The Killer Shrews
But did those white-coated, PHD-holding minions of scientific reason in The Killer Shrews listen? Were their ears puckered up in the direction of good ol’ Hannah when she scribbled those words (as vociferous as her pen was)? Did instruments drop to the floor in a startling outburst of realisation, clipboards and microscopes cast-off to dark corners in a fit of revolt?
Quite obviously not, but had they in fact done so, I’d happily suppose that they wouldn’t have engineered a pack of vicious, marauding giant shrews, desperate to consume ninety-times their own body-weight in succulent human meat. But at the same time, and here’s the paradoxical moment, if they had succumb to sensible rationales and ceased their heinous experimentation, the world would not have been gifted a fine film by the name of The Killer Shrews.
You could say that if it never exists, no one would be able to miss it – but my life would still somehow feel empty, there’d be a huge gap deep down in my sternum, one that pines for colossal rodents.
It’s difficult not to love a good science-gone-wrong story. Scientists with a tint of dementia are frequently wonderful to witness on-screen, and although these guys aren’t quite up to the level of Seth Brundle or Vincent Price’s brother, or even William Hurt’s devolving lunatic in Altered States, they still provide a fair bit of fun.
Turns out that a core of altruism prompts Craigis and co. to carry out their experiments. “Overpopulation,” the man says – that’s the underlying ethical issue. This dalliance in genetic mapping and all those double helixes is in order to control metabolism, or, to be more precise, to slow it down, decreasing the size of the organism and thus extending life-expectancy. “What?” you may say. Let Craigis explain it himself: “If we were half as big as we are now, we could live twice as long on our natural resources.”
It’s genius really. Forget Al Gore telling his truths. The Killer Shrews conveys a much more profound and inspirational message, and over forty years earlier too!
Just a shame it never quite worked out in the end. The shrews grow to gargantuan proportions and escape the confines of the laboratory, and, after eating everything reeking of flesh on the island, try to get into the house for the main course. And not only are they shrews magnified to the size of dogs, but their bite is also poisonous, “more poisonous than snakes!”
But, luckily for the residents, Thorne Sherman is here, and he’s “not concerned with all that theory.” Fuck your DNA, kicking ass is his job. Well, being a captain on a boat that delivers miscellanea to obscure islands off the
It isn’t just the shrew-serpents circulating outside that breeds suspense, for Ann’s amorous advances and Thorne’s own innate sleaze-senses produce tension between he and Jerry, the latter being her former-fiancé. And so many dirty stares are exchanged, some fisticuffs ignite, lots of “well he’s coming into the room, so I’m going to leave”-type of action. This strained domestic setting, plus the wider house-on-an-island locale, bring to mind
The ensemble being trapped inside the house, being assailed by a malevolent outside force, does tempt one to thrown in a reference to the Evil Dead trilogy, but also such fare as Night of the Living Dead and Tremors. Sadly this film has a lack of both intriguing sociological subtext and huge worms. To hell with shrews, give me some subterranean invertebrates any day.
Criticisms notwithstanding, there’s something wonderful about a film set entirely in one small location and featuring the leftovers of renegade-science and the renegade-scientists who effectuate it. It’s what makes films like Terror from the Year 5000 such classics. The Killer Shrews may not be up to that magnificent standard, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable sixty-nine minutes of sky-bound cutaways and stilted glances.