Attack of the Killer Shrews!
Parody of the 1959 cult classic "The Killer Shrews." Hilarity ensues as small town Sheriff Martin Blake, movie starlet Fiona Rae and others defend the world from an onslaught of giant killer shrews.
Ah, yes – an excerpt of lyrics from The Divinyls 1985 track “Pleasure and Pain”.
Those lyrics from the chorus ran through my head as I watched the 2016 horror/comedy Attack of the Killer Shrews! Not to be confused with the 1959 shlocker The Killer Shrews (which I’ll now put on my to-see list) – it is in fact a parody of and/or tribute to that earlier film. The website for Attack of the Killer Shrews! actually calls their film a “remake”.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Attack of the Killer Shrews! is enjoyable, and yet you’ll be laughing most of the way through. It’s one of those “so bad, it’s good” screening experiences. And it’s quite obvious that this is exactly what was intended by the filmmakers – led by writer/director Ken Cosentino (who also appears as Officer Dewey).
Here’s the lowdown:
A research scientist named Dr. Murdock (Mick O’Keefe) – while trying to find a cure for rabies – instead creates a race of mutated shrews (a creature similar to a mole) which are the size of large dogs and desperately blood-thirsty. The infestation first becomes a problem when the monsters attack folks at the rural home of Professor Charles Perry (Jonathan Rogers) where a small group is celebrating the release of Perry’s latest book. In attendance are movie starlet Fiona Rae (Elizabeth Houlihan), the Professor’s slimy agent Lewis (Marcus Ganci-Rotella) and Lewis’ bimbo girlfriend Cassandra (Cheryl Szymczak). Add into the mix, Sheriff Blake (Bill Kennedy), the spread of the shrew attack into the nearby small town, and the group’s team-up with the military – and chaos naturally ensues.
There’s plenty to heckle in the film, but nothing will give you more pleasure (you’ll be groaning at the ridiculousness) than the five or so different versions of the man-eating shrews. Sometimes you’ll see people in costume, sometimes you’ll see puppets in play, sometimes (during an attack in a small creek) you’ll see nothing but a furry rug. But you’ll most enjoy the German Shepherd in costume – portraying one of the giant rodents.
Performances are just what you’d expect. They’re all terrible. And to again refer to The Divinyl’s “Pleasure and Pain”, bad acting is indeed an art unto itself and the line that these actors ride when attempting such a feat, is very well drawn. Not all of the folks in the ensemble are able to achieve that tongue-in-cheek, “amateur” performance, but the audience will enjoy watching all of them try.
Lloyd Kaufman provides a cheeky intro (and brief outro) to the film’s festivities. And indeed, if you have Lloyd Kaufman (leader of Troma Pictures and creator of The Toxic Avenger) opening your piece, it’s a pretty strong indicator of the style of film you’re presenting to your potential audience. His inclusion tells you exactly what you’re about to see.
I was impressed with the actual locations used in so many of the scenes – once the shrews reach within the city limits of this small town. Barber shops, diners, and bar/grills are all highlighted, and the not-so-subtle advertising of some of these businesses throughout the film (the diner’s BBQ sauce finds plenty of product placement) is epically bold and hysterical! On that same note, you can tell that several locals (probably the business owners themselves) take on small roles in some of the community scenes. You can tell, because they’re not the good “bad actors”, they’re the bad “bad actors”. Get it?
The opening scenes in the basement of the Professor’s home are brilliantly funny. It’s meant to be a lavish party, only it’s being held in the lower level (complete with very low ceilings) of what is supposed to be the Professor’s “ritzy” abode. In an attempt to create “columns” (always a dead ringer for rich people’s homes), the set designers used white shaker cabinet doors, stacked one on top of the other. It could probably pass off as a 2-D column, if they were lined up properly. I’m sure it’s all part of the master plan and with that in mind – it’s a masterful design move.
There are a few dumb jokes (read: eye-rollingly good) which keep popping up – namely the motif of having any character who says the phrase, “killer shrews” turn directly to the camera and opening their eyes very wide before delivering the dialogue. It’s goofy and again – pretty much sums up the tone of the entire picture.
The lighting in the film is lots of fun. It’s flat, and most of it is from below, so the shadows on the actors are prominent. Once you start looking at details like this, you hope and pray that the ineptitude in filmmaking is part of the joke and not the technical prowess (or lack-thereof) of the filmmaking team.
There are also continuous sound issues. Levels are all over the place and while it represents the kind of on-the-cheap film this is meant to skewer, it also becomes something of a distraction. Dialogue becomes difficult to understand (not that I think you’ll be missing an award-winning repartee of course).
Costumes (particularly those of the military) are clearly bargain-basement, Goodwill finds and you can practically hear the costume designer saying when shopping for the very mix-n-match “military” garb, “it’s green – it’ll work”.
Attack of the Killer Shrews! succeeds in what it set out to do – to make fun of and pay tribute to the Roger Corman-esque cheapie films of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s badly acted with terrible special effects and wonky camerawork. But if you know what you’re getting into (again, look no further than the recommendation from Lloyd Kaufman), you’ll find equal parts pleasure and pain as the film goes on. It’s all dumb as hell, but in a good, “I love crap like this” sort of way.
Attack of the Killer Shrews! is now available on DVD.