by special Guest Columnist
David Harlan aka Dr.
childhood terrors are best left alone. I pretentiously proclaim this
not with therapeutic intention; I more refer to the well-known (well,
it oughta be) axiom that some movies are much scarier remembered than
revisited. <Note to Freex: Remind me to review Asylum.>
It is with this sense of childhood-lost-but-found-again (except with
a bunch of chips in it and most of the paint scraped off) that I invite
you to wade with me among The Killer Shrews.
copy of Killer Shrews I viewed was bestowed upon me by the notorious
Dr. Freex, who didn't have the stomach to view it his damn self (snicker).
Joy and behold, it came with previews! Here are some preview sized reviews,
so you will know what movies you want to see as soon as they come out
a long time ago.
The Giant Gila Monster- Teenagers,
hot rods, Lionel train set miniatures and a big black poisonous lizard
come together to make, uh, a movie with all the above stuff in it. To
the filmmakers credit, they do seem to utilize an actual gila monster,
the desert denizen widely known for its grouchiness and poisonousness
always a bad combo! The Jump-out-at-ya promo phrases promise "An
Amazing Kong-like Monster"; so if you want something Kong-like,
but you're not quite in the mood for actual Kong, then this must be
the place to be. Our auteurs have also come to the same stunning conclusion
that I did at twelve years old; if you poke a stick in the ground and
get a camera close enough to it, it will become a tree.
Killed Doc Robin- Little Rascals ripoff (in COLOR)
gives you two Buckwheats for the price of one, an Amazing Spanky-like
Child, and also offers a blond Alfalfa who manages to be more annoying
and even less charming than the original. I would have liked to see
him die in the haunted house episode where Alfalfa has a detective agency
with a giant eyeball on the door. You know, he could get his feet caught
in that treadmill in front of the big smoky voodoo doctor and get mangled
in the machinery or something. Inflict on bad children while babysitting.
The Devil's Partner- I don't know,
man, there was this chick, and then there's this guy, and then alluvasudden
there's this hairy guy but you don't know if he's the first guy or what,
and people running around and I think somebody drove a car, and I think
maybe the hairy guy came back again except he had a different shirt
on, and then there was maybe something about sex, but it's an old black
and white movie so you know, it's not like real sex, and then the chick
screams and I'm like, what the hell? I think I'll have to watch the
movie so I can see what the preview was about. I'll get back to you.
now our feature presentation....
THE KILLER SHREWS
let me give you the review I would have given this as a kid:
Man, Saturday? There was this movie? And these
people, they were like, trapped on this island? And these science guys
are doin' all this science stuff and there's these dogs, except they're
not really dogs, they're like giant rats or somethin' that the science
guys made? And they have like, these giant fangs and stuff an'if one
just touches you, it just like, kills you, I mean you're just like,
dead! It was really cool!
I would have believed it, too.
Killer Shrews opens on a stormcloud-filled sky, and stays there
for a really long time as a voiceover narration most likely swiped from
a lame biology film gives us enough information on the lowly shrew that
I think I can now easily clone one of the little bastards.. Apparently,
the shrew is "the most vicious of all animals" (they must
be calculating some "size/damage done" ratio here, I guess
but waitaminnit what about insects? Like, you know, ants! I saw
this thing on Discovery where oh, never mind...). The shrew
"devours everything"; an efficient scavenger that eats "even
the bones, the marrow". Various other facts about how they must
eat 3 times their body weight every day, their *yawn* migration patterns,
their *yaaaaaawwwwn*... *snnnocchhh* -Wha? Huh?
and by the way, the worst of these is the, *ahem* killer shrew.
Now let me say this: the shrew is like, teensier than even an eensy-teensy
mouse. I mean, it's like itty-bitty. Thank God I didn't know this at
ten; I figured they at least started out as good sized rats. But nope,
they're dinky. And there are killer ones of these things!
anyway, we wake up and see a boat with two guys up top; an overweight
black fellow sporting an at-the-point-this-film-was-made-already-long-outdated-stereotypical
"sho'nuff" dialect, and a rugged-looking white guy in a captain's
hat who... damn, he looks familiar.
ROOK (Judge Dupree) - ...'Sho is a lotta
quiet out theyah... Almos' smell it, caint'cha?
