"It was the Best of times, it was the worst of times…"
Howdy fellow b-movie freaks! This update is a little late. Sorry about that. You see, I’ve been having a little relationship trouble. It’s hard to believe it has taken this long, but my little snugglebunny Ida Sue Cooter seems to have just recently discovered that many of the movies I watch involve, as she put it, “varmints.” I never would have guessed, but apparently just the thought of certain critters makes Ida Sue’s cute little webbed toes curl up. I’ve tried to reason with her, but she insists that if I continue to watch “those kindsa creepy crawly critter flicks” she might just have to move on. That would be a shame because the girl has talent – if you know what I mean and I think that you do! I’ll continue to try to win her over, but it might be an uphill battle. Dang! Things were going so well between us. Then last Saturday night I fired up the DVD player and settled on the couch with Ida Sue and a couple of cold ones ready to watch a fine 1950’s cheap sci-fi flick, but when the title came on screen Ida Sue freaked and went home. She was so loud she nearly woke the rest of the trailer park. Women!
The Killer Shrews
Hollywood Pictures Corp., 1959, 69 minutes
actors: James Best, Ken Curtis, Ingrid Goude, Gordon McLendon, Baruch Lumet, Judge Henry Dupree, Alfredo DeSoto
producer: Ken Curtis, executive producer and distributor: Gordon McLendon
writer: Jay Simms
director: Ray Kellogg
Taxonomy: Giant mutant critter flick.
A team of scientists and the crew of their supply boat find themselves trapped on a deserted island along with a couple hundred giant killer shrews during a hurricane.
Bluntly: Cheap and silly sci-fi fun 1950’s style.
Well, here we have one of those films that make watching b-movies so much fun! I’ll get to the story in a minute, but first I would like to make a couple of comments about the cast and crew. The two male leads in this flick, James Best and Ken Curtis, should be recognizable to cult TV show fans. Both of these actors have been in scores of films and television, but they are best known for their work on two of American television’s most popular shows. Ken Curtis played Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke and James Best was Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Okay, I know you want to do Roscoe’s laugh. Go ahead. James Best also did some guest appearances on Gunsmoke. Swedish Miss Universe 1957 Ingrid Goude plays the daughter of Polish character actor Baruch Lumet – and you can hear the obvious difference in their accents! Finally, this film was directed by Ray Kellogg a veteran associate director and special effects man.
The flick opens with our hero Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltra…uh, I mean Thorne Sherman (tough as nails charter boat captain played by James Best) and his faithful black firstmate “Rook” Griswold (minority side-kick in a 50’s monster movie – gee, wonder what will happen to him? – played by Judge Henry Dupree) trying to outrun a hurricane and get to the island with supplies for the scientific team. When they reach the island they find three members of the scientific team waiting for them: Dr. Marlow Craigis (principal investigator – polish accent, played by Baruch Lumet), Ann Craigis (hottie daughter of Dr. Craigis – Swedish accent – holding a suitcase, played by Ingrid Goude) and Jerry Farrel (drunkard research assistant, Ann’s fiance and all around twerp, holding a shotgun, played by Ken Curtis). Dr. Craigis asks if Captain Sherman can take his daughter back to the mainland. Sherman says they can’t go anywhere until the storm blows over. When Sherman asks why Jerry has a gun, Jerry says it is for protection against…animals. They all head to the scientist’s compound, except Rook who stays behind to secure the boat.
