The Killer Shrews/I Bury the Living 2001 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
There are lots of double-bill DVDs that put together B-movies from the 1950s in all sorts of interesting combinations, and with “The Killer Shrews”/“I Bury the Living” you get one of the better ones even though we are not talking about a natural combo here. “The Killer Shrews,” a 1959 movie that takes itself seriously despite having Miss Universe 1957, dogs dressed up in shag carpets, rubber heads with big teeth, and an escape plan that you have to see to believe. This one has to be on my list of top ten bad monster movies. Thorne Sherman (James Best) delivers supplies to an island just as a hurricane is coming. He wants to wait out the story, but Dr. Milo Craigis (Baruch Lumet) wants Thorne to leave right away and take his daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, Miss Sweden 1956 and then Miss Universe 1957), with him. The Doctor sounds German while his daughter has a very interesting Swedish accent, but that is not the biggest mystery on the island.
Dr. Craigis is concerned with over population and apparently his idea is was to shrink people to make food go farther. To this end he experiments with the DNA of shrews who (a) grow to the size of dogs wearing shag carpeting, (b) have all of their worst traits becoming dominant, and (c) develop poison saliva. You would think that any one of those three could cause problems when there are 300 shrews running around on an island, but no, all three happen. The number of humans starts dwindling as the shrews need desert after eating all of the livestock on the island, so everybody starts drinking more (think about it: do you really want DRUNK giant vicious shrews with poison saliva?). Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis) decides that Ann sparking to Thorne is worse than having giant shrews attacking them, but soon sees the error of his ways and decides that going up on the roof would be a good idea. That is also because he thinks that the idea that Thorne comes up with to escape to the boat is stupid, but I have to say, in terms of 1950s black & white monster movies this plan actually makes sense.
Special mention must be made of Gordon McLendon who plays Dr. Radford Baines, the dedicated assistant to Dr. Craigis and who remains the consummate scientist even once he has been bitten. His death sets up what is probably the funniest line of the movie until we get to the end where the last exchange of dialogue provides a pretty funny punch line to the entire experience of pure terror trying to get away from the giant vicious shrews with poison saliva. There is just too much to enjoy in this movie, from listening to Goude’s accent (you know it has to be Swedish but it does not sound Swedish and trying to figure out what it does sound like will drive you crazy), to watching the dogs covered in carpet frolick around the silly humans rolling on the ground, and waiting for one of the teeth on the rubber shrew heads to get caught on something and break off. “The Killer Shrews” is my kind of 5-star classic bad movie..
“I Bury the Living” is one of the best long episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” except that this 1958 film came out a year before the classic television anthology series started and the script was not written by Rod Serling but by Louis Garfinkle (who would eventually get a story credit for “The Deer Hunter”). But you watch this movie and you would swear it was a “Zone” episode. Richard Kraft (Richard Boone), is a local businessman who becomes the committee chairman of Immortal Hills Cemetery. In the cemetery office there is a huge map of the cemetery, with white pins for the unoccupied plots and black pins for the occupied plots. The first day on the job a young couple purchase plots and Kraft accidentally puts black pins instead of white to make their plots on the map. When the couple are killed in a car accident, Kraft is understandably spooked. He picks a name at random and substitutes a black pin for a white and again the person suddenly dies. Kraft is now becoming convinced that he has the power to kill anybody by put a black pin on their plot.
Obviously at some point Kraft is going to see what happens when he substitutes a white pin for a black one, but what helps this film avoid becoming painfully predictable is that Kraft does not hide his fears. He tells his fiancé (Peggy Maurer), a reporter (Herbert Anderson), a cop (Robert Osterloh), and the other members of the cemetery committee. They all insist what is happening is mere coincidence, and come up with ways to test this hypothesis. The only person who takes Kraft seriously is Andy McKee (Theodore Bikel), the old caretaker that the committee is trying to get to retire.
Boone’s performance underplays the part a bit too much. There is a fine line between restraint and lethargy, but you cannot argue with the fact that he is not forcing the character and is leaving ample room for the viewers to impose their worst imaginings on Kraft’s plight. But director Albert Band and cinematographer Frederick Gately deserve most of the credit for what works best here with some quite stylish camera shots and a rather effective use of close ups on the pin pushing. What will make or break this film for you is whether or not you think the ending works in terms of the set up. I was a bit disappointed in this regard and would end up rounding down to 4-stars, but otherwise this is a very solid black & white chiller. As I said up top, this is an unusual double-bill because they are entertaining in quite different ways. “The Killer Shrews” would match up better with “The Brain That Would Not Die” and “I Bury the Living” should go with something like “Dementia 13,” but if you get two movies worth seeing on one of these DVDs you are way ahead of the game.