CAPTAIN THORNE (snicker) SHERMAN (James Best) - No, but I can hear
give the guy a break, Cap'n, he was being metaphorical... It would seem
that a bad storm is rolling in, and they need to get
their cargo to its destination, then seek shelter as well. Rook and
the Cap'n sight the island, spurring a few more poetic musings, then
anchor their boat and row in. They are met at the dock by Dr. Craigis
(Baruch Lumet-- Sidney's father-- heretofore referred to as Old Guy)
his daughter, Anne (Ingrid Goude, Miss Universe 1957; due to her almost-there
accent now dubbed Seems Swedish Babe) and Jerry Lacer (Ken Curtis),
a surly guy with a shotgun who Dr. Freex pointed out was in actuality
Gunsmoke's Festus (now referred to as Drunken Shaven Festus...
...that should be a Kung-Fu movie!). I should now say that it wasn't
until the end of the film that I copped to the fact that the Cap'n,
James Best, was in fact The Dukes of Hazzard's Sheriff Roscoe
asked by Old Guy if he is ready to take passengers, Sheriff Roscoe P.
Coltrane informs them they won't be going anywhere; that storm is becoming
a hurricane (which they pronounce hurruh-kin). Nobody seems to
be happy about this, most of all Drunken Shaven Festus, since his primary
job in this film seems to be remaining the most unhappy of them all.
That; also being drunken and caressing his shotgun.
Guy escorts everyone back up to the house, and the new arrivals seem
taken aback by the large privacy fence around the entrance. Hmmm,
Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane thinks, on a deserted island like this,
who do they want privacy from? Inside the house, Old Guy orders
Mario (Alfredo DeSoto; we'll just keep callin' him Mario) to fix the
martinis. This could well be Mario's sole purpose; as you'll see, fixing
the martinis can keep him very busy. And since he speaks very little
probably fine by him among all these science weirdos. As the booze flows
enough to make anyone start seeing killer shrews, we are introduced
to Dr. Radford Baines (Gordon MacLendon; who looks like Garrison Keillor's
sweaty little brother...). Keillor's Sweaty Brother is very excited
about something scientific going on in the other room. His dedication
to science causes him to lack in social graces, we are told; he does
not seem to notice the new arrivals as he informs Old Guy that he has
been successful in exposing things to the "Hoskins factor".
He's exposing rodents to viewings of Roger Rabbit and Mona
Lisa, the fiend!
Sweaty Brother returns to the room where all the science is going on.
Old Guy insists on schoolin' Roscoe up on the science of shrews despite
repeated objections no, really-- Sheriff Roscoe must've
said two or three times, "Stop tellin' me science, you dink!"
But it soon becomes clear that Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane has a good
reason he must have had to sit through the film's introductory
lecture right along with us, and has realized Old Guy is giving almost
the exact same speech. He may have mixed up the words a little, but
they're all frickin' there. Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane decides that
all this redundant shrew talk will all go down better with, say, ten
or twelve martinis. But when Roscoe decides to humor them, piping in
and asking "How big do they get?" he is rewarded with a variety
of stares usually reserved for someone inquiring "Hey, what's that
pentagram doing up on the wall?"
the shutters bang! Seems Swedish Babe shrieks like a banshee; I guess
she's been begging forever for the science dweebs to fix the damn things
and now it's all just gettin' to her. They calm her down, then go on
some more about the voraciousness of shrews, which makes Seems Swedish
Babe anxious all over again, which leads to- Yippee! More martinis.
Roscoe P. Coltrane is shown to his room by Mario; Seems Swedish Babe
and Drunken Shaven Festus are left alone together. They begin to argue,
verbally wounding each other with the stinging bite of crude expository
information. Here we learn that Drunken Shaven Festus, in a fit of drunkenness
(no shaving exposition is given) accidentally released the mutant shrews
into the wild. We also learn that these two people despise each other,
and are engaged to be married.
