Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Overlooked Movies: The Killer Shrews

Gordon McLendon was known as "the old Scotchman" to a lot of people back in the '50s.  He was a radio guy, famous at one time for doing play-by-play broadcasts of baseball games he wasn't attending, sometimes thumping a watermelon with a drumstick to simulate the sound of the bat hitting the ball. 

McLendon became even more famous in the 1950s when he bought some radio stations in Texas.  The ones I listened to were KLIF in Dallas, KTSA in San Antonio, and KILT in Houston.  On a good day, I could pick up all three of them in a car radio in Mexia, Texas.  He might not have invented the Top 40 format, but he was expert at exploiting it.

At some point in the late '50s, McClendon got the idea he wanted to be a movie producer.  Ken Curtis (best known as Festus on Gunsmoke's TV incarnation) went in  with him, and one of the movies they produced was The Killer Shrews.  Some would say that this movie makes Plan Nine from Outer Space look like a big-budget Hollywood studio production.  If you've seen it on MST3K, you know what I'm talking about.  Or scroll down and take a look at the trailer.

The special effects for the killer shrews drew the most laughter in the theaters in the '50s (yes, I was there).  They were obviously just dogs with some tacky fur glued on them.  The plot is ludicrous.  A mad scientist is trying to shrink people to about half their normal size in order to cure world hunger.  Somehow his formula creates killer shrews, and the cast is trapped on an island with them.  Several people fall victim to the shrews, but the others escape in . . . you need to see it.

This is a classic of its kind, and it was filmed in Texas!


Anonymous said...

"Overlooked" might be a bit strong. How about "hilariously bad" and "totally insane"?

But then, you pretty much said that.

The only movie I remember with as "convincing" animal work was the adaptation of James Herbert's THE RATS, where they used black French poodles as a substitute.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I kind of miss the look of horror movies before all the modern technology. Amazing they could actually scare us sometimes.

Randy Johnson said...

A long time favorite in the so bad they're good category.

Michael E. Stamm said...

I have this on DVD but haven't watched it (on the grounds of it-will-probably-kill-some good-memories-with-reality). I've only seen it once, on late-night B&W TV in the mid-'60s when I was 10 or 11...and ridiculous FX or not, it scared the bejesus out of me.

Mike Doran said...

One of the All-Time Grates ...

I wonder why you didn't mention that in addition to producing this, Gordon McLendon acts in it as well.
You can glimpse him in the trailer; he's the nerdy guy in the glasses and baggy suit, explaining about shrews at the beginning to James Best (the he-man hero) and Baruch Lumet (the mad doctor).

I've also read that Gordon McLendon's Texas holdings included a small chain of drive-in theaters, which might be where he got the idea to go into the business.

More than you wanted to know ...?

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mike. I meant to mention the Old Scotchman's appearance and forgot to. Glad you brought it up.

Deb said...

Greatest exchange in the MST3K version:

Movie narrator: "The shrew must consume daily four times its body weight in food."

One of the bots: "Plus a delicious shake!"

Fred Blosser said...

I saw it on the big screen as a kid, on a double bill with THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. I'd rather have a remake of THE KILLER SHREWS than yet another rehash of CARRIE or another teen show about vampires. Wouldn't everybody?