From the video case:
A remote Pacific atoll is besieged by a horde of giant land crabs that devour members of a scientific expedition. A good thriller that seemed better when you were a kid, but still a lot of fun. Roger Corman directed this low-budget movie. (1957, b&w)
With a title like Attack of the Crab Monsters, and Roger Corman (The Wasp Woman, It Conquered the World) credited as producer and director, you have a good idea as what to expect from this film: low-budget schlock entertainment.
However, I must stress that some people have a fond attachment to Attack of the Crab Monsters. While I credit some camp value to the movie, others attribute actual virtues to it. One of my favorite science fiction film critics, Bill Warren, states in his review from Keep Watching the Skies:
It takes more than a trite title and inept monsters to make a bad film, if other elements are handled well. This is true despite the beliefs of cheap cynics such as those who wrote The 50 Worst Films of All Time and The Golden Turkey Awards, who seem to feel that seeing a film isn’t necessary to determine if it is good or bad – all that counts for some pictures is to have a silly title. Attack of the Crab Monsters has a foolish title, but is definitely a case to prove the contrary.
Warren further states that the “plot and gimmicks are nicely sewn together,” and credits it with having “a vein of humor running through the film.” I agree that there is plenty of humor, but I think most of it is of the unintentional variety.
As the video description states, a scientific expedition arrives at a remote atoll in the Pacific on a mission to discover what happened to the first expedition that seemingly vanished into thin air. All they have to work from is the journal of Dr. McClain, a scientist from the first campaign.
At the outset of the film we are treated to several shots of atomic bomb stock footage. Immediately we deduce that the island is populated by radiation-mutated crabs (actually, only two, not the “horde” the description suggests.)
Eventually we discover that the giant crabs are blasting away the atoll as a means of cornering and devouring the members of the expedition. The crabs absorb the minds of their victims and, using the voices of their devoured prey, lure in other members of the team. One of my favorite pieces of dialog occurs after Karl (Leslie Bradley) has announced his theory to the group:
Dale: “That means that the crab can eat his victim’s brain, absorbing his mind intact and working.”
Karl: “It’s as good a theory as any other to explain what’s happened.”
The male lead, Dale, is played by Richard Garland (Panic in Year Zero). Dale is a rather dull character, and is upstaged by almost everyone else in the cast. Pamela Duncan (The Undead) plays Martha Hunter, the only female on the expedition, and Dale’s fiancee. You’ll recognize Russell Johnson (It Came from Outer Space, This Island Earth) as Hank, the “technician and handy man” of the group. Hank is a significant character and at one point almost forms a romantic bond with Martha. In the final reel, it is Hank that proves to be the true hero.
Other familiar faces include Mel Welles (The Little Shop of Horrors) as Jules Deveroux; Richard H. Cutting (The Monolith Monsters) as Dr. James Carson; Beach Dickerson (Creature from the Haunted Sea) as Ron Fellows, and Ed Nelson (Night of the Blood Beast) plays Ensign Quinlan.
The monster itself is a ridiculous contraption (see image above) with a somewhat human face, including eyelids that open and shut. Because it was built with Styrofoam, they had a difficult time keeping the beast submerged, hence the lack of underwater scenes with the creature. On a similar note, Pamela Duncan says that the scuba equipment she was given was too big and so a man was “padded out” and did all the doubling for her underwater. (I, personally, have never been able to pinpoint a scene where it appears that a man is playing the part of Pamela Duncan.)
The script was hastily written by Charles B. Griffith (Not of this Earth, A Bucket of Blood) and appears to have some underdeveloped (or perhaps, edited) ideas. For example, in an early scene, as the expedition is reading from McClain’s journal, a giant “worm-like creature” is mentioned, giving us the notion that more than crabs were affected by the radiation. However, we never get a glimpse of any giant worms, and only one minor reference is made to the worm again.
In all fairness, I must say that this is a movie I did not see as a child, and so it does not get the benefit of “nostalgia value” that boosts the ratings of similar films I’ve reviewed. Though Attack of the Crab Monsters isn’t one of my favorite low-budget treasures, it enjoys a “cult classic” status, and does have its fun moments.
Scene to watch for: Jules loses his hand in a gratuitously gory scene. Ouch.
Line to listen for: “Once they were men. Now they are land crabs.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.