while all this has been going on, Sheriff Roscoe's first mate, the embarrassingly
stereotypical Rook, has gone back down to the harbor to moor the boat
more securely. We have up to now seen him going down the hill, paddling
out to the boat, then paddling back in dragging a rope behind him which
he ties to a tree. Nope, no hurruh-kin takin' that boat! As Rook makes
his way back up the hill, he hears a strange screeching sound, much
akin to a young aspiring DJ Mix-Master scratching up his Dad's old Aretha
Franklin records. It is the cry of the Killer Shrews! Rook, gun in hand,
takes off running, the shrews close on his heels. He fires at them,
but it is obvious he doesn't have enough bullets to take on this herd
of collies with thick rubber tails and crepe' hair pinned to their backs,
so he does the thing any sane person would do: he picks the skinniest
tree available and shimmies on up. He then starts squealing in the highest
pitched voice I've ever heard coming out of a big fella like that. In
the background, the tall, sturdy, much more climbable trees loom ominously
as the skinny tree snaps, creaks, falls and Rook is shrew food.
at the house, nobody has heard Rook's frantic keening (despite the fact
that wild dogs in Australia put their paws over their ears), and the
storm is getting worse. Trees are crashing, and stuff outside is catching
on fire; but that must just be how things are with those hurruh-kins
since no one rushes for a fire extinguisher, a bucket or anything. Sheriff
Roscoe P. Coltrane finally decides that Rook has been gone too long
and starts to go; Seems Swedish Babe begs him not to go, but when that
doesn't work she tries holding him at gunpoint. Now you're talkin'
my language, thinks Cap'n Roscoe well, he must, cause they
sit down and talk real nice after that.
was at this point I realized that Seems Swedish Babe was, in actuality,
Baabaa Waawaa. There may have been a Swedish accent in there somewhere,
but for the most part, she was Baabaa Waawaa.
ANNE - Pwease, Thowne... Pwease don't
open the gate!
Swedish Babe now explains the reason she is so willing to hold guns
on men just to keep them in her presence: the mutant shrews that Drunken
Shaven Festus allowed to escape have grown to the size of large dogs
and they're starving! They average
a hundred and fifty pounds, and there's two to three hundred of them
(that seem to travel in packs of five). Drunken Shaven Festus interrupts
this scene, entering dramatically with his Surlytron set to eleven.
He swills martinis and makes cheap innuendoes. Old Guy enters dramatically
in the same manner, from the same door, except all he wants to do is
talk more boring shrew breeding crap. He does tell Sheriff Roscoe that
"Two of them charged Anne and Jerry at the gate last evening",
which only goes to show that when you're trying to get into a hot spot,
it's all in who you know.
power goes out! Outside, the horses (huh? Oookay...) whinny in their
stable, and soon they are devoured by the killer shrews. It is here
that I believe that we got our first good puppet shots; stiff, rat-like
heads with multiple mega-fangs well suited for sticking between boards.
They also have beady little crawdad eyes that are especially good at
peeking through knotholes.
the house our shrewbound castaways have lit some 300 watt candles. As
the horses are gobbled up, Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and Seems Swedish
Babe get to know each other in the main room, and Drunken Shaven Festus
waxes depressic with Keillor's Sweaty Brother in another. He slurs a
lot and insults Seems Swedish Babe and Roscoe P. Coltrane. Keillor's
Sweaty Brother doesn't really pay attention, cause he's trying
to get some science done in his spare time. Somewhere in here (I'm not
sure where; I think my eyes glazed over and I went into one of those
staring things, you know, where you just zone out and stare straight
ahead and you have to shake your head to get out of it), Old Guy has
come to the realization that the shrews must have tunneled into the
stables to get at the horses and that's not good, not because
they could dig through the floor, but because the house is made of adobe!
Old Guy had mentioned earlier in the film that the house was made of
adobe; but it wasn't until this point that I went "Waitaminnit!
What the hell is an adobe house doing on an island that
sits in a possible path for hurricanes?" My sister is getting
ready to move into an adobe house in New Mexico, a native habitat for
the playful adobe; also known for its deserts and distinct lack of hurricanes.
But these science dinks have seemingly been unable to decipher the formula
<hurricane> + <adobe> = <buncha science dinks sittin'
in a mudhole>. Sure, it took me 45 minutes to realize this; but you'd
think that the guys who built the house would have at some point paused
and said, "Hold on, we're missing something here..."
they drink more martinis, and plan. It is decided that they will keep
watch in shifts until morning comes and the storm has gone; Mario gets
first shift. The others go to bed.
wanders about, suitably spooked; he knocks on Drunken Shaven Festus'
door and enters; Festus reacts by readying his shotgun. The shrews must
have knocked before. Drunken Shaven Festus drunkenly expresses jealousy
re: Seems Swedish Babe and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane; Mario wishes
he had knocked on someone else's door, but it's Festus' shift. Drunken
Shaven Festus weasels out his shift by being drunken, and Mario has
now gotten the shift and the shaft.
teeth gnawing at boards! Happening somewhere else!
