The Killer Shrews (1959)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
We have the usual formula of two-fisted hero (James Best), damsel in distress (Swedish Ingrid Goude), the damsel's mad-scientist father (non-Swedish Baruch Lumet), and the villain (Ken Curtis). The formula in this case is less clichéd than usual. The hero is fairly articulate and the mad scientist is actually quite urbane, tossing off his creation of hundreds of giant, poisonous, man-eating shrews with the line "unusual experiments lead to unusual results". The dialog is competently written and the acting is above par (with the exception of the Swedish eye-candy, who is at least good eye candy).
The general concept is compact and dramatically efficient: a group of people are trapped first by a hurricane and then by an outside menace in a stronghold which gets less and less strong as time, ammunition and group cohesion all grow short.
However the execution is at times illogical. One problem is that the stronghold is made out of...adobe. On a rainswept island crawling with usable timber? The thrilling conclusion is also somewhat implausible.
The main reason for the film's abysmal reputation is the legendary and quite obvious use of ordinary dogs in bathmats to play the part of giant shrews. I suppose this just has to be overlooked.
As a sidelight, it is interesting to see Dukes of Hazard sheriff James Best tall and handsome as the hero, and it is apparent that producer/villain Ken Curtis labored long and hard in the trenches before gaining fame as Festus.
In the Killer Shrews this tome around on that deserted tropical island as seen a hundred times we have mutated shrews threatening to chomp down on our trapped scientists and a boat crew unlucky enough to be carting supplies to the island. Poisonous and hungry these shrews are gonna clean the island and suck the marrow from your bones burp.
This fun little clichéd cheese fest moves along are a pretty quick pace. The acting is on par with the era, a bit over blown, but who cares. You have to love those shrew monsters. The effects are a bit *ahem* shrewd and laughable. Not to mention the long shots of the animals that appear to be dogs or maybe pigs dressed up in costumes, complete with tail. Good fun to be had by all with a hankering for b-grade sci-horror.
There are a pack of humongous starving shrews loose on a desolate island. A bunch of "scientists" travel to the island to be terrorized by the shrews.
Okay, so the dogs yowling because they have wet bathmats appended to their backs, and masks to their faces, are hilarious, I mean terrifying; the attempts made to conceal their caninity are also veeeery clever; Thorn Sherman is heroically disinterested; the music is horrifyingly melodramatic; hackneyed theories involving the shrews abound; and the method of escape is one of the most laughingly novel ever recorded on film. All of this, and the realization that these people spend most of the film living in paralyzing fear of the silliest monsters ever created make this film great.
The interior shots are filmed inside the greatest cabin ever. It is difficult to discern whether the walls are decorated with wallpaper, or are just supposed to be extremely filthy. The mantel features a haphazardly placed set of candle holders, a beer stein, a clock set horizontally on the edge, and all to emphasize the focal point of the room- a picture hanging above the mantel of horse legs beside a lake. The perfect, nay the only, setting for bloodthirsty shrews to terrorize scientists and their lackeys.
"It's alright, doctor, he just ripped my trousers. That's all." Never underestimate a killer shrew.
It's speculated that one of the reasons that Shrews and Gila Monster did so well was the relative uniqueness of the two critters. We had already tons of insects and giant people but people were just beginning to show interest in exotic animals from shows like Wild Kingdom and the like.
Seeing as how Gila Monsters were cantankerous and poisonous the Director decided to use the non lethal Mexican Beaded Lizard as a stand in and seeing as how giant shrews were in short supply they used Coon Hounds and Dalmations dressed in woolly coats with long rubber tails. Look closely and you can see spots on some of the legs.
One reason that Shrews is so much fun today is watching character actor James Best who would later go onto fame as the sheriff in Dukes Of Hazzard trying to keep his dignity alongside the wackiness.He has since said that this is the film he is least proud of.
The dog costumes are so bad that they are a joy to watch and I would gladly watch this a dozen more times than another bad CGI reptile or insect movie on the Sci-Fi CHannel.
