Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Attack of the Crab Monsters

Attack of the Crab Monsters DVD

Today's awful movie is "Attack of the Crab Monsters", a 1957 semi-epic from Roger Corman. Wikipedia's article on the film gives a brief plot summary:

A group of scientists land on a remote island in the Pacific to search for a previous expedition that disappeared and to continue research about the effects of radiation from the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests on the island's plant and sea life. They learn to their horror that the earlier group of scientists have been eaten by mutated giant crabs that have gained intelligence by absorbing the minds of their victims. Members of the current expedition are systematically attacked and killed by the crabs, which are invulnerable to most weaponry because of the mutation in their cell structure. Finally, they discover the crabs are the cause of the earthquakes and landslides that are destroying the island. As the remaining expedition members struggle to survive on the ever-shrinking island, they must also find a way to stop the crabs before they reproduce and invade the oceans of the world.

The description makes the movie sound better than it is, believe it or not. Yes, there's a plot in there somewhere, sort of, but it just makes no freakin' sense at all.

There's a reason I haven't done any bad movie posts for a while. They always turn out to be a lot more work than you'd expect, or at least more than I'd expect. You watch a movie a couple of times, make some notes, and then try to mash those notes into a coherent form, no matter how confused and incoherent the movie itself happens to be -- and tonight's movie is more confused and incoherent than most. This post's actually been moldering in my drafts folder for a month now, and I've already sent the movie back to Netflix so I'm not going to see it again anytime soon. So I figure I might as well post my notes and observations and whatnot, along with assorted stuff I found on the interwebs. It's pretty much a random jumble, but hey, so is the movie.

  • The trailer's on YouTube here. It looks like the whole movie may be there, split up in parts -- although I haven't verified that, and I'm not sure it's there legally. So if you look for it and it's gone, you're out of luck. Tough crabmeat.

  • Or if you just want to see the climactic scene (such as it is), it's on MySpace here.

  • The movie's page at BadMovies.org has a few stills and sound clips. I don't have any of those here, because a.) I'm not sure it's copyright-kosher, and I don't want the MPAA's jackbooted thugs giving me a hard time about it. And b.) it would require more effort than I feel like expending. So I do have a photo of the DVD. It's not a very good photo, but then, it's not a very good movie, is it? The only thing remotely special about the photo is that I took it using an ancient lens I found at Goodwill this morning (a preset Takumar 135/3.5, for anyone who cares), and I did this because the lens dates back to 1957, just like the movie. Incidentally, the only camera that appears in the movie is a TLR operated by the German nuclear physicist. As it turns out, TLRs have a distinct drawback here, in that you have to look down into the camera, away from the giant land crab, in order to focus and shoot. Most people don't realize this.

  • More reviews at DVD Drive-In, Delirious, Fantastic Movie Musings & Ramblings, Horror-Wood, The Delirious review reads a hell of a lot into the movie, trying to make it sound deep. I remain unconvinced.

  • A poem inspired by the movie. Seriously. It makes a lot more sense than the movie, if you ask me -- a situation that rarely occurs in the (in itself rather rare) translation from film to poetry.

  • The animated title sequence is cool -- despite being mostly about octopi, which don't appear in the actual film.

  • The intro takes an odd second-person tone, as if it's the start of a videogame (or maybe an old choose-your-own-adventure book):

    "You are about to land in a lonely zone of terror . . on an uncharted atoll in the Pacific!

    You are part of The Second Scientific Expedition to this mysterious bit of Coral reef and volcanic rock. The first group has disappeared without a trace! Your job is to find out why!

    There have been rumors about this strange atoll . . frightening rumors about happenings way out beyond the laws of nature..."

  • And then we get a rotating globe, highly overexposed. And then nuclear tests, a bunch of stock H-bomb footage. Then floods due to the nuclear test, and people running away as their village is destroyed. Nice miniature work, considering the era and the budget.... Actually I wouldn't be surprised if the opening disaster footage with the miniatures and fleeing crowds is from some other movie with a bigger budget. That would be the Corman way, after all.

  • Right after that, we get a dash of that ol' time religion, with a narrator intoning:

    "And the lord said, I will scorn man who I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast and creeping thing and the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them."

    Anybody know if this is a real biblical quote? I mean, the actual bible, not just something Pat Robertson said when he was off his meds. I'm no expert on these things, and the general tenor of it does sound sort of Old-Testamenty, but the wording just doesn't sound right. "It repenteth me"? Say what?