It must be said that whenever one of the "shrews" ran by,
all I could think was "Awww! Dawwwg! Good dawg!" Not
the reaction the filmmakers intended, I'm sure.
Mario gets spooked by noises in the cellar and enlists Sheriff Roscoe
P. Coltrane to help him investigate. However, the puppet has hidden
itself very well under the stairs; the puppeteer lunges out and rubs
the big fake fangy rat head against Mario's instantly shredded trousers.
Sheriff Roscoe ventilates the horrid beast, but it's too late
Mario is dead! The shrews have now very cleverly trimmed the cast of
any ethnic variety. Old Guy and Keillor's Sweaty Brother join the party,
and back in the lab it is revealed that the shrew's saliva is a deadly
poison poison assimilated from earlier poisonous baits that failed
a single scratch will kill you! They call it "hemotoxic syndrome",
brother, and that ain't good!
was the part that totally freaked me out as a kid; the fact that you
could just brush up against one of these things and that would be it.
But now I realize that it probably got to me cause I was clumsy
and always bumping into stuff.
in the main room, Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane sets to easing Seems Swedish
Babe's mind by asking her questions about herself and treating her as
childishly as possible. She bemoans that men may find a zoologist like
ANNE - ...But I'd rather be dull and
THORNE - I'll take a dull, alive woman every time.
Careful what you wish for, Roscoe... They try setting out food for
the shrews, to see if they're nearby; when none appear, Roscoe decides
to scout out the path to the boat. After some unintelligible Swedish
shouting, it is agreed that Drunken Shaven Festus will accompany Sheriff
Roscoe. Festus finally gets to act on his jealousy and attempts to kill
Roscoe the first chance he gets, which results in the loss of his shotgun
and a firm thrashing he spends the rest of the movie getting beat
up a lot, actually.
no signs of Rook down by the dock, they trace the rope, and eventually
come upon what haunts Dr. Freex's childhood memories-
nothing left but a few scraps of clothing! (Heh-heh! Whatta weenie!) Um, and a gun. The screeching of the shrews has
Festus begging for the pistol, and dumbass Roscoe, showing the good
judgment that would later make him the bastion of law and order in Hazzard
County, gives it to him.
THORNE - Don't you run!
the forbidden fruit..! Festus hauls ass back to the house, and tries
to lock Roscoe outside the gate. But clever Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane
just hops the fence and proceeds to whomp the hell out of Drunken Shaven
Festus again. He teeters on the edge of tossing the pummeled Festus
over the fence, and we're going, "Do it, Dude! Do it!" but,
of course, he chickens out.
now the puppet heads have made it to the fence and are peeking their
little crawdad eyes through the knotholes. Our heroes go inside the
house, but it isn't long before a shrew bursts in and takes a nip of
Keillor's Sweaty Brother before Roscoe can roscoe it.. Didn't break
the skin, says Keillor's Sweaty Brother, and sits down to type. As the
others confer, he slowly sloops over his typewriter and falls to the
floor. Old Guy reads what he was typing; a complete account of what
it's like to die of shrew poison. Dude! Just like Brainstorm,
but not as cool!
the shrews are digging through the walls; Drunken Shaven Festus starts
to freak, and Roscoe whomps him again. They move
furniture in front of the holes (it is theoretically impossible for
giant mutant shrews to tunnel through a couch, as you, the scientifically
informed reader, well know), but when they have to use the bar cart,
they realize that this is just getting out of hand.
now they go out into the courtyard', and inside it's suddenly
a giant shrew house party. Roscoe thinks about climbing up on the roof,
then he sees some oil drum-like thingies and gets an idea: they'll build
a mini tank by lashing four of the drums together, and Chinese-dragon
it all the way back to the beach! Roscoe gets out the welding torch
that they fortunately keep out on the porch, and starts making peepholes
in the big cans; he also gets to scorch a puppet that peeks through
the tank is completed, Drunken Shaven Festus elects to hang out on the
roof with his beloved shotgun, despite being warned of "high winds"
(I think they were just being polite; they just didn't want to say "You're
drunk off your ass! You're gonna fall off the roof!") They finally
do the smart thing which is to say "The hell with you, Drunken
Shaven Festus!" and head out in their mini-Sherman tank (which
I think you can order the plans for out of a comic book ad). This was
another part that got me as a kid: our heroes walking in squats, lugging
the lashed together barrels as giant fang puppets try to get underneath
or through the peepholes. I still don't like nobody be touchin' my ankles.
