The Killer Shrews (1958) dir. Ray Kellogg
Starring: James Best, Ken Curtis, Ingrid Goude
Review by Greg Klymkiw
Ken Curtis is known to most of us for his long and distinguished career as an actor – from his musical appearances with the magnificent Sons of the Pioneers in numerous John Ford westerns to his long-running role as Festus in the legendary TV western “Gunsmoke”. Surely the cherry on the sundae that is Curtis’s career is the fact that he also produced “The Killer Shrews”, a tremendously entertaining 50s B-picture that manages to keep one riveted for its mercifully short, but action-packed running time.
Beginning with a somewhat portentous narration that informs us that shrews are nasty little beasts who put Hannibal Lecter’s (and presumably Robert Pickton’s) piggies to shame, we are plunged into the bargain basement Dr. Moreau-like island where shrews have been bred all big and nasty and some mad scientist types, a babe and a villainous heavy (played by Curtis himself) encounter a stalwart sea captain and his Stepin Fetchit-like sidekick who come to sniff out the dirty doings.
Much of the plot, such as it is, revolves around the captain trying to put the make on the babe who is inexplicably involved romantically with the seemingly psychotic Ken Curtis while shrews attack (and occasionally kill) the inhabitants of the island.
The killer shrews pre-date CGI, so they are rendered oh-so-accurately by utilizing dogs who appear to have stringy mops fixed to their backs and huge vampire teeth gaffer-taped and/or glued to the insides of their mouths.
The movie is replete with both laughs and thrills. The thrills – in spite of the ridiculous effects – are reasonably genuine as the proceedings are directed efficiently by famed special effects man and second unit director Ray Kellogg (making his directorial debut here). Let’s not forget that Kellogg was hand-picked years later by John (Our Father) Wayne to direct “The Green Berets”. Then again, perhaps we do want to forget that.
You will not, however, want to forget “The Killer Shrews”. I dare you to try.
Legend Films has recently released “The Killer Shrews” in a terrific DVD that features a delightful bevy of special features including a terrifically colorized version, the original black and white version, some oddly amusing factoids on shrews, a bunch of period trailers from B pictures, an astounding 50s educational film titled “Squeak the Squirrel” and an entire second feature in a double bill (the incredibly lame “Giant Gila Monster” which is of interest only as the second Ken Curtis – Ray Kellogg collaboration).
“The Killer Shrews” is available on DVD from Legend Films. Buy it here: The Killer Shrews/The Giant Gila Monster