Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) review



Richard Garland (Dale Drewer), Pamela Duncan (Martha Hunter), Russell Johnson (Hank Chapman), Leslie Bradley (Dr. Karl Weigand), Mel Welles (Jules Deveroux), Richard H. Cutting (Dr. James Carson), Beach Dickerson (Ron Fellows), Charles Griffith (Tate), Maitland Stuart (Mac), David Arvedon (voice of Hoolar the Giant Crab)

Directed by Roger Corman

The Short Version: Seven years before he was marooned on Gilligan's Island, Russell Johnson was part of another expedition that ends up trapped on an island dominated by gigantic, atomically enhanced crabs with both the gift of gab and a taste for human flesh. There's action, some brief gore, and bad special effects aplenty. A lot more fun than you'd expect it to be due to the unapologetically ludicrous premise. Played entirely straight, the thought of giant, telepathic crabs hellbent on world domination dares you to keep a straight face the duration of the "Tidal Wave of Terror" promised by the film's trailer. It's all you can eat crab legs, cheap but delicious for the seafood horror lover in you.


After communication is cut off on a Pacific island where scientists were conducting experiments on the effects of nuclear fallout, a second group of scientists and other personnel are sent to find out what has happened to them. Upon their arrival, they immediately discover dangers both on the island and beneath the waves when a crew member is decapitated by something underwater. Finding all of the previous group have mysteriously disappeared, the rescue team themselves become stranded on the dangerously unstable island. Strange noises, including disembodied voices, leads to the discovery of gigantic, irradiated crabs that not only eat their victims, but absorb their intelligence; and intend to make meals of them all.

The 1950s was the decade of Atomic Monsters, and particularly movies about giant bugs. The high point of these is unequivocally Gordon Douglas's THEM! (1954). Towards the low end, but above bottom-dwellers like THE CYCLOPS and BEGINNING OF THE END (both 1957) lies Roger Corman's ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957). At just a little over an hour, Corman keeps his pace as brisk as the silliness. Writer Charles B. Griffith was a frequent Corman collaborater (he has a small role in the picture) and his script is a good one despite its ridiculous scenario. The pitch meeting must have been an eyebrow-raiser for sure. "Well, you see, these people are trapped on an island by giant, regenerating crabs that talk and use telepathy to lure the humans to their deaths." It's an utterly absurd premise that's far more fun than you'd think.

As corny as talking crabs with bulging eyeballs are, Corman manages some minor tension in the film's early scenes. There's some palpable eeriness to the fog-encrusted shoreline and some moody atmosphere enhancing some stock miniature shots during a storm. Apparently audiences were privy to it as well. CRAB MONSTERS was made for a reported $70,000 and made more money than any of Corman's movies up to that point.

The giant crabs are goofy-looking, parade-level constructs that are about as mobile as the alien cucumber from Corman's IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956). Apparently there are some moments where you can see the shoes of the crew members operating the big crab. You see a few brief glimpses of them early on, but mostly the creepy clacking sounds of their claws; that is till they reveal they can talk, and start boasting about world domination.

Made for Allied Artists between AIP gigs, Corman's directorial prowess is in abundance, as is his "all hands on deck" approach to filmmaking where many of the crew performed more than one duty on set. Despite the minuscule budget, the picture is remarkably well made. Corman and his crew are able to give the impression of an isolated island locale when it's just Leo Carillo beach in California. Some (presumably stock) shots complement this illusion; but it's later betrayed by some of the underwater shots filmed at the now closed Marineland park in Los Angeles. Lots of movies and television programs filmed there before and after its closure in 1987.

Third-billed Russell Johnson is one of the few cast members that went on to a successful Hollywood career. For him it was primarily in television. Other than CRAB MONSTERS, Johnson pops up in a few other SciFi features, some of them bonafide classics such as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) and THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). His last genre picture was THE SPACE CHILDREN in 1958. He did however appear in small screen SciFi with a 1964 episode of THE OUTER LIMITS (1963--1965) and a 1967 episode of THE INVADERS (1967--1968). Johnson starred in two TWILIGHT ZONE (1959--1964) episodes, both of which dealt with time travel--the classic 'Back There' saw him travel back to 1865 to try and stop Lincoln's assassination; and in 'Execution', he creates a time machine that brings an Old West murderer dangling from the hangman's noose to then modern-day 1961.

