Saturday, 14 January 2012

THE KILLER SHREWS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A Son of the Pioneers not only became "Festus" on GUNSMOKE, but produced this movie!!!

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 (including his immortal turn as the guffawing clodhopper in The Searchers) to his long-running role as "Festus" the town drunk in the legendary TV western Gunsmoke. These achievements surely pale in comparison to the cherry on the chocolate fudge sundae that is Ken Curtis’s career - he was also the visionary producer of The Killer Shrews.

This extremely entertaining B-movie begins with extremely portentous narration informing us that shrews are nasty little beasts. If we take these scientific facts to heart, it appears that shrews put Hannibal Lecter’s (and presumably Robert Pickton’s) piggies to shame. From here we are plunged onto the bargain basement Dr. Moreau-like island where shrews have been bred all big and nasty by some mad scientist types. It's never explained why they choose shrews for their nefarious attempts at playing God, but one supposes we must take the aforementioned narration as reason enough.

The island is populated by a wide variety of local natives (shrew-fodder), a babe and a villainous heavy (played by Curtis himself). They eventually encounter a stalwart sea captain and his Stepin Fetchit-like sidekick who come to sniff out the dirty doings in this tropical paradise.

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 the inhabitants of the island.

As this movie clearly pre-dates CGI, the killer shrews are enterprisingly rendered by utilizing dogs with stringy mops affixed to their backs and huge vampire beaver teeth gaffer-taped and/or glued to the insides of their mouths.

I dare Industrial, Light and Magic to beat that!

The movie is surprisingly replete with thrills and they're reasonably genuine. This is no surprise 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 after this film 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 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).