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Don’t Open That Door! #56: 'Attack of the Crab Monsters' (1957)

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Thursday, Sep 26, 2013
Welcome to our ongoing field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: giant invertebrates grow a little backbone in Attack of the Crab Monsters.
cover art

Attack of the Crab Monsters

Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson, Leslie Bradley, Mel Welles, Richard Cutting

(US theatrical: 10 Feb 1957)

Alternative title: I Dismember Mama.


POSITIVES:
+ Mayhem starts early.
+ Philosophical Europeans lend that “profound” feel.
+ Things just get more and more twisted.
+ Lots of uneasy moments, creeping dread and a few real shocks.
+ One of direcor Roger Corman’s best from the ‘50s.
  
NEGATIVES:
+ A bit slow at times, with a padded start that includes needless stock footage.
+ Cool idea + lame execution = lame monster.
+ Pointless “romance” element that crops up for about five seconds.


SYNOPSIS: It doesn’t take long for catastrophe to strike Scientific Expedition #2, sent to a deserted South Seas island in search of Scientific Expedition #1, which has vanished without a trace. The philosophical Monseiur Jules senses bad things on the island: “Something in the air is wrong”, he announces. This observation, dire though it is, turns out to be an understatement. Within minutes of landing on the beach, one crewman sees something that makes him lose his head, literally. With typical martial courage, the sailors skeedaddle, leaving the scientists to figure out what’s going on. Good luck!




Those scientists—brooding botanist Jules, worrywart geologist Dr James, bright-eyed biologists Dr Marti and Dr Dale, and pragmatic nuclear physicist Herr Dr Karl—don’t enjoy much downtime before the shellfish hits the fan. Fortunately for them, Navy technician Hank is around to provide useful exposition for everyone to enjoy, and to provide introductions to the audience. But all this doesn’t do much good when the Navy supply plane leaves them behind—and then really leaves them stranded. Meanwhile, large holes start appearing in the ground—weird, huh?—and voices of the deceased Expedition #1 members start calling in the night. Really weird, huh?


But not half as weird as things are going to get. James gets stuck in an underground cavern, and the others follow his voice to rescue him. But they turn back as night comes on, even as something large and claw-endowed wrecks their living quarters and shortwave radio. Meanwhile, back in the cave again, our stalwart researcher heroes take a few more hits. (And not just in the cave, come to think of it.) As our rapidly-dwindling cadre dwindles even further, it becomes apparent that a.) our scientist pals are being consumed by large, clawed monsters; b.) their disembodied voices are continuing to speak in the night, luring the others to their doom, and c.) all those lingering shots of crabs on the beach have some significance beyond their natural-history appeal.


Dr Karl gets a working theory together—that these radioactive crab monsters are assimilating the minds of their digested victims, thus turning them into a sort of uber-shellfish—but it’s alert Dr Marti who realizes that at least one of the critters is a pregnant female about to give birth. Ah—this might be a really good time to get off that island.



Best lines of dialogue in the movie: “Once they were men. Now they’re land crabs.”


What gets fatally pincered: Scientific Expedition #1 (by report); a sailor; an airplane; a scientist; a scientist’s hand; a couple more sailors; another scientist; some large invertebrates; yet another scientist; a non-scientist; a multi-legged mother-to-be.


What gets saved: A relationship of sorts, though the details are vague.


Moral of the story: Shellfish is tricky.


Party game: Play “Do Me”. Each player pretends to be an identity-sucking monster from hell who has absorbed someone else’s personality, and has 30 seconds to do their best impersonation of the person so absorbed. Best impersonation wins. Note: For added randomness, players can draw names out of a hat, so there is no control over who mimics whom.


Somehow their careers survived: Richard Garland (Dr Dale) also starred in Corman’s 1957 offerring The Undead, as well as Panic in Year Zero! (1962), Mutiny in Outer Space (1965), and much TV. Pamela Duncan (Dr Marti) also starred in The Undead; Russell Johnson (Hank) worked mainly in TV in the ‘60s to the ‘90s, including his most famous role as the Professor on Gilligan’s Island (1964-67). Leslie Bradley (Dr Karl) had played King Nebuchadnezzar in Slaves of Babylon (1953), while Mel Welles (Dr Jules) would appear in such Corman projects as The Undead and Rock All Night (both 1957) and the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960). Richard Cutting (Dr James) would feature in other Corman projects too, as well as non-Corman efforts like The Monolith Monsters (1957).




BOTTOM LINE: Doing much with a modest budget, the movie introduces one of the more unusual and warped monsters of the era.


NEXT TIME: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)


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