The Killer Shrews (1959)

The second part of our Ray Kellogg fort night (thank you once again, Nathan) begins with this statement, which has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. But whatever. Bad Movie Law states that Our Humble Narrator must say something before the start credits role, even if it’s an unnecessary non sequitur.

The actual story begins with Thorn Sherman (James “Roscoe P. Coltrane” Best)! Hell of a name, isn’t it? Thorn Sherman! Just disserves to be written with an exclamation point, doesn’t it? Thorn Sherman! One of those strong, manly action names like Buck Rogers! or Dirk Pit! Names of manly men who do manly things without a hint of those ugly feminine traits. You know, like emotions.

So Thorn (!) Sherman and his Token Black Dude, Rook (Judge Dupree), are sailing to this deserted island with a cargo full of supplies. Seems there’s this weird scientist who lives on this island and he’s set himself up a nice little spread, far away from humanity. Out here, all alone, nothing but miles and miles of ocean in every direction. No possible way that someone could just happen by to, oh, I don’t know, save their lives. Oh, and did I mention there’s a hurricane on the way? Yep. Both Rook and Thorn (!) can feel it coming with their Sailor-Sense.

Thorn (!) and Rook anchor their boat and row ashore, seeking shelter from the storm. On the beach, they meet Dr. Craigis (Baruch “One of my sperm will soon become Sidney” Lumet), his Hot Scientist Daughter Anne (Ingrid “Former Miss. Universe” Goude, once again proving movie scientists really are trying to create a master race) and a gun-toting, drunk looking assistant named Jerry (Ken “I produced this piece of crap movie” Curtis). Thorn (!) shares news of the storm with Dr. Craig, and we discover that the One Radio on the whole damn island has been broken for some time. Wow. Now they’re completely cut off. Sure would suck if some form of mutant killer monster were to be roaming the island…

Everyone but Rook treks to Dr. Craig’s little island villa, surrounded by an eight foot high picket fence. Thorn (!) doesn’t ask questions. Sure, everyone’s acting a bit strange and Anne keeps jumping at every song she hears. And these people sure are doing strange things to rodents and really sound like they want to leave the island before dark but, hey, why ask questions? Thorn (!) is like that. If it isn’t his business, he doesn’t poke his head in. He even says so, later on. He’s a 50’s man!

Except that all this is about to become his business very soon. It seems Dr. Craig, Jerry, and fellow scientist Dr. Radford Baines (Gordon MacLendon), have been playing around with shrew genetics, trying to do something about the problem of overpopulation. Or some such. They chose shrews because of their rapid reproduction rate (try saying that three times fast) but their experiments have had a few…unforeseen side effects.

Faster than you can say, “Tampering in God’s Domain” Rook (who stayed behind to secure the boat for the approaching hurricane), is chased up a tree by a pack of dogs with lots of fake fur glued onto their backs, with similarly fake tails sticking out of their asses. However, once director Ray Kellogg gives us a shrew close up, you’ll see the Killer Shrews magically transform from dogs with fur glued to their backs to stiff, doll-eyed, fang toothed puppets. It’s magic, man, I tell you what.

So Rook catches a nasty case of dead from the Killer Shrews. Meanwhile, back at Isolated Local Central, Anne and Dr. Craig spill the beans to Thorn (!). Somehow, this strain of giant shrews escaped the lab and began breeding. Since shrews need to eat about twice their body weight everyday to keep their metabolisms going, the Killer Shrews have pretty much depopulated the island’s native wildlife. So the Shrews are looking to rustle up a nice human on rye with a side of fries and a coke. Now just $4.98, please pull up to the next window.

After all was said and done, I turned to my friend and asked her a riddle. “What do you get when you take Night of the Living Dead, fill it with uninteresting characters and tack on a stupid happy ending?”

Answer: The Killer Shrews.

Except that won’t work, really, because Shrews was made in 1959, it’s just the obvious parallel that every review of The Killer Shrews follows…both of them.

Like The Giant Gila Monster, this movie is (in)famous for its <air quotes> special air quotes effects. In this case, the extra harry dogs and their rat puppet counterparts. How do they look? Like harry dog and puppet heads on sticks. And even though so much of this movie is dark (I’ll be damned if I knew how the shrews get through that kitchen window–I had to wait for a character to explain it to me), the scenes with the Head Puppets are always lovingly well lit. Too bad for them.

Acting wise, everyone in the movie gets stuck in that bog of mediocre acting. After this, the highest anyone in the cast would rise is James Bests role in *snort* The Dukes of Hazard. Hell, he’s the only one really worth talking about. Here, best plays Thorn with an off-Southern accent. That, plus the few crumbs the script drops about his past, made me call him a Good Ole Boy more than once.

Thorn seems quite the redneck, yessir, but (despite my better judgment) I found myself…not liking him, exactly. But he does what I would do in this situation: he grabs a gun and tells everyone to shut the hell up. In my case, I would tell everyone to shut up so I could think. I guess Thorn just tells everyone to shut up so he can throw some more bad pick-up lines at Anne or drink copiously in silence.

The rest of the cast is…wait, I said they weren’t worth talking about, didn’t I? Wow, there goes that paragraph. Coolness.

Seriously, though, I think the acting here is better overall than the acting in our last Ray Kellogg picture. Mostly because the actors here are adults playing adults instead of thirty year-olds playing teenagers. Baruch Lumet doesn’t embarrass himself too badly as Dr. Craig, even though the good Doc gets all the pontificating speeches. Everybody else, though…fuck um. Let the shrews take um.

Then we can move on to talk about what really pissed me off about The Killer Shrews. The movie has no brains and no balls. I hate to do this, but I’m going to sully Night of the Living Dead‘s name some more by bringing it out again. It’ll help me show all of you just why Shrews is such a bad movie. Its not because of the mediocre acting. It’s not because of the thrift-shop special effects. It’s not because Our Hero is a dick. Oh, gosh no.

Want to know why Shrews sucks so much? It’s all because Thorn doesn’t kill Jerry.

Halfway through the movie, Thorn beats Jerry senseless because Jerry is an even bigger dick than he is. Climbing a stack of crates, Thorn gets ready to toss Jerry over the side, down into the shrew horde. But, at the last moment, Thorn catches Anne staring at him and her beauty sooths the savage beast. Somewhat.

Had Thorn done his bit of Jerry-tossing, this movie could’ve touched on some very weight subjects, my fine feathered friend. Instead of a movie about a bunch of people trapped in a little house surrounded by killer shrews, this movie could’ve had a damn sight more brains. It could’ve been a movie about just how far a man can go. It could’ve made the audience sit back and think, Damn, would I be able to hold on to my humanity in a similar situation? It could’ve done what horror fiction is supposed to do: scare you. Unnerve you. At least Night had the balls to kill a nice, juicy blond haired-blue eyed white girl. Here, the only people who die are bad guys and ethnic characters…making me wonder if The Killer Shrews is really thinly valid Nazi propaganda.

Yeah, well, if everyone were after you, you’d be paranoid, too.


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