Countdown to Halloween: The Killer Shrews (1959)
WHY I'VE NEVER SEEN IT
The reputation of The Killer Shrews precedes it. For the longest time, there were other movies I’d choose to watch over it, strictly because I wasn’t in the mood for a “bad” movie.
WHY I BOUGHT IT
One day I was tired of passing it in my Amazon Prime queue and, since it was only just over an hour long, I decided to press the “Play” button on my remote control.
WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT
I learned another lesson. Little did I expect that the legendary cheapness of the movie I had come to expect as its weak point, was actually its strong point. I really liked The Killer Shrews. I mean, I liked it a lot. Something has happened to me in the last couple of years… movies I used to avoid because I’d heard they were awful, have turned out to be real treats. Take The Atomic Brain (1963) and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), for example. When I say I like them, it’s not ironically. I genuinely enjoy them and they won’t be one-time viewings.
The production design, if that’s what you want to call it, is indeed bottom of the barrel, but it’s perplexingly charming. The whole production feels like a vintage television show or a filmed stage play. In fact, The Killer Shrews would make a great stage play with one set, the interior of the “compound” where a group of people take refuge from mutated shrews during a hurricane. The only indication that there’s a storm is the noise, repeating unnaturally on the soundtrack. The building doesn’t quiver one inch in what is supposed to be torrential rain and wind.
The Killers Shrews is neither embarrassed nor afraid to stay on task. Adding a hurricane on top of the threat of the shrews is one thing, but then having the people waddle toward the beach under a makeshift barrel-tank is simply inspired. The characters’ willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done mirrors the creators’ willingness to get their crazy ideas on film. Yes, the threatening beasts are often hand puppets or dogs with costumes, but, again, it’s all so innocent and charming that you reach a point where you accept it as real.
This was the first screenplay by Jay Simms, who would at the same time write The Giant Gila Monster, and three years later, The Creation of the Humanoids and Panic in Year Zero!, all movies that also offer pleasures of their own. There’s some decent character development resulting from the talky bulk of the movie. The actors, including James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard) as the hero, Thorne Sherman, are just as good as they need to be. That is to say, they’re either not very good or they’re not well directed; but, they’re as perfect as everything else in The Killer Shrews.
Written by Edward Mann and Al Ramsen Directed by Terence Fisher Starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne, Sam Kydd Released June 20, 1966 (UK) RT 89 min. Home Video Scream Factory (Blu-ray)
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.