Once at the high fenced scientific compound (complete with garden and livestock), the characters do what all characters do in 50’s monster flicks – they have cocktails. Dr. Craigis introduces Sherman to his research partner Dr. Radford Baines (geeky data obsessed workaholic played by Gordon McLendon). Dr. Craigis and Dr. Baines tell Sherman a bit about their research. They are trying to solve the coming over-population problem. Dr. Craigis has the idea that if humans were smaller, they could live longer on the same amount of resources. Dr. Baines then shows Sherman one of their test model animals – wait for it! – a shrew. He says it is a Sorex soricities – at least that is how it sounded to me. Well, I’ll give them points for the proper Genus name, but I can’t find a shrew species called soricities. I guess he just mispronounced Sorex cinereus, the masked shrew, although Sorex longirostris, the southeastern shrew would fit the setting better. Maybe they meant to imply that their test animals were a new species? Whatever, anyway moving right along…Dr. Craigis mentions that these shrews must eat three times their own body weight every day or starve to death. That comes close to the truth; shrews have such high metabolic rates that they need to eat huge amounts in order to survive. Shrews do not sleep much, if they did they would be too weak upon waking to catch more food, and so starve. Dr. Craigis says he hopes to find a way to make humans smaller without having our metabolic rate increase. To this end he has attempted to do the opposite with the shrews – make them bigger and see how it effects their metabolism. The film does not spell it out as clearly as I just have, but that is the idea.
Okay, I just want to do a quick and dirty little explanation of the relation of size and metabolic rate. Don’t worry, I’ll be as brief as possible. In general, as body mass increases metabolic rate decreases. Why? Because large animals have more interior volume than surface area. So what? Well, that means that large animals can trap heat better within their bodies and small animals get cold faster. How does this relate to metabolic rate? The main waste product of animal metabolism is heat. Get it now? If you are small and therefore get cold fast, you need to eat more and process that food faster to maintain your core body temperature than if you are large and retain heat better. Mice eat more compared to their body size and more often then elephants. This is why there are no such things as giant shrews. Shrews can’t get much bigger (they are the smallest mammals, smaller than mice) because if they did their metabolic heat would kill them. This is one of those pesky little scientific facts that screw up b-movie plots. Another one is the fact that insects depend on atmospheric pressure to force air into their bodies. Once they get so big that atmospheric pressure cannot supply them with enough air they die. So they don’t get as big as say, a cat. Needless to say they do not get so big as to threaten entire cities. Insects were larger in the past, when atmospheric pressure was higher.
Anyway, Captain Sherman starts worrying about Rook, who should have made it to the compound by now. The storm is almost full strength outside so they do not go looking for him. Well, you know what happens, Rook gets chased up a tree by the giant shrews. A very small tree. Rook is a very large man. Rook shouts for help, but no one can hear him over the storm. The tree collapses and the shrews get some dinner. This is the first time we get to see the shrews, and boy-oh-boy ain’t they cute! Why they look just like dogs with shaggy coats on and big old fake teeth! Know why they look like that? Yep!
Meanwhile back at the compound, the shrews have gotten into the livestock paddock and ate the animals. Ann tells Sherman the truth, that the experimental shrews were accidentally set free, by Jerry the dink, and there are now about 200-300 of them on the island each weighing in at 50-100 pounds! Dr. Craigis comes clean and tells Sherman that the shrews will soon run out of food and will attack and eat each other. All they have to do is wait. Sherman points out that there is another source of food on the island – people.
During the night a shrew gets into the kitchen through a window. Mario (Alfredo DeSoto) the latino servant traps the shrew in the basement, closes the window and secures it with STRING (!!!) and gets Sherman. Where was Jerry? Drunk on his watch, the shit. Sherman and Mario go down into the cellar with guns to kill the shrew. The shrew bites Mario on the leg. Sherman kills the shrew and tries to help Mario, but to no avail, Mario dies. Why did Mario die? The bite was not that bad. They find out that he died from poison. Yep, them shrews is poisonous too! Seems that old Doc Craigis tried to poison the shrews after they escaped, but they simply assimilated the poison into their systems! In this scene we get to see the shrew puppet they made for
close-ups. Hee, hee, hee!
Well all this has Captain Sherman mightily pissed. And being a man-of-action, he comes up with a plan. They will wait out the night, then in the early morning they will fling the dead shrew over the fence and wait about an hour. If no other shrews show up to eat the body, they will assume that the shrews are in a cannibalistic frenzy and try to get to the boat. Only one problem, there are already some shrews in the house. They dug their way into the kitchen. How did they do that? Well, you see, the house is made of adobe. That’s right, a simple adobe structure on an island in the Atlantic ocean that experiences hurricanes. I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.
