The Killer Shrews


1h 9m 1959
The Killer Shrews

Brief Synopsis

A maniacal scientist creates a formula that turns your average shrew into a giant, man-killing beast.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Nov 1959
Premiere Information
Premiere in Dallas, TX: 25 Jun 1959
Production Company
Hollywood Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
McLendon Radio Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Lake Dallas Studios, Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas, Texas, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 9m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Charter boat owner Thorne Sherman and his first mate Rook arrive at a remote island bearing supplies for its inhabitants, biologist Dr. Marlowe Craigis, his daughter Ann, a zoologist, two researchers, Jerry Farrell and Radford Baines, and Mario, their cook. Ann and Craigis are inexplicably disappointed when Thorne announces that he intends to ride out a threatening hurricane on the island rather than return to the mainland immediately. Leaving Rook behind to anchor the boat, Thorne accompanies the Craigises back to their rough-hewn house surrounded by a high wooden fence and asks why the scientists are unaware of the storm warnings. Farrell acknowledges their radio has been broken for more than a week, but offers no further explanation. After Craigis describes the scientists' interest in overpopulation that guides their study of genetics and heredity, the avid Baines displays one of the test subjects, a tiny Blarina shrew, and details the scientists' attempts to manipulate its genetic makeup. When Craigis indicates that they have produced a variety of the creature that must eat three times its weight to survive, Ann grows increasingly uneasy. Meanwhile, Rook rows a dinghy to shore and lashes the boat to a tree as the wind begins blowing harder, unaware that he is being stalked by a pack of strange animals. Upon seeing the unusual creatures, Rook races into the woods and climbs a tree to evade them but his cries for help go unheard as the wind and storm rise. Unsettled by the growing tension in the Craigis house, Thorne declares he must return to the boat and is shocked when Ann, brandishing a pistol, refuses to let him depart. After sheepishly putting down the gun, Ann admits that their experiments have gone awry, allowing one of the test shrew groups to mutate into giants weighing up to a hundred pounds. Due to an inadvertent error by Farrell, several of the mutants escaped into the woods and, having rapidly multiplied, are mad with hunger. Farrell adds that the unaltered specimens are nocturnal but the mutants appear to be unpredictable as he and Ann were nearly attacked the day before, prompting Craigis to insist on Ann's immediate departure from the island. Unknown to the group, the shrews have attacked and devoured Rook and in a ravenous fury have begun digging under the compound's wooden fence. When a few shrews get into the livestock pen and attack the animals, Thorne demands to return to the boat but is restrained by Craigis and Farrell. Although frustrated, Thorne agrees to remain in the compound all night but insists they must go to the boat the next morning. In the meantime, he suggests that the group set up a watch to insure none of the shrews break into the house. Later that night as Mario patrols the house, the wind blows open one of the shutters in the back of the house and a shrew squeezes inside through the window. Upon finding the open shutter, Mario ties it shut, then wakens Thorne to inform him a creature has gone to the cellar to attack the food supply. Armed with pistols, Thorne and Mario descend to the cellar, where the cook is immediately attacked by the shrew. Although both men fire and kill the creature, Mario sustains a large bite on his leg. Attracted by the commotion, Craigis and Farrell join Thorne, who quickly wraps the wound, but moments later the men are shocked to find that Mario has died. Baines and Craigis examine the dead shrew and Mario's wound, and discover that a high amount of poison is present in the creature's saliva. Craigis recalls having set out a large store of rat poison some weeks previous in an attempt to kill the shrews and the scientists conclude that the beasts adapted the poison into their system. As the group considers their next action, two shrews chew through the soft adobe walls to the house and enter a back bedroom. Toward dawn, Thorne suggests that they throw the carcass of the dead shrew outside to draw off the pack, allowing them to get to the boat. When the ploy fails to attract any shrews, Thorne insists on making a run for the boat and Ann demands that Farrell accompany him. In the woods, resentful of the attention Ann has shown Thorne, Farrell threatens him with a shotgun, but Thorne knocks Farrell down and takes the gun away. Close to shore, Thorne calls to Rook on the boat and is puzzled to receive no response until he finds shreds of Rook's clothing and an empty pistol. Upon hearing the shrews approaching, Farrell panics, runs back to the compound and locks the gate, refusing to allow Craigis to open it for Thorne. As the shrews chase Thorne to the fence, he scrambles over the top, then beats up Farrell in a rage. After the men calm down, Ann heads toward the kitchen but when she opens the door a shrew rushes out and grazes Baines before it can be shot. Baines insists he is unhurt and returns to writing reports, only to drop dead moments later. Craigis admires that the scientist was bravely chronicling his symptoms as he died. When the others realize there are several more shrews in the house, they retreat to the courtyard and, at Thorne's suggestion, begin examining the supplies for assistance in combating the creatures. Thorne recommends lashing together the large, empty, steel chemical drums to use as shields to allow them to make their way to the boat, but the hysterical Farrell refuses and seeks refuge on the roof. The others pull the heavy drums over themselves as shields and, carefully opening the compound door, slowly proceed outside. Ann is soon exhausted from carrying the heavy drum, forcing the group to rest several times as the shrews desperately attack the containers. Farrell watches from the rooftop and when the shrews all congregate at the drums he makes a wild dash through the woods. The shrews hasten after him, however, and he is attacked and killed. After a laborious effort, the others reach the water, which the shrews will not enter, and discarding the drums, swim safely to the boat.

