Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Killer Shrews

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Killer Shrews - 1959, unrated
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer

Enormous mammals in this horror yawn from the fabulous fifties menace odd assortments of characters.
The story centers on a heroic charter boat skipper named Thorne. He is delivering supplies to a remote island where several doctors are conducting private research. Mr. Thorne notes that the lone structure on the island has the world's biggest fence around it but sticks around anyway and is soon trapped there thanks to a hurricane.
The people staying on the island are an odd lot who behaves as if they are guilty of something. Their secret is soon revealed. They have grown shrews to the size of dogs. The scientists in residence give us a lesson in Shrew lifestyle. Turns out they aren't rodents, though they are usually mouse sized. They have high metabolisms, which necessitate they're eating their weight in food about three times a day. They also rock nasty fangs that deliver a highly toxic poison but the best part is that they are nature's best eaters and always clean their plate.
Sadly the scientist just made an oops. They accidentally created the mutant Shrews but are not developing them as weapons or anything (that plot wouldn't become popular till the 70s'). These critters are hungry too. The plan s to sit out the storm while the Shrews finish each other off now that they have devoured all other life on the island.
The brain trust has missed a signal however as the Shrews have figured out that people taste mighty good thanks to Thorne's first mate coming ashore and tripping over a convenient log. The Shrews lay siege to the house and begins gnawing away at the foundation. Several get inside and run amuck. The cast gets whittled down to four in no time which include: Thorne; a cerebral scientist who shows us how smart he is by sporting a goatee; a Swedish pin-up girl passing herself off as his daughter; and a gun toting psycho who is scared out of his wits (a role that Bill Paxton perfected in "Aliens").
This quartet wouldn't give Mensa much to worry about. Thorne comes up with the best escape plan, which involves tying metal cans together and crawling out underneath them. The scheme is simple enough to work but the sacredy guy backs out and is soon served up as a holiday ham for the Shrews. It all leads to a prolonged climax of three people crawling to safety while nestled inside cans.
Despite the lame visuals on the ending this is a fun flick. The creatures are goofy enough to hold your interest and they are played by dogs in Shrew costumes. That gives this an edge over those goofy SyFy Channel flicks that pad everything out with CGI monsters. The best news is that this has been remade with John Schneider and is heading for DVD any day now. They even dig up James Best (who originated the role of Thorne before going on to fame in 'The Dukes of Hazard") to come back making this more of a sequel/remake.
There are several ways to catch this clunker. It appears on several DVD horror sets (you know the type, they come in a big box and feature a hundred movies crammed onto twenty DVDs). It is also available on Volume seven of "Mystery Science Theater" where it gets a royal razzing form the crew on the Satellite of Love. They riff on it repeatedly and even offer up a theme song for this turkey as well as instructions on how to turn it into a board game. No matter how you catch this you'll either enjoy it for the camp value or you'll be wondering whom to sue to get back those 69 minutes of your life.
Best Line: " Looks like a rat. Smells like a skunk. Some call them bone eaters."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.