The Killer Shrews is a 1959 science fiction film directed by Ray Kellogg. It was filmed outside of Dallas, Texas back-to-back with The Giant Gila Monster by producers Ken Curtis and Gordon McLendon. The film has been released on DVD and was featured in the fourth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, as well as the first season of the similar show This Movie Sucks!. The film is now in public domain.
Captain Thorne Sherman and first mate Griswold deliver supplies by boat to a group on a remote island. The group, consisting of scientist Marlowe Cragis, his research assistant Radford Baines, the scientist's daughter Ann, her recent fiancé Jerry Farrel, and a servant Mario, welcome the captain and his first mate, but subtly resist the visitors staying overnight, even though a hurricane approaches. Thorne goes with the group to their compound. Griswold stays with the boat, to come ashore later.
The viewer progressively understands that the situation in the compound is less than safe. During evening cocktails, Thorne becomes aware of a life-threatening situation. Marlowe Cragis performs well-meaning research on serums and uses shrews as test animals. The doctor's purpose is to make humans half-size in order to reduce world hunger; smaller humans will eat less food on a planet with a limited food supply. Unfortunately, the doctor's experiments created mutant giant shrews that escaped and are reproducing outside the compound, growing larger by the day. The scientist and his staff barricade themselves inside their compound each evening.
Thorne and Ann begin to fall in love, causing jealousy in Jerry. Meanwhile, outside the compound, the giant shrews, which have a poisonous bite, are running out of smaller animals to eat. The shrews (dogs with glued-on fur and screen shots of rapidly shaking, stuffed heads with large fangs) attack and kill Griswold. The giant shrews close in on the compound and break in through the basement. Thorne and Mario investigate the basement. Mario is bitten by the shrew, but Thorne shoots and kills it. The others arrive in the basement, but Mario dies. Radford discovers a highly toxic venom in the shrew saliva, the result of poison bait he had placed in an attempt to kill the shrews. Another shrew breaks in and kills Radford. From outside the compound, the shrews begin to chew through the compound walls on the main floor. The shrews force the group (save for Jerry, who wants to stay) out of the compound to escape to Thorne's boat. The group makes impromptu armor out of oil drums, lashes the armor together, and duck-walks together to the beach. Jerry changes his mind about individualism, and chases after the others. The killer shrews chase and kill Jerry (although he is shown to have survived in the 2012 sequel.) The socially cooperative group (Thorne, Ann, and Marlowe) manage a successful armored walk to the shore and swim to the boat.
James Best as Thorne Sherman
Ingrid Goude as Ann Cragis
Ken Curtis as Jerry Farrell
Gordon McLendon as Dr. Radford Baines
Baruch Lumet as Dr. Marlowe Cragis
"Judge" Henry Dupree as Rook Griswold
Alfred DeSoto as Mario
A new colorized version was released alongside The Giant Gila Monster as a double feature by Legend Films.
The TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed the movie in an episode during the fourth season. The cast focused their gags on the main flaws of the film: the lack of conflict in the first hour of the film (which mostly focused on the living room of the island house and the characters talking to each other), the silly appearance of the shrews (dogs dressed to appear like them) and how most of the dialogue was hard to understand due to the accents of the characters. The MST3K version of the film was released by Rhino Home Video as part of the "Collection, Volume 7" box set.
A sequel, Return of the Killer Shrews, was produced in 2012, again starring James Best as Thorne Sherman. Bruce Davison took the role of Jerry. The film also starred John Schneider and Rick Hurst, Best's co-stars in The Dukes of Hazzard.