Since i’ve more than mentioned this movie during the review of Deadly Eyes/Night Eyes, what the hell, let’s pay some respects to what it’s now a cult classic, especially for the more seasoned cinema buffs from the U.S. Side, as the movie was featured on Mistery Science Theather 3000 (alongside his double-feature debut companion, The Giant Gila Monster, also directed by Ray Kellogg), becoming one of the favorite episodes from the fans, and it can’t be denied this movie had some impact, as it was also featured or referenced in some way in other shows about bad movies.
It also managed to spawn a direct sequel in 2012 (63 years after the original came out), Return Of The Killer Shrews later with James Best reprising the role of Thorne Sherman, and a remake/parody in 2016, Attack Of The Killer Shrews. A lot for a movie made on a very low budget and serving as a perfect example of the decline of the “nuclear era” monster movies, because even for the time the idea sounded silly, and showcased how desperate you must have been to go with “shrew” as the scary mutant killer animal for your monster movie.
And they try to make it work, even having a voice over narration at the beginning trying to sell the shrew as a scary, nasty beast with the fact it must eat 3 times his weight or starve, that it will even consume the bones when it’s done with the flesh…. But it doesn’t work because it’s a SHREW, come on. I can easily imagine people in 1959 at the drive-ins, busting out laughing at the intro, and i do love how cheesy it is, with even the lightning bolts before the title show up. Classic, in a way.
Revisiting The Killer Shrews today, in its un-riffed form, it doesn’t hold any revelations, because this was indeed a bad movie, and still is, but it’s enjoyable because of that, starting from the plot, which is classifiable as “b-movie meatloaf”, since it throws together all popular cliches of the time: there’s a handsome captain/male lead actor with gun (James Best), experiments taking place in an isolated island by a reclusive scientist (Baruch Loumet), who of course also brought his hot daughter (Ingrid Gourde) along, as it’s the 50s and the main lead has to fall in love with the token female foreign assistant the doctor hired. Without forgetting his token black cabin boy, Rook.
The captain was headed there to deliver some crates, but due to a hurricane brewing near the island, he has to stay and eventually learns that the experiments were made on shrews, some grew to unexpected proportions and started attacking the house at night, searching desperately for food. The group eventually has to weather the beast attacking, a jealous ex-boyfriend of the scientist’s daughter (Ken Curtis), and they build an improptu walking armor by using chemical drums, as the mutated shrews also have a toxic bite that kills on the spot, and they make their escape to the beach.
It doesn’t sound that bad, and i do find there’s some creativity to the “barrel armor” idea, as stupid as it looks in action, but the “killer shrews”, when they aren’t fairly crappy hand puppets, are literally, obviously played by dogs with wigs and rugs put on them, which is hilarious and impossible not to notice. Also, for a movie that doesn’t even reach 70 minutes of runtime, most of it it’s spent in the fucking living room, watching the characters talk about “things”, spout explanations about the shrews and the experiments, refusing to have any conflict or stakes estabilished while doing so, and getting hammered on booze. And another Martini. And ANOTHER one.
Guess we can blame the 50s penchant for afternoon quadruple gin cocktails in how they spent so much time describing the voracious nature and how shrews eat anything, even each other, when they are hungry… which doesn’t really explain why the creatures attack the house, by that logic they basically would have eaten each other to extinction well before Captain Thorne’s arrival, so the problem would basically have resolved itself. And that’s exactly what they do at the end, they leave the creatures – who can’t swim – to cannibalize among themselves on the island.
That said, it’s a fun crap movie (what you would call a “turkey”) to revisit, even on its own, but i do recommend watching its MST3K episode, it’s funnier and it includes some classics shorts’ riffs. Good cheesy fun!