So, the night passes and nobody goes into the kitchen. The dead shrew does not attract any live ones, so Captain Sherman and Jerry try to make it to the boat. On the way Jerry threatens Sherman with a shotgun and tells him to stay away from Ann. You see, Ann is starting to think that a hunky sailor might be better than a drunk coward. Well, Sherman gets the gun away from Jerry and they make it to the beach. They find the skif smashed and the remains of Rook. They head back to the compound with Sherman holding the shotgun on Jerry. Sherman tells Jerry not to run, and of course, Jerry freaks and runs away when they start to hear shrews nearby. Jerry gets to the compound first and locks Sherman out! Sherman climbs over the fence just as the shrews arrive, beats up Jerry and picks him up and is about to throw him over the fence to the shrews when he sees Ann and decides to let Jerry live. Damn! That is the best scene in the movie and would have been so much better if Sherman had fed Jerry to the shrews!
Well, they all go into the house and Ann goes to make coffee. Like all 1950’s b-movie women scientists she knows her role is to serve the men. Atta girl! When she opens the door a shrew pops out! It bites Dr. Baines on the leg before Sherman shoots it. Dr. Baines tells everyone he is okay, just ripped his pant leg, that’s all. Then he calmly sits down at the typewriter and writes out his symptoms until he falls over dead! That’s dedication folks!
Okay, so now all the survivors are trapped in the front room and court yard of the compound and shrews are digging through the walls. Sherman finds a welding torch and some steel drums and comes up with the idea of welding four drums together and using them to hide in and walk out to the boat! Everybody figures that is as good a plan as any and they set to work. As they are constructing their little tank, a shrew tries to get through a hole in the fence. Sherman burns its face off with the welding torch and Jerry boards up the hole. When the tank is finished Jerry refuses to go, he would rather stay up on the roof with the shotgun. The others wisely decide to leave without him. They make it to the beach while shrews try to get to them every step of the way. At one point, Sherman has to shoot a shrew who has forced his head under the front of the tank. Damn! Firing a hand gun while you are inside a steel drum! That had to have shattered his ear drums, but you could never tell from his reaction – what a guy!
Jerry, realizing that maybe he made the wrong choice, tries to get to the beach on foot and gets ripped apart by about five shrews. Yea! He’s dead! His death scene is kind of funny as you see his legs sticking up and spasming while he screams and the shrews get their munch on. I know it does not sound funny, but you have to see it to appreciate the humor.
Captain Sherman, not bleeding from the ears, Ann and Dr. Craigis make it to the boat. Ann and Sherman kiss – The End.
Babeage: Ingrid Goude was Miss Universe 1957 and is a lovely little blond thang. She can’t act, though, and since this is a 50’s flick, we only get a peek at the tiniest bit of cleavage.
Sleazeploitation: None. Too early, sleaze really came into its own in the 60’s.
Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: The shrews! Great Googly Moogly the shrews! Dogs in costume for long shots and puppets for close-ups. Many people have ragged on the use of dogs in this film, but to be fair, for a low budget 50’s sci-fi flick, they work okay. Much better than the Tobanga in From Hell it Came. Oh, yeah, and Jerry. What a low-life prick.
Violence: Fist fights, shrews get shot, people get eaten by the shrews (never shown) and of course the great welding torch scene. Pretty comic bookish.
Gore and FX: No gore to speak of. A little bit of fake blood. The only FX are the previously mentioned shrews.
Completely unnecessary opening narration: “There were reports of a new species – the giant killer shrew!”
Dr. Craigis: “If we were half as big as we are now, we could live twice as long on our natural resources.” Remember, if you enjoyed watching this movie just half as much as we enjoyed making it, then we’ve enjoyed it twice as much as you!
Thorne Sherman: “Now look, I don’t ask questions cause it’s against my principles.” Huh?
