50s sci-fi double bill: THE GIANT CLAW vs. THE KILLER SHREWS

Happy Easter everyone. April is upon us (sweet showers and all) and as promised there should be more updates now. As long as I can manage to log-in at WordPress of course… so with a couple of days of delay but without further redo, let’s open the Vault again and enter two movies at once. Both worthy pedigree owners of that “50’s sci-fi” label.

What is “50s sci-fi”?

A 50s sci-fi is a science fiction film from the 50s (no points for guessing that). Lots of those films were shown in drive-in theaters where they accompanied ‘better’ films. Two for the price of one. Atomic monsters (both human and animals), robots, aliens, prehistoric animals that for some reason weren’t that extinct… there weren’t many topics the 50s sci-fi flicks didn’t touch upon. (And don’t forget those were the fifties: more than a handful of prehistoric monsters were metaphors for the Evil Communism attacking the pure and decent American minds.)
Most of these movies were low budget or even no budget. Which is why you shouldn’t look at the things you’re not supposed to see (e.g. the strings on many monsters). Also, there were a lot of sillier things to look out for. In one particular film, teenagers were scared by an alien monster (read: the shadow of a lobster being waved in front of a spotlight). You might want to hide behind the couch for this double bill… The first film is The Giant Claw.

THE GIANT CLAW

Before we start, may I say I hope you’ve already eaten when you’re reading this. Why? Well, after I’d seen this film for the first time, the bird’s look and sound made me want to eat chicken after the words ‘The End’ had appeared on the screen. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Fred Sears might have made Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, an okay film and one of the bigger examples for Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, but The Giant Claw is not that giant a film.
Yes, it’s a prehistoric monster that flies in the air, attacks planes and cities and occasionally treats itself to a man on a parachute. The beast is giant, except in the scenes where it’s considerably smaller, but who needs consistent proportions in a movie? Scary? It could be, but not if the monster looks like the abomination you’re seeing on your left.
Yes, admit it rather looks like a Sesame Street derelict. And by derelict, I mean Big Bird’s evil cousin who occasionally has a plane for lunch.

THE KILLER SHREWS

The Killer Shrews was directed by Ray Kellogg (director of another turkey, The Giant Gila Monster) and tells us the story of a scientist who wants to breed giant rats.
If you want to know why a scientist is on an island trying to breed bigger rats, I’ll tell you: the world population is expanding and if we all want to keep eating meat, there’s nothing wrong with creating more (read: bigger) food. And what better animal to experiment with than rats? Erm, yes, we’ll gloss over that one…

In Kellogg’s other masterpiece the gila monster was such a giant because of the wonderful special effect called “close-up”, a technique later also used in Night of the Lepus to make bunnies look scary. Well, at least they tried… The Killer Shrews does not go for the same option, very likely because nobody wanted to work with shrews. So how do we solve this problem? Easy, let’s get some dogs in, create a couple of ratlike heads in papier maché and put those heads on the dogs… surely, nobody will spot the animals are dogs. (Especially not if you’re gullible enough to believe rats can wag their tails.)
In this particular scene, the professor’s daughter is going to get coffee for everyone, only to discover one of the shrews has managed to enter the house. (If you don’t like waiting, fast forward to 1:30.)

Still, that isn’t even the highlight of the film… in the movie’s climax, the heroes try to escape from the island. They hope to get to the ocean because after all, rats can’t swim (erm… yes, they can and so can dogs – again, something to gloss over). And what better way to do so than to tie a couple of empty barrels together, turn those around and let’s march off the island, shall we? Yes, you may wonder if you’ve taken drugs, but at that point you’re really watching actors walking in upside-down barrels being jumped on by dogs wearing rat masks. (The wonderful climax truly kicks off 4 minutes into this clip.)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we love cinema…

How to watch these masterpieces?
The Giant Claw can be watched on the Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman dvd box set, together with Zombies of Mora Tau, The Werewolf and Creature with the Atom Brain.
The Killer Shrews is in public domain and can be watched online (or downloaded) at the Internet Archive.

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