Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Short Take: Attack of the Crab Monsters

(1957) Directed by Roger Corman; Written by: Charles B. Griffith; Starring: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson, Leslie Bradley, Mel Welles and Beach Dickerson; Available on DVD (Out of print) and Amazon Prime

Rating: ***

“We are unquestionably on the brink of a great discovery. It is not likely that the discovery will be of a pleasant nature.” – Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley)

“I got the part of a scientist who comes ashore and the crab eats me. I also played the crab along with Ed Nelson. You never played just one role in a Roger Corman movie.” – Beach Dickerson (excerpt from How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome)

The glut of 50s giant movie monsters featured super-sized everything, from ants to dinosaurs to octopi. It was only a matter of time before we’d see gargantuan crustaceans, courtesy of Roger Corman, grace the silver screen. A group of researchers travel to a remote South Pacific island to investigate the site where a previous expedition vanished. They barely set foot on the beach* before they experience a series of strange occurrences, including powerful tremors that change the landscape. They’re stranded when their transport plane explodes, leaving them alone to contend with a terrible intelligence that has nothing but their destruction in mind. Can they find a weakness in the seemingly indestructible creatures that terrorize the island and surrounding waters? **/***

* Fun Fact #1: The remote tropical “island” was Leo Carrillo State Beach in Southern California, a popular spot for Corman films.

** Fun Fact #2: The underwater scenes were shot at the main aquarium of the now-defunct sea-life theme park, Marineland of the Pacific in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calfornia.

*** Fun Fact #3: Despite having no prior experience working in scuba gear or directing, writer Charles B. Griffith convinced Corman to let him film the underwater sequences (A shoot he described as “horrendous and chaotic”).

The giant mutant crabs * have a particularly gruesome modus operandi, decapitating their victims and absorbing their knowledge. Each subsequent human is lured into their devious trap, with the sentient crabs using the voices of the victims as bait. It might be a stretch to say that the monster crabs are frightening, but they’re one of the more unique creations from the era, with uncannily human faces (truth be told, they look like they’re hung over or stoned). Accepting the flimsy creatures (which seem like they’d collapse if you scowled at them) as virtually indestructible requires a healthy suspension of disbelief from the viewer.

* Fun Fact #4: Depending on the source, the title creatures were constructed for several hundred dollars from either fiberglass, paper mâché, Styrofoam, or a combination of these materials. According to Beach Dickerson, he coordinated movement of the giant crab with fellow cast member, Ed Nelson.

Among the co-stars is future TV castaway Russell Johnson, as technician Hank Chapman. The film hints at tension between Hank and scientists/lovers Martha Hunter and Dale Brewer (Pamela Duncan and Richard Garland), but nothing much happens (something that was clarified in the original script) between them. I’m not generally a big fan of obligatory love triangles in genre movies, but it might have added some spice to the otherwise dull relationship between Martha and Dale.  

Corman and crew deserve credit for attempting to make an enormous fugitive from a seafood restaurant seem creepy. There are a few too many scenes of characters waiting and speculating about what will happen next, and true to its low-budget origins, more is implied than shown. According to the DVD commentary, the original screenplay was longer, with more dialogue (which was wisely trimmed). As it stands, it’s a lean 63 minutes.* Attack of the Crab Monsters won’t win any awards for creature effects or acting; nor is the story quite the same caliber as its partner on the double bill, Not of thisEarth (1957). However, it deserves merit for its kooky premise and even kookier creatures, making this a must-see Corman film.

* Fun Fact #5: The TV version included additional footage to stretch out the running time, incorporating some scenes from the 1943 movie Isle of Forgotten Sins.

Sources: DVD commentary by Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas; How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome 


  1. A fun review, Barry!
    I have shamefully never seen attack of the Crab monsters but I see it's available on Amazon Prime, so I will soon remedy this oversight.

    It sounds entertaining, especially since it's written by The Man behind The Little shop of horrors!

    1. Thanks, John! I think you'll dig it.

      Yep, and this being a Corman film, the screenwriter was also the first crab victim in the movie and directed the underwater footage. That's a lot of hats!

  2. Give me a cheap fiberglass/paper mâché/Styrofoam crab monsters over a poorly made CGI crab monster any day. I have a lot of love for this film.

    1. Right on. I love the DIY aesthetic of the crab(s) in the movie. I wouldn't change a thing.

  3. brilliant review, I will now search this rare treasure out

  4. Thanks for the fab review, I shall seek out this rare treasure

  5. I just re-watched this a little while ago. It's certainly a quintessential 50s B SciFi movie, and in all honesty the crab mock-ups are only marginally wonkier than the big ants in THEM.

  6. Agreed. Considering the budget Corman and company had to work with, they did quite well!