Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: The Killer Shrews

Well...I guess I just feel like reviewing an old monster movie...

The Killer Shrews
1959, 1 h 9 min
Director: Ray Kellogg


The deal:  The Killer Shrews was made by the same director, around the same time, as The Giant Gila Monster, which I feel like I've seen referenced more than this one, but maybe that's just because I'm typically more drawn to the idea of a giant Gila monster than that of killer shrews.  At any rate, those two films formed a double feature back in the day, and currently it seems they both have some pull among fans of old lowbudgetscifihorror fare.  (They both got roasted on MST3K, which I think automatically lifts a B-movie to the next level of awareness among the public.)

It stars James Best, who I recognize only as Rosco P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard.  (He would go on to appear in a sequel to this in 2012!)

It's also in the public domain, so it's easy to find, and there's a good chance you've stumbled upon it before...

Image from HERE

The flick:  Best plays a ship captain who finds himself stranded on a remote island with his first mate and a team of scientists who are clearly keeping some secrets.  Piece by piece, the puzzle of their situation is put together (although there really aren't that many pieces, to be honest).  The menace they face?  This one's gonna shock you, but it's killer shrews.  The crew has to wait out a hurricane and survive the night for a chance to escape in the morning light.

This is a very good creature feature that provides all the basics folks look for in schlocky sci-fi.  It definitely moves slowly (the MST3K crew had some fun with the fact that the characters spend a lot of time standing around talking), but the next turn of the plot usually comes around before one can get too antsy.  The acting is vintage B-movie melodrama and includes an appropriately shallow love connection (and jealous suitor).  And...to probably annoy anyone reading this who insists they don't see race, I'll note the positive that there's even a Black character who...other than playing out that debated trope of horror movies (sorry, SPOILER)...could be a lot more cringeworthy for a 1959 film.

And then, of course, there are the shrews.


Those beautiful, giant, killer shrews.  It's fun to see them as dogs-in-scruffy-jackets (and they actually seem pretty menacing moving like a pack of dogs), but those hand puppet closeups are worth the price of admission alone.

The rating:  I've gotta be careful not to fence myself in by giving the first movie I review like this (and maybe only, who knows with me) too high of a rating and then realizing that the things it does well can actually be done a lot more well.  The shrew effects carry a lot of weight, though.  This is a very watchable film that doesn't overstay its welcome.  I'm tempted to seek out the sequel but am held back mainly because I'm not sure I want to chance ruining the positive outlook I have on this one!

If you're a "throw a movie on" type with a tolerance for B-movie foibles, this is great background noise, and there's always the MST3K version if you want to check it out but would like the security of wry humor.  I don't think I can go any lower than 3/5 right now.

3 out of 5 shrews

The monsters:  I wouldn't change a thing about these creatures.  They are simple and effective.  I suppose you'd be disappointed if you went into it assuming they were going to be giant giant...but they are the size of dogs, which...I don't think I have to tell you, that's pretty darn giant for a shrew.

My current rules obsession is a slightly homebrewed take on the D6 system that powered the old West End Games Star Wars RPG (and miniatures game)...simplified to be more in line with its Ghostbusters RPG roots.  (It's a work perpetually in progress.)  Here's a shrew:


Giant Killer Shrew

Might 2
Dexterity 5
Presence 2
Skills: Dig +2
HP: 7
Move: 18
Handling Difficulty: --- (you ain't handling these fellas)

Attacks: 2x Claw 5 (1D6-3 damage) or Bite 5 (1D6-1 damage plus poison; death within 3 minutes if not stabilized or successful on one difficult save)

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