Love it or hate it the film has a lot of spunk and it is memorable. Some have called it "one Of The Worst." I've seen practically every B horror and monster flick from the fifties and for this era I have to disagree. Try sitting through The Incredible Petrifed World or THe Cosmic Man and Killer Shrews will seem like Speed.
In the last couple of years the film has been colorized and has even shown up on Animal Planet for a Halloween Special where they compare real shrew behavior to the movie inaccuracies.
Like macaroni and cheese it ain't sophisticated but it's still comfort food.
A small group of people on a remote island are stranded there by a hurricane. One of this group is a scientist who been doing experiments on shrews and as a result, these have turned into giant mutant monsters and have escaped and are hungry. They start trying to get into the house and gradually, members of the group are killed and eaten until there are three survivors and these escape to the sea by using old barrels welded together. Not surprisingly, two of the survivors declare their love for each other at the end.
The giant shrews in this movie are actually dogs with shaggy coats and large teeth.
The Killer Shrews's cast is mostly made up of unknown B-movie actors including James Best, Ingrid Goude and Ken Curtis, who also produced.
This movie is worth looking at, despite its low budget.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
With the possible exception of the giant rabbits from cult classic Night of the Lepus, shrews have got to be the most ridiculous choice ever for a killer animal in a cheesy B-movie horror film, even if they are over-sized, poisonous shrews. It's this patently ridiculous concept, along with the terrible realisation of the creatures themselves (dogs dressed in rodent costumes and a manky model shrew head for close-ups) and some cheesy dialogue, that helps make The Killer Shrews one of the most entertaining 50s monster movies I've seen.
But although it is undoubtedly good for a laugh, believe it or not there is more to the film than just scientific hogwash, doggies in disguise, and clumsy conversation: the film's basic siege set-up proves to be extremely effective (so much so that it most likely provided inspiration for George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead), Best puts in a pretty good performance as the film's hero, and director Ray Kellogg somehow manages a fair amount of tension and one or two decent scares, the shrew in the kitchen being an absolute corker!
7.5 out of 10, rounded up to 8 for Thorne's ingenious escape plan, the likes of which wouldn't have been out of place in an episode of The A-Team.
But wait, I say; to quickly dismiss this film as total refuse would be doing it a slight disservice. The reason for this asterisk is the simple fact that despite its technological and prop deficiencies, the movie demonstrates a hardy attempt at character development, and succeeds, in a way. James Best is convincing as the rough-around-the-edges, no-nonsense Captain Sherman, and despite the slimy nature of his character, Ken Curtis (who also produced the film) plays his part well. Furthermore, the character Griswold is jovial and light-hearted, albeit a bit unlucky;) And, if you can manage to work through the incoherency of some of the lines, the dialogue is half-decent; in some scenes, I'd even say it's good (particularly one of the scenes where Captain Sherman talks to Ann, the daughter of one of the doctors). Also, the alcohol switch Jerry pulls on Thorne in one particular scene is truly cinematic comedy, and I am convinced that it was intentional. I don't mean to offer a false pretense; this is not a great film, and in truth, most film-goers likely couldn't make it through the entire movie without falling asleep. However, from someone who enjoys film, and is willing to accept movies on their own terms (at least to a point; I have seen Hobgoblins, after all.....*shudder*), I confidently state that this movie has some redeemable qualities, if only the extra effort is made to see them. Oh, and please: don't copy the drinking habits of the people in this film; your liver will thank you for it.
And for all those geniuses who are just bursting with pride because they figured out the monsters were dogs in suits, let me just mention two things: (1) The film makers were clever enough to shoot the monsters so you never actually get a close look at them, and some of the quick cuts and long shots are very effective indeed. They may BE dogs in suits but they never really LOOK LIKE dogs in suits. And (2) (BIG SPOILER COMING): You know that Wookie in STAR WARS? He was just a big guy in a suit. The Ewoks? Little guys in suits. That robot? British guy in a suit. I'll bet you thought they were all real, didn't you? Well, they're not. Now I've just ruined the movie for you AND proved I'm smarter than George Lucas, because I saw through his clever ruse and figured out they were just GUYS IN SUITS.
