Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1956)
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson
Reckon I’m long overdue for one of these things aren’t I. Sorry. Struggling to even write a shopping list at the moment, but here goes… This time I’m going to sail us to the island of a Corman cheapie. Might stay awhile so bring yer cozzie just in case. May contain a crafty crustacean or two and spoilers…
A group of esteemed scientists is deposited on a desert island to investigate the effects of fall-out from the Bikini Atoll atomic bombs. But here’s the thing; another bunch of scientists already sent here to do the very same thing has vanished! The Navy reckons they were lost at sea during a storm but nuclear physicist Karl ‘raincoat on a desert island’ Weigand (Lesley Bradley) suspects something more sinister and spends most of the film teasing his cohorts with morsels of wisdom rather than just, like, y’know, telling them what he thinks happened (and I doubt that, at any point, giant brain eating crabs were ever on his radar). The island itself is wracked by unnatural seismic convulsions and when the voice of a missing boffin starts calling out to members of the startled team, things take a slalom for the bizarre. The scientist, you see, is nowhere to be seen; the giant crab monsters, however, are unmissable (unless your name is Dale, more on him later)…
‘Lunatic’ doesn’t even begin to describe Attack Of The Crab Monsters. The version I watched was a little over 60 minutes in duration and opens as if you’ve missed the first third already. No city-set ‘putting the team together’ montage, no troubled frown-swathed parley on an inbound airplane… absolutely no messing around whatsoever. I understand there should’ve been an opening crawl to fill in a few blanks for the audience, but not on my version; I just got a doleful Biblical recital about God being pissed off with Man. Simply, the expert troupe rocks up at the island and off we jolly well go! Before you’ve even begun to adjust to the lack of a 20-minute scene setting prelude, an underwater creature with bin liner eyelids confiscates the head of a hapless boat crewman who sploshed over the side of the delivery dinghy. He’s in about 3-foot of water, could probably stand up waist-deep, yet suddenly he appears to have plunged into the Marianas Trench. Barely have we recovered from this shocker when the departing navy transport plane inexplicably explodes. No, really, it’s inexplicable, it just blows up with barely a wonder ‘why’. Lumbered with a wonky radio and no way of contacting civilisation, the team is effectively stranded.
So, yeh, the disembodied voice of missing presumed dead scientist ‘McLane’ rambles on in a chummy conversational manner. This extraordinary development is exacerbated when geologist Jim Carson (Richard Cutting) falls off a cliff while investigating said voice. A cave-mounted rescue is effected but even though they hear him chatting to them somewhere nearby, wary Weigand calls off the search till morning without a hint of an explanation – “We will not find him tonight…” Not find him? Your seriously injured colleague is apparently just around the next rocky feckin corner! He has good reason, of course, but it’s a secret. The second attempt fairs little better; a cave-in floors botanist and ‘light relief’ Jules Deveroux (Mel Welles) and a falling rock severs his hand. Quite rightly Weigand is eager to remove Jules from further mishap – “Give us a hand…,” he gestures to a couple of crewmen. Blimey, kick a bloke when he’s down, why don’t you! Tell you what as well, dead funny this… 33 minutes in, right, in answer to eerie voices, Jules drags himself from his sick bed and as he staggers through a door he clearly parps one out, made all the funnier by the serious music. Put some edphones on, listen to it and tell me I’m wrong…
