With it being the Halloween season, it seems appropriate to take note of a gruesome creature of movie land that may have haunted our dreams, or is kitschy enough to have made us roll our eyes in disbelief.
You’ve heard of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, giant ants, blobs, and even clowns. But what about shrews? A shrew is small mole-like animal that looks like a long-nosed mouse. They’re actually rather cute. Shrews are commonly found in North American gardens and farms, so maybe you’ve run across one.
But what about giant ferocious shrews? Now that’s something to reckon with. In 1959, during a period of science fiction film mania, shrews were enlarged in body size and teeth, to become The Killer Shrews.
As you might expect, there is a mad scientist involved. In this case, the scientist’s purpose is to shrink humans to half their size to reduce world hunger because he reasons that being smaller, humans will consume less food in a world with a limited food supply. Plausible, right? But his serum, which he’s been testing on the local unsuspecting shrew population, has instead created mutant giant shrews that have – gasp! – escaped and are now reproducing outside in the wild, growing larger and more voracious day-by-day.
Luckily, there is a rough and ready type to outsmart the shrews. And a lovely female to inspire him. Unfortunately, she brings along an inconvenient fiancé. But – spoiler-alert – the shrews make fast work of that guy.
So, what do ferocious killer shrews look like? Are you ready?
Um…they look kind of like…dogs. That’s because they are dogs! For wide shots, coonhounds were costumed as the shrews. Close-ups of the shrews were filmed using hand puppets.
If you watch the film’s trailer below, you may recognize one of the stars – James Best, who went on to become the inept sheriff of Hazzard County, Georgia, in the television series The Dukes of Hazzard that ran from 1979 to 1985.
It was James Best’s destiny was to reunite with the shrews when he appeared in a 2012 remake, The Return of the Killer Shrews, that featured somewhat more high-tech shrews courtesy of computer-generated imagery. And – guess what – his Dukes of Hazzard former nemesis Bo Duke (John Schneider) was in on the fun too.
So, if you’re considering which Halloween costume to don this year, why not try for the killer shrew look? Or possibly you can costume your dog, especially if it’s a coonhound.
The American Heritage Center has a treasure trove of movie posters and publicity stills that attest to the popularity of science fiction and horror genres, particularly during the 1950s.