  • Actually I may have those intro bits out of order. I'm not sure now. I doubt reordering them would make them make any more sense, though.

  • The crab costume is pretty awesome. You have to admit it's a highly cool, cheesy, crappy B-movie giant crab, so far as B-movie giant crabs go. It's not that the crabs are perfectly realistic, don't get me wrong. They have faces, with big googly Jim Henson-type eyes. They even have nostrils. And when the crab is trashing the house, it roars like a lion. Well, you hear a lion-ish roar on the soundtrack. You don't actually see it roar. Making its mouth move would've cost money, you know.

  • Speaking of the giant-crab-in-da-house scene... Why do our heroes just stand on the other side of the door when there's a giant crab lurking behind it? And then they just hang out for a while and wait, and then look to see if it's gone?

  • Lots of scenes of people reacting to things we don't see: "there was a mountain there yesterday, now it's gone" and "It has only appeared in the last twenty minutes. And it's over fifty feet deep." If the film was remade today, it would be an hour longer, and the other hour would be all CG showing the stuff they just tell us about.

  • The interior sets are classic 50's den. Wood paneling, decorated with paintings and various tchotchkes, all shipped to the remote South Pacific just to make a bunch of scientists feel at home.

    Either a.) the interior scenes were filmed in someone's basement to save money, or b.) they were filmed on a home-sweet-home set left over from some other movie, to save money.

  • The earthquakes aren't very realistic. This was a very early entry in the genre of reacting-to-fake-motion cinema, and clearly there was still much to be learned about getting the actors and the camera shake in sync. It's not Star Trek by any means.

  • Philosophical implications of the crabs absorbing the minds & personalities of various people. Is the crab just impersonating them to catch prey, or do the people really continue to exist as part of the crab & just see things in a new light ("Preservation of the species. Once they were men. Now they are land crabs.")

  • Too many plot holes and nonsensical twists to list. For example, why did their plane (a Catalina flying boat) explode? I suppose it exploded because they had some stock footage of one exploding. Also, they needed a quick plot device to maroon everyone on the island. But the explosion is never explained. Nobody even seems all that surprised by it. Our brave scientists adopt an "oh, that's too bad" sort of attitude, which I think is taking scientific detachment just a step or two too far.

  • And if you like nonsensical plot twists, you'll love the bit near the end where the German guy discovers oil and rushes off into a cave to find more, ignoring the constant earthquakes and, oh, giant land crabs. Lesseee... obsessive secrecy, an all-consuming lust for oil... I have to wonder, did Dick Cheney see this movie as a kid and decide he wanted to be Weigant when he grew up? We'll probably never know for sure, but you have to admit it would explain a lot.

  • The woman doesn't get to do much as a marine biologist, except swim around in SCUBA gear a couple of times. Even though the crabs are underwater part of the time (despite being land crabs). She wears a sort of short-shorts/swimsuit outfit in the water, with a bathing cap to keep the hair dry. On land, she wears the tight collared shirt typical of 50's SF movies, the ancestor of today's white tank top. Girdle & bullet bra, ancestor of silicone, I guess. It's all very tame; you have to have watched as many of these as I have to realize it's supposed to be T&A.

  • There's no safer job than being the only female scientist on the expedition. You'll always make it out alive, along with one of the male castmembers. That's the good news. The bad news is he'll probably leer at you and make a crack about Adam and Eve before the credits roll. And if you do make it back alive, you've probably got a lifetime of cooking and cleaning to look forward to. Niiiice.

  • Incidentally, that doesn't happen in this movie. As soon as our self-sacrificing second hero dies while offing the last(?) giant crab, there's a quick reaction shot from our two survivors, and wham, end of film, the lights go up and the ushers shoo you out of the theater to make way for the next batch of eager cineastes. Rescue? What's that?

  • One of the less compelling love triangles to grace the silver screen. At first when our heroine started making eyes at the local handyman, I figured the filmmakers had just screwed up and forgotten which guy was the love interest. Which would be understandable really, as neither man really stands out in the mind. But no, later they make like they're going to kiss or something, and have a short chat about hero #1. Hero #2 seems crestfallen, even though it seems like she wouldn't entirely mind if hero #1 became crab chow. As soon as he figures out he probably won't get the girl in the end, we know he's a goner. That's how it always works.

