Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Killer Shrews


I think we all have a movie or two that is important to us for one reason or another. This one takes me back to the Don Drive-in, on the outskirts of Port Arthur, Texas. It was a single screen, with a second screen added after I left home. And the screen was not just a flat billboard, it was a tall, wide, skinny building with an apartment in the bottom where the manager lived. Every so often they had Dusk-to-Dawn nights, where they would show four or five movies around a certain theme. Beach party movies. Westerns. Vincent Price Edgar Allen Poe movies. And trashy science fiction. I would borrow my father’s 1953 Hudson and pick up Phil and Calvin and Jan, and we would head to the Don with a big sack of popcorn and some warm Cokes. If we didn’t have all the money we needed, one of the guys would get in the big, roomy trunk. We never got caught. We would light up a Pic coil (“Pic picks on mosquitoes!”) and settle in for the long haul.

Naturally we talked a lot, about all sorts of stuff, but we actually watched the movies, too. This was one of them, and I remember that we laughed so hard it hurt. The giant, killer shrews were hand puppets for the close shots, and coonhounds with masks attached to their faces and shaggy rugs draped over their bodies for the longer shots. We seldom saw them for more than a second because they were so dreadful and cheap. But when you did see them, it was impossible not to laugh.

The whole thing was shot outside Dallas in a few days, on a budget of around $1.98. When it was in the can, they used the same cast in filming The Giant Gila Monster. I don’t think we saw that one, though we saw the “giant” everything else at the Don sooner or later, like tarantulas and scorpions and ants. Of the seven cast members, two of them actually had careers in movies a lot better than this. James Best seems to have been in just about all the western movies and TV shows from 1950 to 2000. Small parts, but consistent work. And Ken Curtis made a career of playing ignorant hayseeds, mostly famously as Festus on Gunsmoke. For some reason I don’t remember Festus, though I must have seen him. I just recall Chester limping along beside Marshall Dillon.

Oh, and the “idea” behind it all is that real shrews have to eat their body weight or more every day to stay alive. This is, of course, because they are so small and have to maintain a high metabolism. If one were blown up to the size of a coonhound they couldn’t do that, because of the square/cube law. But that never stopped moviemakers from showing ants the size of garbage trucks that would not have been able to stand up, much less walk.