Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Killer Shrews (1959)

Poster for The Killer Shrews (1959)The Killer Shrews (1959) by #RayKellogg
#JamesBest #IngridGoude

A maniacal scientist transforms tiny shrews into giant, man-killing beasts.

“Ravaging beasts feed on human flesh!”

“They had to eat 3 times their body weight each day… OR STARVE!”

#Horror #SciFi

When I was a kid, I watched The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) every Friday night. I suppose it wasn’t far off from being an early version of a  Friday Night at the Home Drive-in. There’s something about that show that feels like each episode in a mini-drive-in movie. The kind about cool cars and moonshine and corrupt Southern sheriffs. I suppose Macon County Line (1974) and Jackson County Jail (1976) might be examples of a sort. In any case, I loved watching the Dukes outwit Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane week after week. I thought the two actors who portrayed those lovable villains – Sorrell Booke and James Best – were a brilliant comedy team, like Abbott and Constello or Bert and Ernie (I was a kid, remember). I enjoyed watching their comedic mishaps as much as Bo and Luke’s victories – maybe more.

As the years went by, I was always surprised to see one of those actors in something else – and often something really different. Sorrell Booke as Harvey Beckman in Devil Times Five (1974), for instance (speaking of drive-in movies!). I barely even recognized him as the guy who played Boss Hogg. He looks and sounds so different, which just shows what a great actor he was.

 Sorrell Booke in Devil Times Five (1974)

Sorrell Booke in Devil Times Five (1974)

I saw James Best in Rolling Thunder (1977), except I didn’t realize it until I saw his name in the credits. Again, he’s so different from Rosco P. Coltrane that I had no idea it was the same actor.

Well, guess who I saw last Friday in The Killer Shrews (1959) – and playing the hero, no less? That’s right, it was James Best. This time I knew it was going to be him before I even started watching, so I could kind of see the resemblance. But he’s playing a very different character than Rosco, and he’s the young romantic lead. He is, in fact, 20 years younger than he was when he started playing Rosco, so… 

James Best in The Killer Shrews (1959)

James Best in The Killer Shrews (1959)

James Best plays the captain of a boat who is delivering supplies to a remote island, when a hurricane strikes. Forced to spend the night with the scientists who live and work on the island, he learns that there are dangerous giant man-eating shrews running loose and eating every other living creature in sight.

The movie eventually plays out like an early version of Night of the Living Dead (1968) with characters taking refuge in a house and fighting off snaggletoothed shrew puppets instead of zombies. There’s even a total asshole character who manages to endanger others with his selfish behaviour. Perhaps George Romero saw The Killer Shrews at a drive-in and was inspired. Probably not. But if he did, he managed to make a movie a thousand times better than The Killer Shrews. Ten thousand times – maybe more.

I’m not saying that The Killer Shrews isn’t a fun movie. If you’re in the mood to laugh at bad creature puppetry you couldn’t really do much better. But if you’re hoping for genuine thrills and suspense, you would probably do well to look elsewhere. 

The Killer Shrews (1959) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema of the silliest kind. At barely over an hour, it’s not exactly an endurance test. And I enjoyed seeing James Best as a young heroic type (although not as much as the older, comedically villainous Rosco P. Coltrane). If you’re hosting a marathon of giant rat movies – like Deadly Eyes (1982) – you might want to add this one to the playlist. It won’t be the worst thing you’ve on seen on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.