07 November 2014

THE KILLER SHREWS (Restored Version)

THE KILLER SHREWS

Alternate Title:
Attack of the Killer Shrews

German Title:
Die Nacht der unheimlichen Bestien

USA, 1959
Director: Ray Kellogg

4/10





After creating "special photographic effects" for more than 100(!) movies between 1949 and 1957(!!), effects artist Ray Kellogg thought that now was the right time to start a successful directorial career, so in 1959 (at the age of 54), he stepped right into the business by shooting his very first two feature films back to back: the lizard-rubbish "The Giant Gila Monster" and the mice-fest "The Killer Shrews".


Both films were quite successful back then, and due to be included in popular parody series like "MST3K" and "This Movie Sucks!", they both became so-bad-it's-good cult classics over the years. I admit, I totally don't understand the cult status of "Giant Gila Monster", a borefest of epic proportions - but I do understand the popularity of "The Killer Shrews", a stupid but still rather entertaining flick.

Based on a screenplay by Jay Simms ("Panic in Year Zero!"), Kellogg tells the story of a small group of people on a desolate island getting terrorized by a horde of voracious and bloodhungry giant mutant shrews, accidentally created by a silly scientist who originally worked on an experiment to make humans half-size(!) in order to reduce world hunger(!)...


What sounds like the definition of a cinematic trashfest, actually isn't that trashy. It's just one of countless low-budget giant animal creature-features made throughout the 50s, and far, far from being the worst (I'm looking at you, "Robot Monster", "From Hell It Came" and "The Creeping Terror"...). The best thing about the movie, it is also the worst: the killer shrews itself. Someone had the glorious idea to take a few dogs and dress them up as shrews! The result: the supposed-to-be-scary killer creatures come off as completely laughable, thanks to some shoddily designed and super-shitty-looking shrew costumes. Things get even more laughable when it comes to close-up shots where the filmmakers used uber-cheap shrew-hand-puppets.

Kellogg's direction fortunately isn't as bad as in "Giant Gila Monster", but still far from being good. The pacing is way too slow, way too dull, the first half moves along at shrew's... um, snail's pace, most of the dialogue is rather trivial and/or lame, the acting ranges from pretty okay to pretty awful, nearly all characters are clich├ęd cardboard cut-outs, and (worst of all) the whole thing is predictable as hell. No chance for surprises. The cool main hero and the hot blonde survive (James Best and Ingrid Goude). The Afroamerican and the Mexican get killed first (Judge Henry Dupree & Alfredo DeSoto).


Still, there are a few scenes that are really, really neat, like the weird but thrilling barrel-finale, the tense sequence in the basement and a few of the shrew-attacks, especially the one where some shrew stands (waits?) upright outside the door. The cinematography is decent (Wilfred M. Cline, "The Tingler"), the music is rousing and highly effective (stock music by Harry Bluestone & Emil Cadkin), and several lines are just fun:
"I'm getting a little sick of being called an irresponsible drunk." / "Looks like a rat, smells like a skunk. Some call them bone-eaters." / "Automatic pilot can't play Dixieland jazz on them banjos like I can!"

On November 11, the good guys from Film Chest re-release a digitally restored version of "The Killer Shrews" onto DVD. The result looks splendid. Compared to all the shitty Public Domain copies out there, the DVD picture quality is a mere treat for the eyes. See for yourself!







I'm not sure why Stephen King once called this movie scary (did Tabitha put something in his drink?), because it's not scary at all. It's just dumb fun. Far from being good, but entertaining enough to give you a silly good time. Best enjoyed with a couple of beer and lots of popcorn!

Wiki ~ Imdb

Thanks to Kelly Williams (Greenleaf + Associates) for the screener!

2 comments:

  1. I like this movie a lot - despite its flaws. Glad it's been restored!

    ReplyDelete

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