Bad Movies Beware!
Ah, the 50s!
The 1950s was known as the heyday for monster flicks much like the 1980s was known as the decade for the slasher film. Gems (and donkey turds) like Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Blob, Gojira (Godzilla to us simple Western folk), Them, and the infamous Creature from the Black Lagoon mark a mere few that came from the era of maniacal monster madness.
Throw in the advent of 3D, and you change the game completely. Most notable, of course, was Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Thing is, these movies all followed a very basic formula, much like slasher films. You have the hero, the monster, and a weak storyline that usually involved either a radioactive fallout/leak, or a science experiment gone horribly wrong that results in either the scientist or someone he knows turning into something inhuman.
Then again, this does take place during the Manhattan Project, so yeah.
Attack of the Crab Monsters follows this same, very basic formula. We have a group of researchers who go to an island to investigate the disappearance of a fellow scientist named McClain. The group is instantly attacked. Something under the water comes after them, and one of the seamen (hee-hee-hee!) is decapitated by the unseen animal.
The group pretty much shrugs and moves on.
We have Dr. Weigand; Dr. Deveroux; Dr. Jim; Martha and her fiancé, Dale; Hank; Seaman Ron; and Seaman Jack (yeah, I made that joke, too).
An airplane approaches for whatever random reason and explodes in mid air. The group is shocked, then goes on with their day looking at research while they set up at a nearby house
Wait a damn minute. You mean to tell me y’all just watched your ticket off the island explode, and you don’t give a s**t? You saw one of your crew get decapitated, and it’s all good?
They discover a chunk of flesh that seems indestructible lying on the ground and begin to wonder what they’re up against during their search for McClain. Weigand seems to know something, but he keeps it from the group.
During the night, they hear the sound of explosions around the island. Martha and Jim hear McClain’s voice calling to them. They get up the next day to find that a good portion of the island is now gone and that there’s a large sinkhole not far from the house. Jim decides to go spelunking and ends up falling in.
It gets really obvious that Weigand is hiding something, but they never really flesh that one out. After a few more “the island is sinking!” moments, the crabs start picking off the group one by one by luring them out into the open with their colleagues’ voices.
Yup. Talking crabs.
In the defense of the atypical 50s monster flick, there is a damn good-sounding explanation. The crabs absorb genetic material when they eat, including the brain, which gives them the ability to take on the minds of the people they eat.
Another confrontation, and the crabs are officially revealed…what in the name of Sarah Jessica Parker’s teeth?!
A human face. The crab has a human face.
Martha, Weigand, Dale, and Hank figure out that the crab will die if shocked, and they set up a trap in the caves. The crab takes out Weigand, but Hank is able to climb a random electrical tower and tip it over, shocking the crab and killing himself in the process. Martha cries that he sacrificed himself to save them, and Dale ends it with a profound, “I know.”
The End. Credits.
Yeah, feelin’ kind of cheated here.
VERDICT: Hired a hooker for a hug and a handshake.
Not that I’ve ever hired a hooker, but I’m pretty sure they don’t offer a “Work You Up and Leave You Hanging” package.
Okay, the actual verdict: What can I really say about this movie? I mean, it really does meet expectations. It’s a typical 50s formulaic monster movie. Bad acting, weak storyline, stupid decisions from the characters, and monsters that look like something out of a gumball machine.
The acting isn’t really all that horrendous, but it isn’t fantastic, either. The American actors use the Midwestern dialect that was popular in vocal training at that time (“cah” instead of “car,” and so on), and the accents from the German and French doctors were overdone. In truth, though, the actors did a decent job of selling their character quirks. Martha is a bit of a hussy—she’s engaged to Dale but sweet as she can be on Hank, which makes her a little bit unlikable. Weigand is secretive, and Deveroux is stereotypically clueless. Add in the seamen (heh) who might as well be wearing headbands that say “DEAD,” and you have the cliché monster movie cast indicative of the era.
The effects are 100% practical, right down to camera tricks to make the crab puppets enormous. You only ever see a claw until the big reveal, but the human faces just killed me. It made the crabs look like aliens, even though they were just supposed to be average saltwater crabs that got into some radiation.
Crab. I mean “crab.” As in one.
As shallow as it seems, this was my major gripe with the film. It implied multiple crabs with the title, but it turns out to be only one crab that has taken on the personalities of each of the people it’s eaten and uses them interchangeably. That one was rich. A talking giant crab.
All I’m saying is that I was promised multiple monsters and I only got one.
Hey, there’s a t-shirt idea!
The sound is actually really good. Having grown up on the coast and in the South Carolina marshlands, I’m more than familiar with the sound of crabs walking around. The crackling is fairly spot on, and the attempt to make it sound like a giant crab walking around isn’t far off at all. The booming is the severely overused “explosion” sound from the studios of the day, but the other effects were done pretty well.
I guess what gets me about Attack of the Crab Monsters is the lack of commentary. Monster flicks generally have some kind of social commentary, usually in the form of finger-wagging. Godzilla was all about the effects of radiation on Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also about man’s effect on the planet with all the nuclear testing. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a look at collective brainwashing that results in conformists hunting down non-conformists. Them is a little weaker but still focuses on the effects of nuclear radiation on living things.
I could go on and on, but the point is that Attack of the Crab Monsters really only alludes to something along the lines of radiation but never really goes into it. And, frankly, it’s f**king maddening. Not that all movies have to mean something, but this movie really isn’t even fun to watch, though it does move rather quickly.
I’ll give it 2 Piles of S**t. It follows the formula pretty well and it’s paced really well, but it reaches in places where it shouldn’t just to force things along. Add in some of the random dialogue and the goofy-looking crabs, and you’ve really got not much more than thanking your lucky stars that you didn’t find these things swarming your pants in college.
If so, see a doctor. Damn it, man.