When the first crab monster incursion arrives ludicrousness abounds. Biologists Dale Brewer (Richard Garland) and Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan) are chillin back at base when they hear a strange noise in another room. Dale arms himself and bravely enters but the weapon is knocked from his hand by a giant pincer and he is forced to beat a hasty retreat. During the aftermath, he describes the incident but appears somewhat confused. “Considering the size of the thing that did all of this…” he says to Martha, so he seems fairly sure of what he was dealing with. But then seconds later – “Whatever it was that did this…” Whatever it was? Mate, may I draw your attention to (a) the size of the room, (b) the size of the crab, (c) you were present and (d) you tried to shoot it. Pincer aside – giant pincer aside – was the rest of the bugger hiding behind a pencil case making an exact ID impossible? These two are qualified as biologists through an extended underwater sequence (she’s a marine biologist; he does the dry land) with them skoobering around the ocean floor… I say ocean floor, what I mean is ‘a fish tank’. At one point you can even see what’s outside the tank reflected in the glass. There’s an attempt to lever some jeopardy into the scene, an insert of a giant crab opening its bin liners menacingly, but nothing happens, they don’t get chased or owt. Corman’s saving that for later…
After the obligatory scientific explanation containing bollocks about there being ‘no cohesion between the (crab) atoms…’ it transpires that the mutated crabs are able to absorb the minds of their victims and thereby mimic the voices of those they have slain, hence McLane and now Carson. As Dale succinctly observes – “Once they were men; now they are land crabs.” Also, they communicate via metal objects – “Harken to all things metal for I may be in them…” – so you’re treated to the joyous sight of actors talking to a candle holder. The crabs are reducing the island to dust using burgled dynamite until there is nowhere left for the humans to run and in the meantime are lying doggo in the caves to “… plan our assault on the world of men.” The crabs themselves are shonk-tastic, you can see the wires working them but more importantly, they’re fun to watch. Then again, you can also see the wires cueing the little live crabs; I think the technical term is ‘acting incentive string’. ‘Carson’ crab loves to taunt the dwindling group as they ineffectively try to shoot, explode or chop up the ginormous crustacean: “So! You have wounded me and I must grow a new claw! Well and good, for I can do it in a day. But can you grow new lives when I have taken yours from you!” See, in Transcendence, all they had to do was feed Depp’s brain to one of these mutant irradiated crabs, no need for all that fiddly ripping his mind to a floppy disc business.
Corman attempts to shoehorn romantic intrigue into the mix but it looks like an afterthought. Dale and Martha are a couple, then completely out of nowhere, at a crucial moment of peril in the caves, heroic handyman Hank Chapman (Russell Johnson) suddenly throws himself at Martha – and she seems keen but they are rudely interrupted by a snoring giant crab. Later, alone together and in relative safety, she’s changed her mind and poor Hank looks a bit glum about the turnaround. There’s no need for any of that stuff, particularly given the slim running time and Corman’s adherence to action; if anyone dares have a conversation in this flick either an earthquake hits, a mystery noise disturbs them or a giant crab trundles into frame. He shoots fast and straight and the film is all the better for it. Odd then, with the finale in view, the director chooses to send Karl and Dale on a totally irrelevant trek to each follow a trail of oil, released from within the splitting island. It just seems to be a way to get Karl back into the crab’s den whereupon Professor Idiot steps on his own pre-set electricity trap.
What else is there to say? Awry continuity, terrible acting, laughable script, etc… Daft stuff like Dale referred to as ‘Brewer’ in the film but the end credits list him as ‘Drewer’. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. All that aside, the only thing I can seriously criticise Attack Of The Crab Monsters for is the po-faced nature of the performers; the script is taken way too sincerely. But why bother being churlish toward a film as slight as this. I mean, mutant crabs absorbing human intellect – full marks for imagination. And I liked the funky animated opening credits too. They do suggest you’re in for a more comedic tone and maybe Corman should’ve leaned in that direction – it needed a Tremors approach. In fact, I’ve seen a comment attributed to Corman that does imply he was going for the humour/ horror approach; I’m not seeing ‘parody’ myself, maybe it’s just me… But, hey, it is what it is, plus it turned out to be one of his most profitable movies.
You see this on telly, late night – have it. It’s complete rubbish but at an hour, it ain’t gonna eat too much of a hole out of your life.
I’m giving Corman 2 Crab Pastes out of 5 for this one
ThereWolf, February 2015