Sunday, October 14, 2012


This is one of those small independent productions made for exhibition at regional drive-ins, but became more famous thanks to late night television.
This film and another horror film, the Giant Gilla Monster, were co-produced by Texas media mogul Gordon McClendon. McClendon was a radio pioneer. Along with the Storz brothers, he help create Top 40 radio in the 50s. Later he created one of the first easy listening formats. After the assassination of JFK in Dallas, he created the first 24 hour all news format, which was the first radio station to feature traffic reports. Ted Turner is said to have used McClendon's news format as a model for CNN. McClendon also owned drive-in in Texas. He decided in the 50s to make some horror films to attract younger audiences. First was the Giant Gilla Monster. The second was Killer Shrews.
When you get down to it, Killer Shrews is not bad little horror film. Many reviews and historians have pointed out that the plot and theme of claustrophobic entrapment is similar to Night of the Living Dead.

The film also benefits from two good actors, James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazard) and Ken Curtis (Festus on Gunsmoke).
The reason the movie has a reputation as a bad horror film comes from the title creatures. In the days before CGI or other great effects, you had dress up a man as a monster or an animal as a monster. In this film, the mouse-like shrews grow into (what appears to be) German Shepherds with big plastic fangs, plastic bulging eyeballs and furry bath rugs. That was the films legacy in the pre-MST3K era. If you see It Came From Hollywood, the late Gilda Radner, narrating in her Judy Miller character voice, says that one of shrews (Pictured above) looks like her dog Sparky.
When MST3K got a hold of this, they pointed out a few other things to poke fun at. While the characters are trapped in this house together, they spend most of the time smoking and drinking. There is also the slight un-PC portrayal of  Capt. Thorne Sherman's African-American first mate and the Mexican manservant of the scientist. When Sherman mentions that many modern boats have automatic piloting systems, the first mate says that an automatic pilot "Can't play no Dixie land jazz." Both the first mate and servant die violently at the mouths of the killer shrews.
Another thing that is only funny after James Best years on the Dukes of Hazard, he refers to his pistol as "Roscoe," which was his character's name on that show. Now this tough-guy dialogue becomes an unintentional sexual reference.
Sherman and Jerry or Roscoe and Festus
It is also great to see both Best and Curtis play character so different than the TV characters that made them famous. Best's Capt Sherman is a tough, cock-sure adventure, who takes action at the drop of a hat. Curtis plays Jerry, who is the ultimate weasel in a movie about shrews. Now that is saying something. At one point, he tries to kill Sherman and leave him for shrew munchies.
Gordon McClendon also acts in the film a Prof. Radford Baines. The only disappointment in McClendon is that fact that he was in radio and the sound on this movies is horrible.
Killer Shrews is a film which holds your attention enough, even though it is not a masterpiece. It is not really a bad movie, just flawed. Those flaws are what makes it great.

BTW: There is now a sequel staring James Best, John Schneider, Rich Hurst, and Bruce Davidson. 

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