Elsewhere on the film front,  he appeared in some great westerns; such as LAW AND ORDER (1953), where he co-starred with future President of the United States Ronald Reagan playing Reagan's brother, Jimmy Johnson. Around the same time he appeared in some Audie Murphy adventures like COLUMN SOUTH (1953) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954); and the 3-D western TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954) starring Rock Hudson and Jeff Chandler. He played a vicious gunfighter on the season 2 episode of GUNSMOKE (1955-1975), 'Bloody Hands' from 1957. Johnson had three other guest appearances on the show playing different characters. But his most recognized role was playing the Professor on three seasons of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (1964--1967) and three Made For TV movies and voicing on cartoon series.

Mel Welles is another name on the roster, only not necessarily in star status. Cult film fans know his face primarily as the flower shop owner in Roger Corman's THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960); but he had a very busy career behind the camera as well as in front of it. Welles was a director and performed voice acting on a variety of foreign pictures. He was fluent in several languages so this came in handy for his prolific sojourn overseas; particularly when writing and or directing such entertaining movies like MANEATER OF HYDRA (1967) and LADY FRANKENSTEIN (1971).

Roger Corman directed several other highly entertaining SciFi cheapies in a similar mold to CRAB MONSTERS, but none quite as fun as this bad movie made good. The title is one of the catchiest, exploitation-heavy monikers ever devised, and it's attached to a movie that matches it. If you're a fan of Corman, Drive-in movies, vintage and cheaply made SciFi, you will welcome this ATTACK into your blu-ray player.

This review is representative of the Scream Factory blu-ray. Specs and extras: 1080p anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1; new 2K scan from a fine grain print limited to 1,000 units; audio commentary with Tom Weaver, John and Mike Brunas; A Salute to Roger Corman featurette; theatrical trailer; running time: 01:02:51

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Final Terror (1983) review



John Friedrich (Dennis Zorich), Adrian Zmed (Marco Cerone), Ernest Harden, Jr. (Nathaniel Hines), Lewis Smith (Boone), Rachel Ward (Margaret), Daryl Hannah (Windy), Akosua Busia (Vanessa), Joe Pantoliano (Eggar), Mark Metcalf (Mike), Cindy Harrell (Melanie), Irene Sanders (Sammie), Richard Jacobs (Mr. Morgan), Donna Pinder (Mrs. Morgan), Jim Youngs (Jim), Lori Lee Butler (Lori), Tony Maccario (Eggar's Mother)

Directed by Andrew Davis

The Short Version: Andrew Davis's lesser known wilderness-set slasher benefits from some mild tension and fantastic locations in Redwood, California. Unfortunately, THE FINAL TERROR wants its body parts and eat them too--being a slasher movie with a low body count that is closer in tone to JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980) than FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Probably the slasher flick with the single most soon-to-be big names (director included), Davis's movie has many attributes, but short-changes horror fans on what these films are supposed to be selling.

Forestry workers and four women head out into the wilderness to clear some brush and raft downriver. They find more than downed trees when they ignore the warnings of their crazy bus driver. Encountering a feral killer, the group become trapped in the woods and must utilize survivalist-style tactics to make it out alive.

When AIP (American International Pictures) merged with Filmways in 1979 (itself going bankrupt and sold to Orion in 1982), Samuel Z. Arkoff started up another AIP (Arkoff International Pictures) where he produced independent features of his own; the first being this woodsian slasher romp. This new incarnation didn't last long, sadly, but horror fans got this picture and Larry Cohen's energetic and unusual monster movie, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982) out of it, at least. Back in the day, Arkoff and James H. Nicholson solidified AIP as the premiere studio for A-level exploitation on B-level budgets. With Roger Corman directing many of their features, AIP was a force to be reckoned with. Along with his son, Louis, Sam Arkoff intended to bring that old magic into the 80s. Partnering with the Cannon Group, it seemed a logical team-up; only by 1986, Cannon was showing signs of financial fatigue. Arkoff and son had a supernatural action picture titled 'Night Crawler' to have begun filming in the Fall of '86 with Cannon distributing; this never materialized and Arkoff's new company had far fewer films produced than it had on its ambitious slate.


Filmed in 1981, THE FINAL TERROR sat on the shelf for two years before finally seeing release around the US in 1983 (and on into 1984) after three of the main cast, Daryl Hannah (BLADE RUNNER; SPLASH), Rachel Ward (SHARKY'S MACHINE; THE THORN BIRDS), and Adrian Zmed (T.J. HOOKER) hit the big time. The film itself isn't well known for being a sterling example of the form; but is notable for being one of, if not the slasher picture with the biggest future stars in it.

