Canine Dress-up

Although released in 1959, The Killer Shrews holds the vibes of a ‘30s or ‘40s era horror film. A mad doctor, weird science, a stormy, isolated location, and monsters galore fill this cheap schlock, which remarkably comes close to being wholly successful.

While stunted by ridiculous characterization and a pseudo-love triangle, people rushing (if anyone would do such a thing) to see The Killer Shrews likely walk away marginally impressed. Aside from Night of the Lepus and its killer rabbits, giant shrews rank among the dopiest creature ideas ever committed to film. That this movie elicits any chills at all is impressive.

At barely over an hour long, Killer Shrews doesn’t have time to bore

Much of the expository dialog exists to hype up the title critters. It’s necessary, as a mole-esque, mouse-sized mammal doesn’t appear to possess a killer instinct. Through early gene splicing, the goal of one Dr. Marlowe Craigis (Baruch Lumet) is forward thinking, discussing over population and the means to combat it. For that, the script shows scientific thought (some, anyway) rather than dealing in radioactive mutations, which seems just as likely given the absurdity of the concept.

Countless sources will note the full size shrews are nothing more than dogs wearing paint and fur jackets. But, like the script’s careful “science,” the dogs intelligently remain hidden by darkness, and are intercut with stiff yet eerie puppets to sell the idea, if not genuine horror. Yes, imagination is required, but seeing a pack of “shrews” running through a forest from a distance looks effective, certainly more so than many modern homemade digital beasts.

At barely over an hour long, Killer Shrews doesn’t have time to bore either, beginning in mystery as a ship captain makes a delivery to the island, then quickly entering into a hurricane that builds atmosphere. While hardly a risk taker, Killer Shrews stays carefully in its lane without venturing too far from the familiar material – or from its meager budget.

Video

A regular of exploitative public domain tapes and then discs, Killer Shrews is given its first genuine, caring pass for this release. The print shows little to no damage other than an occasional skipped frame or faded vertical scratch. Grain integrity holds up under the compression, although does carry some elements indicative of processing underneath. The impact, however, seems minor.

While not extensive in contrast or depth, the end results still appear dimensional, as much as they can anyway. Clean brightness doesn’t clip and black levels don’t crush. A slight (very slight) ringing appears on some contrasting edges, but it’s uncommon.

Detail comes and goes. It depends primarily on the source material. Sometimes soft, sometimes sharp, Killer Shrews can vary wildly, even shot-to-shot. Again, the source clearly impacts this presentation without any possible fix. That sounds harsh, but it shouldn’t – Killer Shrews looks fantastic considering what it is.

Note around 59-minutes, the image degrades to DVD quality. Possibly, that final reel was missing and this was the best source. Whatever the case, it’s a jarring switch in an otherwise great presentation, and that it happens during the finale is doubly unfortunate.

Audio

In DTS-HD, the plain dialog and simple score come through without distortion. Highs sound crisp. Other than an occasional pop, the sound doesn’t suffer any age defects.

Extras

On its own disc (and paired with The Giant Gila Monster), Film Masters includes a 16-minute documentary on director Ray Kellog, a commentary by author Jason A. Ney, and radio spots. Note the two versions of the film, one in its 1.33:1 TV ratio, the other theatrical 1.85:1.

The Killer Shrews
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

An effective zero budget thriller, The Killer Shrews brought the fun of classic studio horror into the late 1950s.

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User Review
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 26 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:


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