And another thing: There ain't no Santa Claus. There, I've just ruined Christmas for you too.
In the middle of all this the skipper Capt. Thorne Sherman, James Best, and his good friend and 1st as well as only mate "Rook" Judge Henry Dupree come ashore to bring the monthly supply of food and medicine for the island staff not knowing just what their in for. Trying to keep the news of the deadly shrews from them, the skipper an his mate, "Rook" is later killed and eaten by a gang of shrews as he went back to bring the supplies ashore.
With the skipper now taking charge he and the people on the island try to hold off the deadly shrews as they devour everything alive on the island as they plan to keep the shrews outside their compound long enough for them to cannibalize each other until their all destroyed before devouring them, but the deadly shrews have other planes.
Fairly good horror thriller with the skipper saving the day as well as the island survivors, Dr. Craigis & Ann, as well as in the end getting the girl Ann and planing with her to re-populate the earth. In spite of the acute food shortage that Ann's father Dr. Craigis was trying to alleviate. Even though many people and critics made fun of the killer shrews looking like dogs wearing badly moth-eaten fur coats they were as real and as terrifying as Hollywood could make them look back then, 1959. The movies ending was both tense as well as exciting as the skipper the doctor and the girl escaped with steel drums turned over on them and tied together to protect them from the shrews. As they slowly trekked from the island compound to the sea and then swam to the skippers boat to freedom and safety.
Gordon McLendon easily stole the show as the absentminded Dr. Baines who you sometime needed sub-titles to understand his babbling all kinds of scientific lingo that nobody in the theater audience, as well as almost every one in the movie cast, could understand. Baines was so focused on his work that when Mario died from a killer shrew bite he excitedly said that isn't it wonderful that the poison that we put out as bait to kill the shrews was absorbed in their systems and has now become part of their natural chemistry! WHAT A NUT!!! Also later when Dr. Baines was attacked and bitten by a charging killer shrew he goes to his typewriter and typed out the symptoms of the poison from the bite that would eventually kill him up until the moment that he expired!
Rated "straight" this movie gets about 2 points on a ten-point scale, just above the all- time stinkers like Plan 9 and Manos: Hands of Fate. As unintentional comedy, however, it's pretty entertaining and might rate 5/10.
I've seen a lot of black-and-white horror movies. And I have to say that Killer Shrews entertained me a lot!
It's a really nice, under-appreciated gem, if you want my honest opinion. It's a nice, wacky story about some scientists on an island who created a giant breed of shrews. The critters escape and now pose a threat to them.
The acting is decent enough. There are some memorable scenes and lines. The music works; it's nothing outstanding, just basic music used in tons of these movies. The effects are... silly. But I have to admit that once or twice, I was scared. And that's a real compliment to the visual effects staff. They really tried to make these creatures look menacing and raged with hunger.
The Killer Shrews is an enjoyable movie that I can recommend to any fan of this genre.
7 out of 10 shrews.. ehh stars!
The special effects on this film are even worse than those used in "The Giant Gila Monster". The 'killer shrews' are a combination of two things: coon dogs covered unconvincingly in animal skins, and goofy-looking puppets with four-inch plastic fangs coming out of their nearly immobile jaws. Neither effect was anything to be proud of, yet for some reason they do appear compelling enough given the nature of the film they're being utilized in. Thankfully, they did not use the live-action dogs as much I was thinking they would, that would have totally thrown it all off and destroyed any entertainment value.
The plot is just as preposterous. Some scientists on a remote island decide that they can save the world from overpopulation by drastically decreasing our physical size so we won't consume our resources so much. They experiment on shrews, a species they admit is dangerous (when they're hungry) and for some reason, make them bigger instead of smaller. With a hurricane approaching, their only hope is to leave the island so that the shrews will eat each other and then starve to death and thus, the world will be saved. From start to finish, the storyline is laughable, yet I did not pan it so much as I was watching it. I just accepted it for what it was an even though it was totally unbelievable, I didn't bother myself so much with thinking about how absurd it was.
