Review contributed by new panel member, Dr. Niemann.
To say Ray Kellogg’s THE KILLER SHREWS (1959) was shot on a low budget is as much as an understatement as saying WATERWORLD is a tad silly. Indeed, most of the film could have been filmed in the backyard of any house in rural Texas. The plot is based around the old deserted-island motif, where yet another misguided scientist (Baruch Lumet), experimenting with a growth hormone, has inadvertently increased the size and appetite of otherwise tiny shrews (definition: Any of various small, chiefly insectivorous mammals of the family Soricidae, resembling a mouse but having a long pointed snout and small eyes and ears).
Using his infallible Malthusian principles, the good doctor figures it is only a matter of time before the beasts consume all the edible food on the island and then all of the island’s inhabitants. His daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude) looks a tasty dish, especially to veteran actor James Best, playing the ship captain who delivers supplies to this little, scientific oasis. Ken Curtis, of "Festus" fame on GUNSMOKE and or several John Ford classics (like THE SEARCHERS) produced and co-stars as a likely, though uncomfortable, beau for Ann’s fair hand. The rest of the cast (Gordon McLendon, Alfred DeSoto, Judge Henry DuPree) help accumulate data and love-bites from our voracious monsters, until the quirky climax, when it having been discovered that shrews cannot eat through corrugated iron, our surviving principals hide beneath a nexus of traveling garbage-cans! Smelly, but effective.
I have a personal stake in this film, having met by accident one of the players during my brief stay at the University of the South for an education seminar. When asked what film I thought among the worst I had seen, I quipped, "THE KILLER SHREWS." Without missing a beat, the African-American professor from Duke responded, "I was in THE KILLER SHREWS." Then, responding to the look of awe upon my countenance, he queried, "What do think the ’killer shrews’ were?" "They looked like dogs," I earnestly replied. "They were dogs; we took some German shepherds, added some confetti and latex, and behold--killer shrews! Also, we jiggled the camera from side-to-side."
Of course, there must be some science to accompany and to legitimize our true dread of a rampage of killer shrews. It seems the little devils have poisonous saliva; so, even if their actual bite is not enough to cause death, their poison will. In one true homage to scientific observation, one of the doctor’s assistants sustains a lethal bite and records his own symptoms at the typewriter keyboard until he keels over, dead. That’s dedication. How these actors kept a straight face while delivering the platitudes that pass for Jay Simms’s dialogue I cannot guess. Most of the camerawork involving the shrews has them running in packs, then a quick cut into their mouths, wherein are glued extra sets of plastic teeth. Unfortunately, the stills of the beasts show them to have been stuffed toys. Well, you can enjoy this film for its camp value; or, you can flip the escape vehicles over and deposit the film therein.
RATING: * 1/2 out of 4 stars.