Photo Collections

The Killer Shrews - Lobby Cards
Here is a Lobby Card from the low-budget thriller The Killer Shrews (1959). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Film Details

Genre
Horror
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Nov 1959
Premiere Information
Premiere in Dallas, TX: 25 Jun 1959
Production Company
Hollywood Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
McLendon Radio Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Lake Dallas Studios, Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas, Texas, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 9m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Killer Shrews


Why remake classic films that can't be improved upon when there are plenty of lesser known films with unique plots that never fully exploited their full potential the first time around? Take The Killer Shrews (1959), for instance. Hamstrung by its low-budget, this B-movie sci-fi horror thriller is often a target of derision by horror fans but it has a great premise and with a substantial budget for special effects, it could be a potential blockbuster. All of the elements for a hit are here: a small group of people trapped on an isolated island as a hurricane approaches; a scientific experiment run amok, hideous creatures that tap on our fear of carnivorous animals, sexual tension generated by the presence of a single, desirable blonde in the male-dominated outpost, and the expected conflicts of ego and intellect among the group as they hash out a plan for survival.

Made back to back with The Giant Gila Monster using the same production crew, The Killer Shrews was a homegrown Texas production put together by cowboy singing star Ken Curtis and millionaire Gordon McLendon (he founded the Mutual Radio Network and was the owner of the biggest drive-in movie chain in the U.S. among other achievements). Curtis is probably more famous for his role as Festus on the popular TV series Gunsmoke [1959-1975] than he is as a character actor, even though he has appeared in numerous John Ford movies (he was the director's son-in-law) such as Rio Grande [1950], Mister Roberts [1955], and The Searchers [1956] to name just a few.

Few people realize today that Curtis was at one time a vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra but you'd never guess it from his role in The Killer Shrews as the film's most despicable human in the group. He plays Jerry Farrell, a research assistant to Dr. Radford Baines (played by producer Gordon McLendon), whose carelessness results in some lab experiments escaping and breeding with each other on the island. This incident combined with his failed romance with Baines' daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, Miss Universe of 1957) has turned Jerry into an embittered alcoholic whose homicidal impulses are aroused by the arrival of sea captain Thorne Sherman (James Best), a new rival for his estranged fiancée. Curtis's decision to cast himself as the loathsome Jerry is amusing enough - we can't wait for his well deserved demise - but it can't compare to the hilarious appearance of the giant shrews - dogs in costumes (whippets?) with elongated plastic fangs. Close-up shots of them gnawing through the woodwork or tunneling under the cardboard-like sets appear to be manipulated hand puppets but that's a production secret that only Ray Kellogg can answer and he died in 1981.

Kellogg spent most of his film career working as a special effects technician and second unit director, starting with Down to the Sea in Ships (1949). He made his directing debut with the double feature whammy of The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster but it wasn't an auspicious beginning and he only helmed two more features after these - My Dog, Buddy [1960] and The Green Berets [1968] which he co-directed with John Wayne. The Killer Shrews, however, is not an abomination and is actually an amusing and relatively fast-paced B movie where the glaring imperfections are part of the fun.

The opening, for instance, hooks you immediately while giving you the premise in a nutshell. Against a nighttime sky, a grim narrator delivers an ominous bit of information punctuated by a bolt of lightning and foreboding music: "Those who hunt by night will tell you that the wildest and most vicious of all animals is the tiny shrew. The shrew feeds by the dark of the moon. He must eat his own body weight every few hours - or starve! And the shrew devours everything - bones, flesh, marrow, everything! In March, first in Alaska and then invading steadily southward there were reports of a new species - The Giant Killer Shrew!" If you've ever seen a shrew, however, it doesn't look like the enlarged species you see in Kellogg's film, nor does it look like the monstrosity depicted in the film's poster art. In real life, shrews look like they belong to the rodent family but are actually classified as mammals.