The special effects are bad, the plot is bad, the acting is bad, the music is okay given the movie's style, and overall, "The Killer Shrews" is undeniably a very bad movie. Yet, for some reason, I did find myself liking it and not because it was so ludicrously stupid and dumb, it was for some reason I do not understand. But this definitely stands over the contemporary low-budget monster flicks with fake CGI monsters and even blander casts and plot conventions.
I walked a mile and a half with my big brother, and when we got to the movie theater we looked at the posters for ten minutes or more before we got up the courage to see "Killer Shrew" instead of the kiddie movie we had told our parents we were going to see.
This movie, Attack of the Killer Shrews, almost scared the sh** out of me. I had nightmares about it for weeks, and still think of it as one of the scariest times of my life. I'd love to see it again. I looked for it a few years ago, to purchase, and at that time it wasn't available. I think I'll try again.
Do yourself a favor...try to watch it without laughing at the special effects. SUSPEND DISBELIEF (that's what going to the movies is all about, anyway). Remember, this movie was made in 1959.
Well, for starters the film itself is grainy and a little dark at times. The black and white looks more like shades of gray. Definitely not a high dollar flick, that's for sure. The human characters of the movie are so stereotypically 1950s it's not even funny. The cast features 1 Black guy; 1 Latino guy; 1 German professor-type,with a blonde bombshell Swedish sounding daughter(?); a Drunk; and the 'Hero' guy - who turns out is Roscoe P. Coltrane from "The Dukes Of Hazzard" TV show !!! Before the movie is into the first 5 minutes you just know the Black and Latino guys are gonna be shrew-bait; you can just see the lack of depth or dimension in their characters. The Black guy is basically Steppin Fetchit as a sailor; the Latino fares a little better as a nerdy scientist - but his character is as dry as Melba toast! (and, worse off, you can't understand a word he says... picture Speedy Gonzales as an intellectual!) And - sure enough - these 2 are the first to die! Then there is the "Drunk", played by "Festus" from "Gunsmoke". He is just a JERK throughout the entire movie; you find yourself rooting for the shrews to chomp him to bits! Actually, it is kinda funny just how much drinking and smoking goes on throughout the movie by ALL the main characters; you would think the movie was bankrolled by Marlboro or Jack Daniels... The soundtrack is actually very good for a movie of this caliber. Suspenseful, well-timed with the action, downright eerie at times. The plot isn't too bad either, as 50s SciFi goes. Boat sails into island to deliver supplies to local scientists. Said scientists have accidentally unleashed radioactively mutated giant shrews (with poison fangs, no less!) onto said island. There is a hurricane approaching, so boat can't leave. Giant shrews have eaten everything else on the island, now look to humans as next meal. Black guy bites it (screaming "Lordy, Lordy! Help me, Lordy!" as he gets eaten alive)... Latino guy gets only a glancing scratch from a shrew that managed to eat its way THROUGH the compounds adobe walls, then hide in the basement - but the scratch proves fatal due to the aforementioned poison fangs! Eventually, only Papa Scientist, Blondie, Hero and Drunk are left as the shrews eat through various walls and doors in the house - finally forcing them into a small, fenced courtyard. With nowhere else to go, Hero gets idea. Ties together empty 55 gallon steel drums that just happened to be stored in the courtyard, uses these as a sort of armored transport to get back to the coast (shrews apparently can't swim). Drunk is totally jealous of Hero by now (of course Blondie dumped Drunk for Hero) and the two men duke it out for the umpteenth time in the movie. Drunk decides he's not going in armored tank; Drunk climbs roof and starts shooting at shrews - who by now have busted into the courtyard! Hero, Papa Scientist and Blondie scramble away towards the beach in their steel drum contraption - all the while shrews trying to get into the drums for a little snack! (This part was actually still a little scary today in the "....BOOO!..." kind of way, as shrew fangs, slobber and heads dart around the barrels desperately trying to get in. Switch back to Drunk, who, for no other reason then stupidity, decides to leave the relative safety of the rooftop and make a run for it...Now, everybody in every SciFi movie should already know... if you run, you are a GONER. Of course, Drunk is no exception - the ravenous shrews feast on his gin-soaked carcass as the other 3 finally hit the beach and swim out to safety... Film ends with a little prophetic ramble from Papa Scientist, oddly coupled with Hero basically announcing to Papa he wants to impregnate Blondie(?!)
