Movies from the “golden age” of black and white films (approximately the 1930’s through the 1950’s) almost invariably contain well-written dialogue and strikingly subtle humor, making them a favorite among many fans of cinema. The horror movies of this more subtle period in film history are therefore of a cerebral nature, primarily relying on the viewer’s imagination to generate the true sense of horror that modern movies generate through more visual means. It is these oft-ignored horror movies that will be the focus of a series of articles detailing the reasons why true fans of horror movies should rediscover these films.
I am finally back (after too long of a hiatus due to some personal business) with this 9th article in the Forgotten B&W Horror series. With this installment, we continue to look at a few movies that blur the line between horror and science fiction – a blurring that occurred with many sci-fi movies of the 1950′s. In the near future, I will begin a second series of articles featuring forgotten B&W Sci-Fi movies, but for now we’ll have to settle for sci-fi/horror hybrids.
The Killer Shrews (1959) tells the story of a disparate group of people, including a ship captain who was just dropping off supplies, trapped on an island by both a hurricane and – you guessed it – a huge throng of large, carnivorous shrews. These shrews, which curiously enough resemble dogs in shrew clothing made from carpet remnants, were created by the ever-present mad scientist, Dr. Craigis (played by Baruch Lumet). Craigis is attempting to find a way to shrink humans to half their current size while maintaining their current rate of metabolism. In this way, he figures, mankind’s potential problem with overpopulation won’t be such a problem after all. Unfortunately for Dr. Craigis, but fortunately for us movie fans, his experiment goes awry and somehow has the exact opposite affect on his shrews – meaning they are monstrous in size and have a voracious appetite. Additionally, they are angry at being shod in carpet remnants, which in my experience tends to make shrews very angry indeed.
Fun horror hijinks ensue as our protagonists battle the hurricane, the now-poisonous shrews (yes, I said poisonous), and the jealous yet cowardly stupidity of Dr. Craigis’ helper, Jerry (played quite well by Ken Curtis, otherwise known as Festus from Gunsmoke fame). Eventually, of course, our humble hero wins out and saves the day.
Along the way, we are entertained by the somewhat cute accent of Ingrid Goude in her role as Ann Craigis, the scientist’s daughter. The most endearing thing she utters is a melodic “da srews”, when talking about the shrews. Goude isn’t a ravishing beauty and her character gets quite inane after a while, but she’s the only woman in the flick so you’ll just have to deal with it.
Why This Movie Has Been Forgotten
Killer Shrews is not what you’d call a great movie. The plot is thin, the acting is only passable, and the dialogue is horrendous. There’s even a scene where our hero, Thorne Sherman (played by James Best who’s biggest claim to fame is his role as Rosco P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazard series) actually uses a gun as the “stick” in a tourniquet. It’s bad enough that the room where the tourniquet is applied is filled with wooden slatted crates, any one of which could be broken up for use in a tourniquet, but the gun might just come in handy for killing the shrews that have broken into the house. Still, the story moves along quickly, there are a few funny quotes, and the hero gets the girl so it isn’t a total waste of time.
Why Horror Fans Should Watch This Movie
This movie contains one of the most unintentionally and subtly funny lines in any old horror movie I’ve seen. There is a point in the movie before the shrews begin to dig their way into the house when the hurricane blows some shutters open. Jumpy little Ann Craigis lets out a yelp, and our helpful hero quickly tells her “Don’t let that scare you. It’s gonna’ get worse.” Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t take much comfort in being told not to let something scare me because much scarier things are gonna’ be along any minute. That’s like saying “don’t let that cobra scare you, there’s a giant Anaconda about to crush your bones and swallow you whole.”
Where else would you get to see a movie about dogs dressed in carpets with a poisonous and carnivorous taint?
This film is a classic example of the recurring Hollywood theme about science destroying the world. The 1950′s are filled with this type of movie, but rarely do you see one concerned about over population.
If you would like to watch The Killer Shrews you may view it at this link.