Trying to classify The Killer Shrews, however, is an entirely different matter but its oddball nature should appeal to any forgiving horror film buff. There's Baruch Lumet's out-of-it performance as Dr. Craigis, the kind of stock scientist in sci-fi films who argues for saving the repugnant killer shrews for scientific study even though they're a major threat to mankind. His final moments are particularly memorable; bitten by a shrew whose bite is poisonous, he dismisses the attack with "He just ripped my trousers, that's all" and sits down to jot down a few more observations before keeling over dead.

The dialogue is equally memorable from Thorne's comment as he holds up a scrap of clothing from his recently devoured friend Rook - "They don't leave much, do they?" to Ingrid's anger at Thorne's cynicism: "I've never met anyone like you. You seem so disinterested in everything. Aren't you the least bit curious? Aren't you interested in the unusual things around here? The guns, the fence, the shuttered windows, my accent....anything?" Certainly James Best gives the film's best performance and he's an old pro at this sort of thing, having appeared in numerous Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone episodes on television in addition to countless film appearances, everything from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [1953] to Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor [1963]. Last but not least is one of the more original and hilarious finales you'll ever see - the remaining survivors leave their fortress and brave the shrews while protected under a makeshift tank of oil drums welded together with spy holes for their eyes and just enough room at the base for them to duck-walk the contraption to safety.

The only real negative of The Killer Shrews is its depiction of Thorne's black assistant, Rook (Judge Henry Dupree), which treats the character as comic relief in the now politically incorrect style of a Willie Best (aka Sleep 'n' Eat) or Mantan Moreland. Predictably, he's also the first victim of the shrews but then again, this racial stereotype in films of the fifties and earlier is a true reflection of the pre-Civil Rights era.

Producer: Ken Curtis, Gordon McLendon
Director: Ray Kellogg
Screenplay: Jay Simms
Cinematography: Wilfred M Cline
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Music: Harry Bluestone, Emil Cadkin
Cast: James Best (Thorne Sherman), Ingrid Goude (Ann Craigis), Ken Curtis (Jerry Farrell), Gordon McLendon (Dr. Radford Baines), Baruch Lumet (Dr. Marlowe Craigis), Judge Henry Dupree (Rook Griswold).
BW-69m.

