Author, Phil Hardy (The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies), marks Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters as a high point for young director Roger Corman, not just financially, but also stylistically:
The most commercially successful of his early features, Attack of the Crab Monsters saw Corman refining his directorial style to produce a film in which a shock or the fear that a shocking event would take place immediately occurs in every scene. As a result, in contrast to other creature-features of the period in which there were long barren periods, usually filled up with speechifying, between the attacks of the monsters, Corman’s films have a speed and directness about them that remains appealing to this day, however tatty the films look. A further result of this strategy is an intensifying of the sense of disequilibrium that lies behind the films.
I don’t disagree, and I like the movie quite a bit. However, Corman also sacrifices some characteristics of his earlier films to make this evolution. As if a 63-minute running time won’t speed things along in and of itself, dropping characterization and development will. These were things I admired from films about which I’ve written recently, like Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), and Last Woman on Earth (1960.)
Attack of the Crab Monsters has something the others don’t, though: big ol’ monsters! Here we can rely on authors, Jan Stacy and Ryder Syvertsen (The Great Book of Movie Monsters) to provide the statistics for the beasts:
Description: Giant crabs, with pincers as big as couches; huge gnashing teeth; immense eyes.
Size & Weight: 25’ wide, about 8’ high, weight about a ton and a half.
Superpowers: Incredibly strong, telepathic, immune to many weapons.
Intelligence: Quite intelligent for crabs. Presumably their brains are larger than normal as well. Lure scientists into traps, as they can talk.
Sounds/Language: Clicking sounds when they walk. Also can talk with voice of anyone they eat.
Invulnerable to: Guns, fire.
Vulnerable to: Electricity.
So… they’re giant telepathic crabs! That’s really going above and beyond what’s necessary to terrorize the research team investigating radiation on a small island that’s getting smaller because the giant telepathic crabs dig tunnels underground that cause it to gradually collapse. Therefore, the team (which is also getting smaller) must deal with earthquakes and power outages while they hear the voices of their dead companions.
The additional concepts are interesting, but don’t make a bit of scientific sense. The obligatory science lesson comes late in the film and is probably unnecessary, but it’s another thing to give the movie credit for attempting. The point of the atoms and electrons and whatever, is that bullets and grenades don’t just bounce off them; they pass through them.
That makes it hard to destroy them, but that’s where our old standby, electricity, comes in. The trick is that since the crabs are intelligent, they cause the power outages as a means of self defense. It’s too bad they didn’t think of the lone electrical tower on the rocky point of the beach, because the Professor from Gilligan’s Island himself, Russell Johnson, swings on it like a monkey until it collapses on top of the last crab crawling.
I mentioned lack of character development, but if you squint real hard, you might notice that Hank (Johnson) has the feels for Martha (Pamela Duncan) and makes a quick pass at her in a cave. Blink and you’ll miss it, and it goes nowhere, but it’s a nice touch in a tight screenplay by Corman regular Charles B, Griffith. With the writing, directing, and setting, Thomas G. Aylesworth (Monster & Horror Movies) makes a reasonable conclusion:
Using all that sand saved Corman the cost of building sets.
Let’s talk about those crabs… They aren’t bad-looking at all. Sure, their appendages don’t really move as they miraculously hover across the cave rocks or beach sand, but there have been many worse celluloid creatures. Sure, their “immense eyes” look like they have lids made out of trash bags that a string is pulling to open, but the detail adds a sense of mobility that the entire body does not.
Plus, the aftermath of their attack can be gory for 1957. For example, when a man falls off a raft floating toward the island, an immense eye opens underwater, something grabs him and pulls him down. He screams, spewing bubbles everywhere. When the other people on the raft pull him out of the water, he’s missing his head. That’s not the only body part of a character that is severed in the film.
Clicking all the check-boxes for a late 50’s atomic age monster movie (radiation, giant monster, science lesson, etc.), Attack of the Crab Monsters is very entertaining. By the way, the Blu-ray from Shout! Factory looks great. I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from Stacy and Syvertsen, because you never know when you might run into a giant, telepathic crab:
What to Do If You Meet: Throw some bait and run. Don’t listen to voices that sound like your old Aunt Mabel and tell you to meet them in a nearby cave. The crabs are excellent mimics.
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson, Leslie Bradley, Mel Welles, Richard H. Cutting, Ed Nelson
RT 63 min.
Released Feb. 10, 1957
Home Video Shout Factory (Blu-ray)
Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies
1986, Minneapolis, MN. Woodbury Press
Jan Stacy & Ryder Syvertsen, The Great Book of Movie Monsters
1983, The Photographic Book Co., Inc.
Thomas G. Aylesworth, Monster & Horror Movies
1986, Bison Books Limited