Killer Shrews (1959)


After hearing and reading so many negative comments about this film I finally had to see it for myself. It's not as bad as its reputation, but Lord knows it ain't good. James Best stars as Capt. Thorne Sherman in this 1959 tale about mad science, unhealthy personal relationships, and killer shrews.

The story opens with Captain Sherman as he races a hurricane to deliver supplies to the remote island laboratory of Dr. Marlow Craigis (played by Baruch Lumet). On the way he lays out plot exposition to his first mate "Rook" Griswold (Judge Henry Dupree).  Rook is a good guy with the terrible disadvantage of being a minority sidekick in a monster movie. He might as well be wearing a three-piece suit made entirely of lunchmeat.  First the shrews enjoy creole, then Mexican, and when there's absolutely nothing left to eat, they go after the white people. The monster food-pyramid is pretty strict in this regard. Once inside the lab Captain Sherman learns that the scientists
have bred giant ravenous shrews which have escaped and multiplied all over the island. Our heroes are forced to ride out the storm as well as an onslaught of giant shrews while trying to devise a plan to reach the ship.

As is typical with men of science, Dr. Craigis is single and has an attractive daughter (the dork gene always skips a generation).  Poor Ann (played by 1957's Miss Universe, Ingrid Goude) is forced to share the island with giant killer rodents and a handful of sweaty, creepy, alcoholic scientists - so she's understandably eager to sail away with Captain Sherman. Jealousy rears its ugly head when Ingrid dumps her fiancee Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis) because he has an unreasonable fear of giant venomous man-eating rodents with huge fangs..... the sissy.

The entire film is a low budget affair but the shrews are reasonably well done. Full-sized puppets are used for closeups, and in the action scenes the monsters are played by dogs in shaggy costumes with rat-like tails. There are some genuine chills to be had when the shrew/dogs run in packs across an open field to overtake their human prey. This is a welcome contrast to the more common man-in-a-rubber-suit type of creature, slowly stomping his way around the set.

The story holds few surprises, but still manages to entertain.  I give "Killer Shrews" a four out of ten.