All in all, a great example of finely aged 50s SciFi "cheese"... I highly recommend it! (so does my daughter)
That said, let's get to ripping this one.
First of all, keep in mind that the director is Ray Kellogg, who also did "The Giant Gila Monster" and "The Green Berets" (if that's not a diverse resume, nothing is). The producer was Ken Curtis (Festus from "Gunsmoke"). He had always wanted to make a movie and John Ford, for whom Curtis had made films like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Searchers" and "The Horse Soldiers," encouraged him to go for it. Unfortunately, Ken couldn't coach Ford into directing it.
Next up...the plot. It concerns seven people trapped on a remote island during a hurricane. In addition to the people, we have a few hundred shrews (although we never see more than a dozen or so) about the size of full-grown dogs. Science strikes again. The movie then proceeds to show how the seven trapped people try to survive a few hundred hungry shrews trying to get at them.
It seems a cadre of scientists trying to figure out a way to increase the human life span experiment on some shrews, which are normally the size of a man's thumb. Shrews have a speedy metabolism and can be ready to reproduce in less than a month. Also, they have to eat three times their own bodyweight every day or starve. Somehow, the scientists mess up a batch of shrews, which grow to enormous size. Clearly, Ken Curtis was trying to borrow from "Tarantula" and "Them" with the premise, but not bothering to explain how the shrews grew a thousand-fold really hurts the plot. Somehow, they also add in that the shrews now have poison in their saliva, thanks to ingesting poisoned food set out as a trap (figure that one out).
The shrews escape thanks to a boozed-up scientist played by Curtis. Being the producer, he certainly could have made himself the leading man, but he wisely chose to be the villain. If you saw him in "The Searchers" or "Gunsmoke," you'd realize he's not exactly leading man material. Now, the shrews have multiplied and have eaten up all the food on the island. Except, of course, for the people.
The movie starts off too slowly. A boat captain played by James Best (yes, Roscoe P. Coltrane from "The Dukes of Hazzard") and his engineer (Judge Henry Dupree, a minor jazz player of the time) arrive at the island to bring supplies. They meet a professor (Baruch Lumet, veteran Broadway actor and father of director Sidney Lumet), his nubile Swedish daughter (Ingrid Goude, Miss Sweden 1957) and a shotgun-toting Ken Curtis. When Best tells them he's not leaving because of the approaching hurricane, they all get nervous. We then have to watch them act scared and try not to reveal the shrews to Best. During this time, they manage to drink up half the alcohol in sight.
Only when the shrews finally show up and start picking off people does the action pick up. Curtis shows what kind of a coward he is and we almost wish he'd get fed to the shrews. I won't spoil the ending except to say it involves some ingenuity and a makeshift tank, perhaps the most unique lifesaver in the history of horror/science fiction.
The movie ultimately succeeds best with the actors. Curtis, of course, cut his teeth with the legendary John Ford. James Best is very good, although he admitted later to only doing the movie as a favor to his friend Curtis. Baruch Lumet shows off his stage presence. Gordon McLendon as Radford is a little annoying and stiff, but he plays his death scene pretty well. Alfredo DeSoto as the caretaker makes the most of his time, even goes down fighting. Of course, being the lone Hispanic in the film, he's as good as dead anyway. Ingrid Goude is one hot babe, but she can't act, but she's European and that's what counted to Kellogg (he used a French actress who couldn't act in "Giant Gila Monster").