The same year THE FINAL TERROR was released, Joe Pantoliano had appeared in RISKY BUSINESS and EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (both 1983). More high-profile productions followed, including THE FUGITIVE (1993) wherein Pantoliano worked with director Davis again.

Lewis Smith (at right with Adrian Zmed at left) got the gig on SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981) from this picture. He went on to appear in BUCKAROO BANZAI (1984), the famous miniseries NORTH AND SOUTH (1985-1986), and the lead in the comedy THE HEAVENLY KID (1985).

Made at the height of the slasher craze, director Andrew Davis got the job based on his work helming the 1978 drama STONY ISLAND. His first and only horror movie, Davis does a remarkable job of hitting the right notes, but glaringly misses the one area audiences went to these movie for--the body count and gore. Davis went on to an extraordinary career in action-thrillers, directing one of Chuck Norris's best pictures in CODE OF SILENCE (1985); Steven Seagal in UNDER SIEGE (1992); and Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford in THE FUGITIVE (1993) to name a few.

There are bloody scenes, but nothing in the league of any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH pictures or other slasher-in-the-woods movies like MADMAN (1981), THE BURNING (1981); or even the hilariously stupid DON'T GO IN THE WOODS ALONE (1982). THE PREY (1984) is another such picture, and shares more in common with Davis's movie than the others. It was filmed in 1979 but didn't see exhibition on a theater screen till November of 1983 and on into 1984. It, too, took advantage of California wilderness locations. Working with a lower budget, it surpasses Davis's slasher by doing more with its premise.

Aside from betraying two of the genres major commandments (thou shalt kill and thou shalt kill creatively), THE FINAL TERROR follows the template established by the runaway success of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). There are some body parts and other decaying items once belonging to the living, and a moderately gruesome death scene where a copulating couple climax in an unexpected fashion. Reportedly, the reason the film sat on a shelf for two years was because there were not enough kills in the movie. A pre-credits sequence was shot without Davis's involvement that added two additional victims, bringing the films total to five.

On the theatrical poster it asks, "Can anyone survive?" Yes, most of them do! Without the two added deaths you've got two kills out of ten plus the killer to make three. This being a slasher movie it's baffling the script (co-written by Jon George, Neill Hicks, and Ronald Shusett of ALIEN [1979]) would cram so many characters into it and do horrible things to so few of them.

THE FINAL TERROR's low gore quotient and preference for making its natural surroundings a character shares equal kinship with the likes of the underrated slashers RITUALS (1976) and JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). Davis's movie likewise has commonality with John Boorman's 1972 classic DELIVERANCE. It favors those films' leaning towards building tension as opposed to creative, and voluminous numbers of kills.

In reference to the natural surroundings, another striking aspect of the production is its cinematography. That, too, is the work of cinema craftsman, Andrew Davis. He uses a pseudonym in the credits. He captures some great shots--not only of the massive, 400ft trees in Redwood, California, but also in moody moments whether it be a campfire, or a scene where the camouflaged killer stealthily enters and exits the frame. The finale, where the remaining campers discover the identity of the killer is exceptionally edited and shot.

The performances are uniformly strong across the board. With so many characters there's little room for exposition; although everyone is believable in their peril. The Dennis character, played by John Friedrich for example, is one of the more interesting in that he's the most comfortable sliding into survivalist mode when the group try to escape the wilderness alive. His sanity comes into question, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of time to explore this area; and it being a slasher movie, viewers really just want to see the kills that, equally unfortunate, are few and far between. At the time, critics were comparing him to Robert De Niro. Unfortunately, Friedrich quit the industry after completion on the television mini-series THE THORN BIRDS from 1983.

Aside from that, the script features some novel twists like a tense attack on a bus; and a character has their throat partially cut and survives upon having the wound sewn up. Another is the ending. It's a surprise and a bit of an eyebrow-raiser like the big reveal in the grossly underrated Canadian wilderness-set shocker, RITUALS (1976).


There's a lot to recommend here, just little of the primary ingredients that fueled this type of horror picture. Considering the cast, the acting is excellent for this sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, horror fans don't watch these movies for the performances. Slasher devotees and 80s horror fanatics will appreciate THE FINAL TERROR the most; as well as those curious about what some future big stars were doing early in their careers. Others, though, will be expecting more than what they get; and will likely be relieved when it's FINALly over.

This review is representative of the Scream Factory Blu-ray/DVD combo. Specs and extras: 1080p anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1; interviews with actors Adrian Zmed, Lewis Smith; post production supervisor Allan Holzman; composer Susan Justin; audio commentary with director Andrew Davis; photo gallery; theatrical trailer; running time: 01:23:56


Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.