Killer Shrews, The (1959): Ray Kellogg’s Sci-Fi, Starring James Best, Ingrid Goude, and Ken Curtis

A modest but engaging sci-fi indie (made on a budget of about $100,000). The Killer Shrews was helmed by Ray Kellog (in impressive directing debut), starring James Best, Ingrid Goude, and Ken Curtis.

James Best plays Captain Thorne Sherman (James Best) who, along with first mate Rook Griswold (“Judge” Henry Dupree) deliver supplies by boat to a remote island.

The group there, consists of scientist Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet), his research assistant Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon), the scientist’s daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude), her recent fiancé Jerry Farrel (Ken Curtis) and a servant Mario (Alfred DeSoto).

The members resist the visitors staying overnight, despite the threat of a hurricane. Even so, Thorne goes to their compound, while Griswold stays with the boat.

While there, Thorne becomes aware of a life-threatening situation: Marlowe Cragis is conducting research on serums, using shrews as test animals. The goal is to shrink humans to half their size in order to reduce world hunger, based on the rationale that smaller humans will consume less food in a world with a limited food supply.

Unfortunately, the doctor’s experiments have created mutant giant shrews that escaped, and are now reproducing outside, growing larger and more voracious. The scientist and his staff must barricade themselves inside the compound before sunsets. They hope that the shrews will kill each other once they have eaten living animals on the island..

Outside the compound, when the giant shrews run out of smaller animals to hunt and eat, they kill Griswold when he comes ashore.

Mario goes down to the basement and shoots the shrew, but not before it bites him. The shrew is then killed by Thorne, but Mario dies from the bite. Radford discovers a toxic venom in the shrew’s saliva, a result of the poisoned bait he had placed outside in an attempt to kill off the shrews. Another shrew bites Radford, who records the symptoms on his typewriter, up to the moment of his death.

The shrews begin to chew through the compound walls, and the group is forced to make impromptu armor by lashing together empty 50 gallon oil drums. Only Jerry remained, due to his phobia, watching the shrews chase after the well-protected group. He attempts to flee before being intercepted.

In the end Thorne and Ann, long attracted to each other, and Marlowe manage to reach the beach and swim out to the boat.

To save on production costs, The Killer Shrews was shot outside Dallas, Texas back-to-back with another sci-fi, The Giant Gila Monster.

Special effects were supervised by director Kellogg, who had served as head Fox’s Special Effects Department in the 1950s. Close-ups of the shrews were shot using hand puppets, and for wider shots, coonhounds were costumed as the shrews

A successful regional indie, The Killer Shrews was popular at the box-office, grossing $1 million, against a production budget of $120,000, an input-output ratio of 1:8.

Release Date: June 25, 1969.

Running Time: 69 Minutes

End Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing this sci-fi on January 16, 2019.