The only part I hated was Dupree as Rook, the engineer. He's black and plays the part with that irritating, stereotypical Stepin Fetchit routine that persevered in Hollywood until Sidney Poitier and Woody Strode came along. Being the only black guy in a science fiction film, he has the word "corpse" stamped on his head before the opening credits roll. In Stepin Fetchit-style roles, as played by Fetchit and guys like Mantan Moreland in the Charlie Chan movies, he talked ignorantly, walked jolly and, when in trouble, froze in place, acted stupid and cried out "Oh, Lordy!" Well, Dupree gets chased by the shrews, climbs up a low tree and cries out "Oh, Captain!" repeatedly with a stupid look on his face.
Of course, the downer for the film is the special effects. I don't think even Universal Studious could have come up with something resembling a giant shrew. Here, with a thin budget, the shrews are nothing but dogs with some fake hair and clay masks with wooden teeth painted white. For close-ups, you can tell someone offscreen is using a wooden head on the end of a stick. Amazingly, Kellogg's gila monster looked more real.
Still, the visual effects are good. The film was shot in the middle of White Rock Lake in Dallas, but the camera does a good job of not showing the opposing shoreline and making it look like the island is really in the middle of nowhere. The island was rented and they could only film on the backside of it, but since most of the action takes place either at the compound everyone's trapped in or along the path to the water, it doesn't hurt.
But, like I said at the beginning. It's a grade B movie and you're just supposed to have fun with it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Hey, it beats big budget bombs like "Glitter" and "The Mod Squad."
Far from great but still mildly entertaining, The Killer Shrews', was the directorial debut of regular special effects artist Ray Kellogg who created effects (some photographic) for more than eighty movies during the Forties and Fifties. Interestingly, the special effects work in The Killer Shrews' left quite a lot to be desired and one has to question just how much input Ray had on the final results. In something of a stark contrast to the effects present in other Fifties creature features such as Them!' (1954), there is a distinct requirement for a great deal more imagination to see the creatures (mutated shrews) as anything more than what they actually were. One can easily be forgiven for finding amusement in seeing dogs (collies I believe) jumping up walls while wearing somewhat silly rubber masks and what appear to be mop-heads. Close up shots of the mutated shrews show the viewer a remarkably cheap looking puppet. However, the movie relies more on the implication that the shrews may be near or inside the building rather than overexposing the viewer to imagery of the shrews. In that respect, the movie works.
Removing the poor effects from consideration for a while, the movie itself plays out nicely. Although the first fifteen minutes of this relatively short film move slowly it is not long before a fairly interesting, multi-narrative film. While the shrews take precedence in the film there is an interesting and on-going clash between Thorne and Jerry (Ken Curtis). In fact, in some ways one could argue that The Killer Shrews' plays out as an early draft of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead' (1968). The rather wonderful, ominous musical scoring help to create something of a foreboding atmosphere which, unfortunately, Ray Kellogg's direction fails to capitalise on. Without condemning the direction as bad, there were moments when a stronger director would have been able to turn a potentially unnerving scene into an exhilarating thrill-ride. Sadly, Kellogg's direction was awfully basic and while the potential was there throughout the movie, Kellogg failed to capitalise and regrettably kept The Killer Shrews' in something of a stalemate. Unfortunately, the often wonderful musical score occasionally added to the continual moments of absurdity that were present throughout the movie and generated laughs rather than fear.
Jay Simms, who wrote a number of similar films, was responsible for the somewhat impressive screenplay which, despite featuring sporadic moments of incoherence, was the foremost reason that The Killer Shrews' worked in any way. One would suggest that a more experienced director may have been able to make something more of The Killer Shrews' but as it stands; the movie is still enjoyable for one watch. The Killer Shrews' features generally credible and effective acting performances and a fairly interesting and entertaining story. It sadly lacks in the effects and direction departments. Fifties monster-movie fans should probably check it out although the movie does border on ludicrous. This one is apparently quite popular amongst fans of `bad' films. My rating for The Killer Shrews' 6/10.