That Cute Little Bug

Guinness Book doesn’t track the record for most stock footage in a studio-produced movie, although that record is likely still held by The Deadly Mantis over 60 years later. Shrewdly economical, Deadly Mantis recycles the big bug genre in all of its forms – and walks away one of the best of its kind.

Enamored with the World War II homefront, opening scenes of soldiers scrambling, radar dishes circling, jets taking off, and jobs created build toward a sense of peacetime tranquility. It’s hopelessly expository and simultaneously, breathlessly patriotic – and every ounce drawn from Universal’s vaults. Short of one brief look at the title monster under ice, it isn’t until six minutes that any new live action footage is spotted.

It’s suggested a volcanic eruption set free the prehistoric insect. 1957 was too early for climate change fears, although the litany of collapsing icebergs (all stock footage) gives Deadly Mantis some modern footing. Regardless of the cause, this is a movie concerned about security. It’s a post-WWII lark, enamored with how safe America made the skies for all. Once unleashed from ice and flying erratically around the United States, civilian spotters begin picking up the beast with their trained eyes. Nothing gets past America.

… every cut of Deadly Mantis’ climax is classic without due credit as such

Produced for relative pocket change, Deadly Mantis doesn’t only find itself ensnared by a blustery take on military men doing military things. It’s a lot of that too, but consider the routinely excellent miniature and rod puppets that bring this one to life. It’s seamlessly done. Paired with an evocative score (with a masterful discordant piano) and the bug’s signature droning buzz, Deadly Mantis composes a capable, alluring threat – even if the mantis doesn’t do much of anything.

“It attacks Washington!” spouts marketing, but “attacks” is a stretch. The Mantis latches onto the Washington monument without so much as dislodging a brick before flying away. That sets up the finale in New York, a chiller of a sequence that pits military against bug in a smoky tunnel. In terms of ‘50s man-versus-giant cinema, it’s as effective of a finish as they come. The mood, the look, the tension, the charging monster; every cut of Deadly Mantis’ climax is classic without due credit as such.

Up to those events, the pitiful characterization matters not in this barely 75-minute romp. The script finds a few memorable lines (“Where are they? Where are the bodies?!”) to keep the non-mystery progressing. Scenes of active military undoubtedly evoked pride during their time. This genre is flush with proud Generals taking charge, but Deadly Mantis is infatuated with the processes, if only to kill time. Still though, there’s a genuine spark here. Deadly Mantis is well charged. Derivative, sloppy, and cheap, but charged.


Shout debuts a new 2K scan from “original film elements,” without stating what those film elements are. Playing a guessing game, this is one better than a release print, if a few generations removed from the camera negative. Thankfully, leftover anxiety over Shout’s cruddy Mole People Blu-ray quickly fade.

That results in a pleasing if rough HD presentation. Resolution isn’t exacting or as sharp as better masters, but still produces appreciable detail on occasion. Where stock footage isn’t involved, mild texture jumps forward. The miniature mantis puppet looks outstanding when in the clear, exhibiting sharpness well beyond the prior DVD issue.

A hefty grain structure remains stable, problematic when faced with haze or fog. Those scenes noticeably degrade by way of compression. Encoding does well to handle the rest, natural, pure, and resolved. Gray scale runs a little flat, pinched before reaching pure white and avoiding true black, settling more into a center.

Acceptable levels of dirt and damage appear on “new” footage. Anything inserted from storage (some of this pulled from as early as the ‘30s) varies wildly, as expected.


Save for a few moments late, again where stock footage is concerned, the rest of this DTS-HD mono effort doesn’t struggle at all. It’s pure vintage audio, nicely analog in texture, with well rendered dialog and vivid scoring. All of the gritty lows sound superb, with violins and horns reaching peaks without fault.

Unlike the visual side, there’s no audible damage to note. Hiss, static, and popping take the day off. Pristine dialog renders all lines intelligible.


Shout brings in historian Tom Weaver (and two guests, briefly) for a commentary track, a great listen given Weaver’s incredible knowledge base and humor. A nice stills gallery, trailer, and the Mystery Science Theater episode featuring The Deadly Mantis follow up.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Deadly Mantis
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Cheap but shrewdly put together, The Deadly Mantis is one of the best of the ’50s giant bug flicks in spite of stretches of stock footage.

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