‘The Giant Gila Monster: Special Edition’
(includes ‘The Killer Shrews’)
$29.95 (Blu-ray), $19.95 (DVD)
74 minutes plus bonus film and special features
By Mark Voger, author
‘Britmania: The British Invasion of the Sixties in Pop Culture’
Monster movie nerds have always lived with dashed hopes and lowered expectations. After all, we grew up friendless. We were miserable at sports. We had zero rapport with girls. A monster movie, at least, held the promise of two hours of respite.
But more often than not, the movies didn’t live up to that promise. A gnarly photo in Famous Monsters of Filmland, or a cool title listed in TV Guide, was no guarantee of quality. No matter. We loved these movies anyway.
So now, in my dotage, I am astonished to find movies like “The Killer Shrews” and “The Giant Gila Monster” (both 1959) being released in a restored special edition. Wha? Those two crappy movies that I love anyway?
The two-disc set “The Giant Gila Monster: Special Edition” — which includes a bonus HD print of “The Killer Shrews” — is due out Sept. 26 on Blu-ray and DVD from Film Masters. (You can pre-order now.) Both were directed by Ray Kellogg and bankrolled by radio mogul Gordon McLendon. Please see my review of “The Giant Gila Monster” HERE.
The moody “Shrews” can be called, with a straight face, a horror noir. Despite its low budget and rushed schedule, it establishes and maintains an atmosphere of paranoia and dread.
In the setup, riverboat skipper Thorne (James Best) and his crewman Rook (Judge Henry Dupree) land on a remote island for a routine supply drop. Scientist Dr. Craigus (Barush Lumet, father of director Sidney Lumet) runs the operation on the island, which has something to do with … animal testing. Thorne can barely conceal his delight at meeting Craigus’ daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, Miss Sweden 1956, and she looks it). Craigus requests that Thorne take Ann to the mainland. He will do that gladly, except for one problem: There’s a storm a-comin’.
Thorne faces another snag in getting to know Ann better: Her ex-fiance Jerry (Ken Curtis, Festus on “Gunsmoke”) is still skulking around. The constant flow of cocktails doesn’t help things any, either. Dr. Craigus’ bar is unusually well-stocked, even by 1950s standards, and the refrain “We could all use a drink” seems to be the go-to tension-breaker.
Another character — in both senses of the word — is Dr. Baines, a science geek who cares only for his test tubes and beakers. He is played by producer McLendon, who later denigrated his acting ability. But I’m here to tell you: This guy is good. In a small role of a type familiar to 1950s monster movie fans, McLendon nails it in his handful of scenes.
So where do the Killer Shrews come in? Long-story-short, all this experimenting on animals led to, well, Killer Shrews. What were you expecting? A plausible, detailed scientific explanation?
The Killer Shrews only come out at night, and need to eat many times their own weight every 24 hours. So these are some aggressive monsters. And human meat is as good as any.
“The Killer Shrews” is infamous for its unconvincing monsters. We see them either as dogs festooned with what look like wigs and carpet remnants, or as puppets with gunjo teeth. My two cents: Yeah, at times they’re laughable. But when done right — a glimpse of eyes or fangs through a fence, a quick “shock” cut of a puppet — it can be pretty effective. (For the record, the cinematographer was Wilfrid M. Cline, who shot “Captains of the Clouds,” the James Cagney World War II drama of 1943.)
And lest we forget: Monster movie nerds are a forgiving lot.
A “sneak peek” at Film Masters’ restoraion.