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Attack of the Crab Monsters

"No. No, I do not believe in ghosts. We are dealing with a man who is dead, but whose voice and memory live. How this can be I do not know, but its implications are far more terrible than any ghost could ever be.”

Roger Corman time again! And for my second review of his catalog, it’s time for giant crabs. But not just any giant crabs, but giant crabs that can cause earthquakes, have oddly human eyes, and speak through metal using the voices of the humans they consume. So yes, it’s a bit strange...

This film is a brisk 69 minutes long, and it does not waste time getting things going. A common complaint of 50s sci fi movies is that you often don’t even see the monster til at least the halfway mark. I don’t usually mind that as it allows the movie to build up some tension and atmosphere while also giving us reasons to care about the cast, but that’s not the case here. The movie has barely started, and we see a sea shrouded crab monster attack one of the sailors that fell out of their rubber raft as our main cast arrives on the island. It’s not a great view of the creature, but it’s a surprisingly early reveal for a movie of this vintage. It’s in the name of the film of course, but this film does not mess around! The cast have no idea what happened to the sailor, despite the condition he’s in when they pull him out of the water, but it’s an ominous start.

Our team of scientists and their technician/handyman are introduced to us quite quickly. Their particular specialties are spelled out for us as the seaman are informed of who is who, so we have Dale Brewer (Richard Garland), Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan), Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley), Jules Deveroux (Mel Welles), Dr. James Carson (Richard H. Cutting), and Hank Chapman (Russell Johnson). I’m not sure why only certain scientists were referred to as ‘doctor’ when all the above barring Hank Chapman should be called Dr., since they’re all scientists.

The new arrivals remark on how eerie the island is. The previous expedition led by Dr. McLane have all vanished without a trace, which doesn’t bode well in any situation. The Navy are here to drop them off and aid in possible demolition work as their job here is to investigate the island after a previous nuclear bomb test was carried out on a different island, and radioactive debris and contaminated water inundated the island prior to the previous team’s arrival and disappearance.

And yes, the cause of there being crab monsters in the first place? Radiation. It’s a 50s giant monster movie, so radiation is often the reason for the monsters’ existence or what’s driving them to attack, so it’s not unexpected. The fact the radiation occurred sometime in the past and is why our scientists are here in the first place is the main driver of the entire movie.

One thing I find this movie does better than many movies of similar ilk is that the isolation of our cast makes sense. They’re on a remote island with minimal outside contact due to its location and the aforementioned radiation issue. They can radio the nearest Navy base when they need to, although this avenue of communication is halted by the storm early, and by the crabs’ direct intervention later. This more realistic approach to their isolation genuinely helps the film. While the crabs and their powers are very strange even for a 50s monster movie, this grounding of why our main cast ends up in the situation they are in just feels like it makes sense.

The main cast and the Navy personnel, both those that remained to help with demolition and those that departed in the seaplane that brought them to the island, start getting whittled down quite quickly, as injuries and deaths occur constantly. The island is wracked with earthquakes caused by the crabs, causing it to shrink over the course of the film till it’s little more than an outcropping of rock at the climax of the film. The voices of the dead are soon calling certain members of our crew, although eventually all hear the dead speaking to them, both McLane from the previous expedition and those lost during the course of the movie. We find out that these voices are transmitted through metal, which sounds very strange, mostly because it is! It certainly makes our crab monsters among the weirdest monsters I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something.

The movie’s climax is rather typical of these kinds of things, the cast has been reduced to just a couple people remaining and the monster’s weakness is discovered and used against them. It’s something of a standard for movies like this, but this one being from 1957, this wasn’t such a tried-and-true formula like it is today. It feels downright bleak for a 50s movie, even if the ending is mostly a good one. The casualty count is high and the island is barely in existence once those credits roll.

The crab monsters themselves are not the most impressive creatures we’ve seen in monster movies, but they work. The oddest choice for them are their very human-like eyes that do look a bit silly. The monster model(s) do appear quite large, which makes them more menacing when shown with our actors, as it avoids too many scenes of just a claw that is obviously being held up by a crew person or some contraption or rope or wires and lets us see the monsters in their chitinous glory.

"You dropped this!"

The movie does get into some scientific and pseudo-scientific explanations with intricate detail. The ‘science’ of how the crabs and the worm-like creature mentioned in the journal of the previous expedition function as they do could charitably be called far-fetched. It practically bends over backwards to explain things in a technical manner, despite the outlandish ideas it purports. This serious explanation of such a bizarre concept actually works here. And they use their unusual molecular composition to discover their weakness.

A fun B movie romp that does what it says on the tin. There are crab monsters, they definitely attack, and despite some odd choices by our cast, which aren’t quite as bad as what we come to expect from our often hapless horror movie characters, the acting is at worst serviceable and is often good or better, with believable characters that we can sympathize with more often than not, which for a film like this is a joy. It’s a classic monster movie that shouldn’t be missed.

--Seeing Russell Johnson working on the radio, the man most famous as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, just felt right.

"I need coconuts to fix this!"

--Mel Welles is more famous for his role in the original movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, another Corman movie.

--Richard Garland was constable Clay Horton on Lassie, a show I enjoyed in reruns as kid. He was also married briefly to actress Beverly Garland, who was of course in the recently reviewed Corman film It Conquered the World.

--The fact the movie does move at such a rapid pace comes down to Corman telling the writer Chuck Griffith to make the movie be a nonstop chain of thrills and the assumption that a thrill was coming constantly. Griffith worked with Corman several times over the years as both a writer and an actor.

Three giant crab pincers out of four.

Morella is a Gen Xer who likes strange things a bit too much.

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