The Bad Movie Report

The Killer Shrews Buy from


 by special Guest Columnist

David Harlan aka Dr. Weasel


Some 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.

But first...!



The 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.

...or a reasonable facsimile.Who 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.

And now our feature presentation....


First, 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!

And I would have believed it, too.

AAAAAAA!  Oh my God!  That SHOE!!!!!The 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?

Oh, 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!

So 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 it.

"So I get eaten by mutant shrews and you get stuck in a redneck show for years.  Sure.  Seems fair."Oh, 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 P. Coltrane.

When 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.

Old 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 English, that'sAt the Remote Island Social Center 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!

Keillor's 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 Keillor's Sweaty Brother wants someone to tell him about the rabbits.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?"

But 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.

Sheriff 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.

Damn, it almost looks good, doesn't it?Now, 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.

Back 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.

It 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!

Seems 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 Let me in!  Me be good!  No more pee on carpet!  Let me in!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.

The 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.

Inside 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! D'oh!

Now, 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..."

Anyway, 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.

Mario 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.

Giant teeth gnawing at boards! Happening somewhere else!

Okay; 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.

"Is this the Muppet auditions?"Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, 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!

This 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.

Back 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 her boring:

ANNE - ...But I'd rather be dull and alive than-
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.

Bad Movie Rule #12:  Shotguns only have an effective range of two inches.Finding 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!

Ah, 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.

By 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!

Now the shrews are digging through the walls; Drunken Shaven Festus starts to freak, and Roscoe whomps him again. They Heh heh!  I found it!  I found where they hide the cocktail weenies!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.

So 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 window.

When 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.

Drunken 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 Festus!

Hey, I heard you were having some Ball Park franks and - OW!"Okay, 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?).

But 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.

What 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 charismatic

The 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 Who's a good puppy?  Who wants weenies?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!")

As for my recommendation, I instead ask you to ask yourself: How much crap must you see before you've seen enough crap?

Well, The Killer Shrews is crap.



See it so you can say you've witnessed crepe-haired rat dogs

- September 19, 1999

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