Ann: “The wind has a lonesome sound, doesn’t it?”
Jerry: “Imagine an intelligent girl like her going for a common sea tramp like him!”
Thorne Sherman: “Doctor, that’s not the animal you showed me! That’s a monster!”
Dr. Craigis: “As I said, they are mutants.” He shrugs.
Ann, referring to zoology: “If we ever get off this island, I’ll never have anything to do with it again! I’ll live normally, like normal women do!” That’s right honey, dames ain’t cut out for science. Uh…normal women?
Thorne Sherman: “I’ll take a dull alive woman every time.” I’m more the gregarious dead woman kind of guy, myself.
Dr. Baines: “It [the poison] remained within the salivary glands of their jaws! Isn’t that wonderful? Oh, I am sorry. Of course, I always speak from the clinical point of view.”
Moral: Sometimes it is better not to be shrewd.
I have one little bit of nitpicking about The Killer Shrews. We know that the people in the compound have a few guns and some ammo. We know that they have crates and barrels that they can stand on to look over the fence. We know that the shrews come right up to the fence. So…why don’t they just shoot the damn things from behind the fence!!!
I remember when I first saw this flick. It was at 2:00 am on a Friday night in the late 70’s or early 80’s. They showed it on 8 All Night. Anybody else remember that show?
The Killer Shrews is a great little cheapie of a sci-fi flick! It’s fun, fast paced, and you get to see two great character actors in one of their early embarrassing works. Plus at 69 minutes, you get lots of b-movie bang for your time investment. If you see this movie playing on TV watch it! Or if you can get it cheap – my copy was $1 and included another flick – grab it. Lots of fun.
One last thing, The Killer Shrews was the second film produced by Hollywood Pictures Corporation. Hollywood Pictures Corporation was founded by Ken Curtis, Gorden McLendon, Ray Kellogg and Jay Simms. Their first film was The Giant Gila Monster, which I will review for your pleasure in a future post.
Oh yeah, hover over the pics to see the captions.
It’s March! Ho! Ho! Ho!
Well, I was rootin’ around my brew cellar trying to find just the right beer to enjoy with the shrews, when I saw a dark bottle sort of off in the corner. I grabbed it, and lo and behold it was a Christmas gift I had forgotten about! Shame on me!
Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout
Ridgeway Brewing, Oxfordshire, UK.
Many breweries put out special beers for the holidays. These usually have some spice added or are richer, more robust versions of their regular beers. Stouts and porters are popular winter beers so it is no surprise that there are many Christmas versions. The popular wisdom is that people like dry, crisp hoppy beer when the weather is warm and richer, creamy malty beers when it is cold. Whatever, I drink ’em when I feel like it, no matter what time of year.
ABV: 8.00% IBU: I would guess about 40 – 50
Very dark brown, almost black, with some deep honey / ruby highlights.
Soft and mild, malty, roasty, hints of chocolate and hazelnuts.
Creamy nougat colored head with the characteristic double carbonation of many stouts – large carbon dioxide bubbles moving up in the center of the glass force the small nitrogen bubbles downward along the inside surface of the glass to give you that churning effect.
Rich, smooth, starts sweet and moves to a nice roasty, malty gentle bitterness along the sides of the tongue. The bitterness adds chocolate and hazelnut flavors along with a hint of dark roast coffee. Not suprisingly, this holiday stout is not very dry at all, but it is not as creamy as other standard stouts I have had. Hop flavors are well hidden.
Lump of Coal Dark holiday Stout is very nice. It surprised me by not being a big creamy foamy stout. It is nice and smooth and has some subtle flavors. This would be great with Christmas cookies or Pfefferkuchen. Of course any stout goes well with chocolate cake or cheesecake. The bottle says that this beer is “Much more than you deserve for Xmas this year.” I would not go that far. Recommended.
Well, that’s all for now friends and neighbors. I got to go see if I can calm down Ida Sue. The other folks at the trailer park said that we were too loud last Saturday night. Wussies!