The Killer Shrews
. 1959

Director: Ray Kellogg

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The Killer ShrewsThorne Sherman (James Best) has purchased a boat & island deliveries business, & is making his first round of deliveries of goods to isolated islands. When he reaches the island inhabited only by a small group of scientific researchers, there's a hurricane bearing down, so he'll have to spend the night. Coincidence of coincidences, the giant shrews on the island which have only been a moderate nuisance have on that very night run plumb out of natural food resources so will now try to eat the scientists.

Captain Sherman had one crew member, a black guy named Rook (Judge Henry Dupree). It is traditional in most old horror films, & quite a high percentage of new ones too, that the minority sidekick is first to die. So the black guy is chased up a tree by a pack of dogs dressed in shag carpet remnants as shrew costumes.

The limb the Doomed Black Guy is on breaks & all that is left of him the next morning is a boot & his shirt. There's also a Spanish guy in the cast (Alfredo DeSoto) & in strict accordance with the required fate of minorities, he's second to die, providing by his demise the needed evidence that the bite of the killer shrews is more deadly than cobra venom.

Jerry the Bad Guy (Ken Curtis) is a cowardly chap who is acknowledged as an alcoholic. But other cast members are chugging just as much booze, including Captain Sherman & romantic-triangle love-interest Ann (Ingrid Goude, who was Miss Universe in 1957) who go for the booze cabinet every few minutes though only the villain's drunkenness becomes noticeable.

There's nothing particularly interesting going on in The Killer Shrews (1959). The three characters whose lives matter to the script will survive a protracted battle with Dogs Partially Dressed Up Like Shrews, with the occasional shrew-puppet tossed in. How they get to the safety of Captain Sherman's boat is semi-clever compared to most of the film, & from the safety of the boat we're assured the shrews will be dead of starvation within another day, there being some kind of "moral" to all this regarding human overpopulation.

The Killer ShrewsThis film boasts a not-all-that-bad performance by Gordon McLendon as the absent minded researcher who wanders about the sets periodically until bitten by a shrew. Gordon was a drive-in movie tycoon who owned America's largest chain of outdoor screens & he "invented" the top-40 radio format that dominated the radio waves for forty years. He financed the filming not only of The Killer Shrews but also of The Giant Gila Monster.

The film is one of a large cluster of 1950s no-budget bits of junk that have a nostalgic camp value. It is full of unintended humor, like when shrews are burrowing quickly through the wall of a house, & all one needs to do to stop them is push a sofa in front of the hole. Or the "scientific" allegation that shrews can't swim (they swim quite well actually).

Or the fact that the shrews can burrow right through the walls of a house but not through a rickety wooden fence which provides the chief line of defense. Or the frightened assertion that if they take refuge on the roof the "hurricane" will blow them down to where the shrews can get them, though never is the much alluded to fearful storm windy enough to muss anyone's hair.

Some of the humor may not be accidental, as there are some smart aleck one-liners from the Captain that are effectively witty, & it's quite possible the director & writer & the entire crew were laughing their heads off with each cockamamie set-up.

Apart from the dogs dressed in bathroom mats, the highlight of the humor, whether or not intentional, is when the chief scientist (Baruch Lumet, pappy of director Sidney Lumet) tells us the purpose of his experiments on shrews. The "good intention" was to save humanity from an overpopulated future by developing a method of keeping humans from growing any taller than three feet high.

Bear in mind this old fart isn't supposed to be a mad scientist. Too bad the film didn't have a bunch of little-people actors posing as tiny troglodytes in addition to tail-wagging doggies posing as shrews.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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