighthouse light. I then ran for help when I suddenly and thankfully came across Fred and Dr. Jorgenson. 

Fred. It turned out that Lucy’s father managed to get outside through a steel door which he bolted shut. We all arrived back at the lighthouse to witness the creature banging on the steel door. It was soon able to force the door open and pursue Lucy’s dad up a ladder on top of the light. To our horror the creature picked him up and effortlessly threw him off the lighthouse to his death.

Armed with my rifle, I managed to make my way up the lighthouse to where the monster was situated. Suddenly I noticed the beam from a flashlight of one of the posse below that seemed to distract the creature’s attention or at least sufficiently annoy it. A thought suddenly struck me. I called out to Lucy to turn on the lighthouse beacon. When she did so, this caused the creature to be blinded by the strong light and back away against the railing. As it did so, I lunged at it and pushed it over with the butt of my rifle.

The last I or anyone saw of the creature was its body plummeting into into the water below.

Fontaine: What a harrowing account! On behalf of everyone here, I would like to thank you both for your time and your valuable contribution to tonight’s program.

[Looking directly into the camera.] There you have it viewers. Testimonies from the few who were there back in 1959 in Piedras Blancas. Bits of surviving documentary evidence. Stories and accounts passed from one generation to the next.

Whether the Monster of Piedras Blancas be fact or fiction or a bone fide mystery, we can be sure of one thing as Albert Einstein once pointed out: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.”
Until next time, this is Fergus Fontaine wishing you all a very good night and…... don’t let the monsters bite!

Full Film 

Points Of Interest

The Monster of Piedras Blancas was an independent production from Jack Kevan who was former makeup artist at Universal and was responsible for designing and building the Gill Man suit in Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as the alien Xenomorph from It Came from Outer Space, and the Metaluna Mutant of This Island, Earth.

The suit for the film’s "diplovertebron" monster consisted of existing molds for the feet that were cast from those of the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth) along with over-sized hands originally designed for The Mole People).

There’s no mistaking the fact that the Monster of Piedras Blancas, is somewhat of a knock-off of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

It is obvious that some thought had gone into the plot which was fairly consistent and had some logic to it such as the monster’s origins and the reasons behind its murderous rampage. The theme of loneliness and of being an outcast and the kind of desperation it can produce are touched on quite nicely as well.

A couple of quite gruesome scenes for the time included the monster bursting in on the scene carrying a bloody severed human head and a shot of the same head with a crab crawling across the face. Even cute pooches and little girls are not spared from the murderous wrath of the monster!

The film was shot not at the actual Point Piedras Blancas, which is north of San Simeon on the California coast. The lighthouse locations were shot at the Point Conception lighthouse near Lompoc, and the film's "town" was in fact the seaside city of Cayucos, about 30 miles south of the real Piedras Blancas.

Don Sullivan who plays Fred we remember from his role as Chase in The Giant Gila Monster. In this film, however we can breathe a sigh of relief as he refrains from singing! 

His girlfriend Lucy is played by pin-up girl Jeanne Carmen who is certainly easy on the eye in just a simple floral dress or blouse and skirt and sensible flat shoes. No need for layers of clown make-up, skimpy outfits that leave nothing to the imagination or stiletto posture torturers!

To conclude, I must admit that I geared myself up to hate this movie. I really, really wanted to hate this movie but I found that I just couldn’t, no matter how much I tried! I’m really not sure why! I even mildly enjoyed watching this low-budget affair. The acting was pretty ordinary but at least the actors were earnest enough and the pace of the story was OK right up to and including the thrilling and at the same time, quite funny climax.

©Chris Christopoulos 2019

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