Shaven Festus guesses that all the shrews must be distracted by the
walking barrel-thingie, hops off the roof and makes a break for it (but
don't ask me what "it" is). He doesn't get far at all before
he is devoured by shrews. He seemed to have forgotten that although
we only see no more than five or so shrews at a time, there are actually
hundreds of them! Ha ha! Filmmakers fooled you too, Drunken Shaven
so, the barrel-thingie has made it down to the beach; along the way
Seems Swedish Babe has gotten her shoe bitten off, but doesn't get scratched
(because that would mean she would die, and that would surprise us).
She also gets tired at one point and makes them all sit for a bit to
rest (where's Linda Hamilton when you need her?). They get the barrel-thingie
into the water, freeing themselves of the shrews that seemingly cannot
swim (that or they're made of brown sugar and they'll melt). They then
dive out from under the barrels, which despite being full of punctures
AND BIG WELDED-OUT EYEHOLES, retain the airtightness and buoyancy of
the frickin' Nautilus. They swim to the boat; on the deck Sheriff
Roscoe P. Coltrane holds Seems Swedish Babe close, while Old Guy muses
on how experiments aimed at defeating overpopulation could have led
to this ( I will say that I never figured out how turning little
mice into mangy Altasians with giant fangs would have any effect on
overpopulation. I mean, even if they made, like, giant chickens, it
would only defeat starvation, right?).
Sheriff Roscoe doesn't care; he seems to have finally figured out that
he is indeed clutching Miss Universe 1957 and says:
THORNE - I'm not going to worry about
overpopulation just yet!
Aaaa! Little Roscoes! All runnin' around, doin' that "Cew-cew-cew!"
laugh! (*shudder*) There's somethin' scary for ya.
can I say? I would have guessed it to be a pathetic ripoff of Night
of the Living Dead if it hadn't been made in 1959. Trapped in the
dingy house, dark, no power, things ripping at boards and through walls,
stuck with a jerk who wants to do dumb things... Hey, maybe Romero ripped
these guys off, and made a better movie! I've always wanted to do that
with Attack of the Crab Monsters or something. The producer of
The Killer Shrews was Ken Curtis, aka Drunken Shaven Festus.
I guess he wanted a crack at a villain role, and although a drunken
guy who berates women and gets eaten by costumed dogs wouldn't be my
first pick, the only other villains to choose from weren't even that
Killer Shrews stuck with me for a long time as a kid, mainly because
of those giant-fang-instant-poison images. Watching it as an adult,
I was struck by the number of long, tedious, please God somebody
SHOOT me sequences, and wondered how I ever sat through it as a kid.
But then I realized: when boring stuff happens on TV, you just go back
to having Bullet
Man smash the Atomic Man; as soon as you hear something cool, you watch
again. The Killer Shrews does have its moments for the seasoned
crap afficionado, and they are, of course, unintended; the script definitely
merits a several chuckles and head-scratchings. The performances aren't
great, but they're not just plain awful either-- not too much
cannon fodder there. But the effects may very well be what makes The
Killer Shrews worth the price of 70 minutes of your life. The puppets
are obviously- ...what they are. (Blame the lighting, FX dudes; you
can't always lay 300 watts on a big cheap fake rathead without having
it look like a big cheap fake rathead). The dogs are about as terrifying
as a petting zoo, and Freex and I had a blast wondering what they were
being tempted by to make them cluster around the barrel-tank ("Ooooh,
LOOK what I got in HERE, doggies, weeeeenies! Come get the weenies!")
for my recommendation, I instead ask you to ask yourself: How much crap
must you see before you've seen enough crap?
The Killer Shrews is crap.