  • At one point, our heroine says she'd better fix food for everyone. Usually they just make coffee for the other scientists in this sort of film. Back in college, a sociology prof actually lectured about this, saying that this was a real-world phenomenon. Even when you were in theory equal to the men in the department/expedition/starship crew, somehow it was still your job to make sure everyone had food, coffee, and so forth. She called the phenomenon "waitressing", and wrote a paper on the topic after realizing she herself was doing it at a meeting with colleagues. I'd like to think society's progressed a bit since the Boomers were first entering academia. I don't know what academia is really like these days, but surely by now everyone realizes that fixing dinner, making coffee, and performing menial domestic chores are tasks beneath scientists of either gender. That's what graduate students are for.

  • The film features a shifty German nuclear physicist, straight from Central Casting, who knows more than he'll say, or at least he implies he does. He gets eaten before he can fess up, probably because the screenwriters couldn't figure out what he was hiding. If you're hiding something, why the constant stream of cryptic, portentious comments? He arrives on the island in dark glasses and a trenchcoat. I can see the dark glasses, it being a tropical Pacific island and all, but a trenchcoat?

  • An example of his secretive Teutonic shiftiness: "Are you hiding something from us, doctor? A theory, perhaps?"

  • Another: "Doctor Weigant, you are a great nuclear physicist, while I am a provincial botanist. But there are things I do not understand."
    "there are many things I do not understand also, Jules. You had better climb."

  • Jules, the provincial botanist, is the token French guy, again straight from Central Casting. He doesn't do much in the film, until he manages to get his hand sliced off by a falling stalactite (or was it a stalagmite? I can never keep those straight.) It's a remarkably clean cut for something done by a falling rock, but no matter. They bundle Jules back to the house and put him to bed, but his big scene is yet to come. He supplies the film's one real moment of pathos: The crabs call to him in the voice of a previously-eaten scientist. The wounded, half-delirious French guy stumbles out to follow the voices, only to get a giant crab claw around his neck. So, so sad.

  • Then the crabs start talking with Jules's voice. I did enjoy that part, crabs speaking with a French accent. I'm not sure why exactly. The crabs already look like Henson characters, and with that silly accent, you half expect John Denver to show up and sing a duet with the damn things.

  • Decent underwater footage, although obviously shot in a tank. The credits note the underwater scenes were shot at Marineland of the Pacific, an erstwhile aquarium in the LA area. Closed in 1987 and spend the next couple of decades as an abandoned amusement park, until developers finally got hold of it. Seems there's an entirely different movie in this.

  • SCUBA footage was a B-movie staple back in the day, and it never really worked very well. There's no dialogue, of course, and faces are hidden by the scuba gear, and you can't tell people apart. And generally nothing really crucial to the plot happens during a scuba sequence. The story just comes to a screeching halt until the scuba stuff is over, and the scuba stuff tends to go on far longer than it needs to.

  • Some choice crab-related quotes from the film.
    "Land crabs and seagulls. Everything else is dead." The seagull bit is never explained. And unfortunately we never encounter any giant seagulls. It's a real shame -- giant homicidal seagulls would be pretty damn creepy.
    "Nothing but land crabs"
    "What's down there?"
    "What could be, other than earth, water, and a few land crabs?"
    "Helpless, nothing. Did you ever see a bunch of them start on a wounded Marine? They finish him off in five minutes."

  • Nesting sea turtles for target practice? Jeebus. The 50's really were a dark and primitive time.

  • Nobody seems to be surprised when disembodied voices call to them. They just go, "Oh, that's McClain from the first expedition that disappeared, I'll go see him."

  • Our heroine and one of the lesser scientists answer the disembodied voice of "McClain" and wander off to look for him. This involves rappelling down into a newly-formed pit, using primitive 1950's climbing technology (i.e. just a rope). The lesser scientist takes a tumble, and she faints or passes out or something. When she comes to, there's no sign of ol' whatsisname. "He went into the pit. He must have fallen during the quake", she explains. She conveniently fails to mention she was helping.

  • People are commenting on someone down in the pit, either McClain or the other guy (I forget which), wondering if he might be alive down there:
    "He could be, assuming this was caused by a disturbance."

  • At one point Weigand picks up a microscope and looks into it, handheld. Um, that's not going to work. Plus he's a physicist. So I guess he might not know about how to work a microscope.

  • When the Navy grunts get eaten (after we no longer need them as comic relief), the crabs don't really use their voices much. The class divide continues, even after being assimilated by giant energy crab-monsters.

  • Other than the dynamite-as-poker-chips bit, the Navy guys really don't serve much of a purpose. If the movie ever explains why the scientists needed a team of demolitions experts, the explanation must be so quick that I keep missing it.

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