by Jeff Stafford
The Killer Shrews

The Killer Shrews

Why remake classic films that can't be improved upon when there are plenty of lesser known films with unique plots that never fully exploited their full potential the first time around? Take The Killer Shrews (1959), for instance. Hamstrung by its low-budget, this B-movie sci-fi horror thriller is often a target of derision by horror fans but it has a great premise and with a substantial budget for special effects, it could be a potential blockbuster. All of the elements for a hit are here: a small group of people trapped on an isolated island as a hurricane approaches; a scientific experiment run amok, hideous creatures that tap on our fear of carnivorous animals, sexual tension generated by the presence of a single, desirable blonde in the male-dominated outpost, and the expected conflicts of ego and intellect among the group as they hash out a plan for survival. Made back to back with The Giant Gila Monster using the same production crew, The Killer Shrews was a homegrown Texas production put together by cowboy singing star Ken Curtis and millionaire Gordon McLendon (he founded the Mutual Radio Network and was the owner of the biggest drive-in movie chain in the U.S. among other achievements). Curtis is probably more famous for his role as Festus on the popular TV series Gunsmoke [1959-1975] than he is as a character actor, even though he has appeared in numerous John Ford movies (he was the director's son-in-law) such as Rio Grande [1950], Mister Roberts [1955], and The Searchers [1956] to name just a few. Few people realize today that Curtis was at one time a vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra but you'd never guess it from his role in The Killer Shrews as the film's most despicable human in the group. He plays Jerry Farrell, a research assistant to Dr. Radford Baines (played by producer Gordon McLendon), whose carelessness results in some lab experiments escaping and breeding with each other on the island. This incident combined with his failed romance with Baines' daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, Miss Universe of 1957) has turned Jerry into an embittered alcoholic whose homicidal impulses are aroused by the arrival of sea captain Thorne Sherman (James Best), a new rival for his estranged fiancée. Curtis's decision to cast himself as the loathsome Jerry is amusing enough - we can't wait for his well deserved demise - but it can't compare to the hilarious appearance of the giant shrews - dogs in costumes (whippets?) with elongated plastic fangs. Close-up shots of them gnawing through the woodwork or tunneling under the cardboard-like sets appear to be manipulated hand puppets but that's a production secret that only Ray Kellogg can answer and he died in 1981. Kellogg spent most of his film career working as a special effects technician and second unit director, starting with Down to the Sea in Ships (1949). He made his directing debut with the double feature whammy of The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster but it wasn't an auspicious beginning and he only helmed two more features after these - My Dog, Buddy [1960] and The Green Berets [1968] which he co-directed with John Wayne. The Killer Shrews, however, is not an abomination and is actually an amusing and relatively fast-paced B movie where the glaring imperfections are part of the fun. The opening, for instance, hooks you immediately while giving you the premise in a nutshell. Against a nighttime sky, a grim narrator delivers an ominous bit of information punctuated by a bolt of lightning and foreboding music: "Those who hunt by night will tell you that the wildest and most vicious of all animals is the tiny shrew. The shrew feeds by the dark of the moon. He must eat his own body weight every few hours - or starve! And the shrew devours everything - bones, flesh, marrow, everything! In March, first in Alaska and then invading steadily southward there were reports of a new species - The Giant Killer Shrew!" If you've ever seen a shrew, however, it doesn't look like the enlarged species you see in Kellogg's film, nor does it look like the monstrosity depicted in the film's poster art. In real life, shrews look like they belong to the rodent family but are actually classified as mammals. Trying to classify The Killer Shrews, however, is an entirely different matter but its oddball nature should appeal to any forgiving horror film buff. There's Baruch Lumet's out-of-it performance as Dr. Craigis, the kind of stock scientist in sci-fi films who argues for saving the repugnant killer shrews for scientific study even though they're a major threat to mankind. His final moments are particularly memorable; bitten by a shrew whose bite is poisonous, he dismisses the attack with "He just ripped my trousers, that's all" and sits down to jot down a few more observations before keeling over dead. The dialogue is equally memorable from Thorne's comment as he holds up a scrap of clothing from his recently devoured friend Rook - "They don't leave much, do they?" to Ingrid's anger at Thorne's cynicism: "I've never met anyone like you. You seem so disinterested in everything. Aren't you the least bit curious? Aren't you interested in the unusual things around here? The guns, the fence, the shuttered windows, my accent....anything?" Certainly James Best gives the film's best performance and he's an old pro at this sort of thing, having appeared in numerous Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone episodes on television in addition to countless film appearances, everything from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [1953] to Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor [1963]. Last but not least is one of the more original and hilarious finales you'll ever see - the remaining survivors leave their fortress and brave the shrews while protected under a makeshift tank of oil drums welded together with spy holes for their eyes and just enough room at the base for them to duck-walk the contraption to safety. The only real negative of The Killer Shrews is its depiction of Thorne's black assistant, Rook (Judge Henry Dupree), which treats the character as comic relief in the now politically incorrect style of a Willie Best (aka Sleep 'n' Eat) or Mantan Moreland. Predictably, he's also the first victim of the shrews but then again, this racial stereotype in films of the fifties and earlier is a true reflection of the pre-Civil Rights era. Producer: Ken Curtis, Gordon McLendon Director: Ray Kellogg Screenplay: Jay Simms Cinematography: Wilfred M Cline Film Editing: Aaron Stell Music: Harry Bluestone, Emil Cadkin Cast: James Best (Thorne Sherman), Ingrid Goude (Ann Craigis), Ken Curtis (Jerry Farrell), Gordon McLendon (Dr. Radford Baines), Baruch Lumet (Dr. Marlowe Craigis), Judge Henry Dupree (Rook Griswold). BW-69m. by Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

This was one of two features produced by an independent company in Texas and intended to be distributed as a double feature. The other feature was Giant Gila Monster, The (1959).

This film and its companion piece, Giant Gila Monster, The (1959), marked the directorial debut of veteran special effects man Ray Kellogg.

Notes

The Killer Shrews was the first of three productions by Hollywood Pictures Corp. and financial backer and executive producer Gordon McLendon. Along with the other two films, The Giant Gila Monster and My Dog Buddy ( and below), The Killer Shrews was shot in Dallas, TX. A December 1959 Los Angeles Times review of the film stated there was no screenplay or director's credit on the film that the reviewer watched, but those credits, as listed above, were on the print viewed. Although the credits in publicity materials and the Variety review list the character played by Ken Curtis as "Jerry Lacer," he is called "Jerry Farrell" in the film. McLendon was the head of a radio group and president of Tri-State Theatres and co-starred as "Radford Baines."
       Although a January 1959 Los Angeles Times article stated that B. R. McLendon, who also financed the picture, would play a role, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Ingrid Goude, who portrayed "Ann Craigis," was a former Miss Sweden. Baruch Lumet, who played "Dr. Marlowe Craigis," was the father of director Sidney Lumet. According to the Variety review, the film cost $123,000 to produce. The picture marked the directorial debut of Ray Kellogg, who served as the head of Twentieth Century-Fox's special effects department throughout most of the 1950s.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1959

Actor Baruch Llumet is the father of director Sidney.

Released in United States 1959