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The Killer Shrews

The Killer Shrews is a independently made 1959 American black-and-white science fiction film, produced by Ken Curtis and Gordon McLendon, directed by Ray Kellogg, that stars James Best, Ingrid Goude and Ken Curtis. The film co-stars Gordon McLendon, Baruch Lumet and "Judge" Henry Dupree.

The Killer Shrews
Directed byRay Kellogg
Produced by
Written byJay Simms
Music by
  • Harry Bluestone
  • Emil Cadkin
CinematographyWilfred M. Cline
Edited byAaron Stell
Distributed byMcLendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company
Release date
  • June 25, 1959 (1959-06-25)
Running time
69 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$123,000 (estimated)
Box office$1 million (U.S.)

The Killer Shrews was filmed outside of Dallas, Texas back-to-back with The Giant Gila Monster. Now in the public domain, the film has had multiple DVD releases and was featured in the fourth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.



Captain Thorne Sherman (James Best) and first mate Rook Griswold ("Judge" Henry Dupree) deliver supplies by boat to a group on a remote island. The group, consisting of scientist Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet), his research assistant Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon), the scientist's daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude), her recent fiancé Jerry Farrel (Ken Curtis), and a servant Mario (Alfred DeSoto), welcome the captain and his first mate, but subtly resist the visitors staying overnight, even though a hurricane is approaching. Thorne goes with the group to their compound, while Griswold stays with the boat, saying that he will come ashore later.

The situation in the compound is less than safe. During evening cocktails, Thorne becomes aware of a life-threatening situation to all of them: Marlowe Cragis has been performing well-meaning research on serums and uses shrews as test animals. The doctor's purpose is to shrink humans to half their size in order to reduce world hunger, because he reasons that being smaller, humans will consume less food in a world with a limited food supply. Unfortunately, the doctor's experiments have created mutant giant shrews that have escaped and are now reproducing outside in the wild, growing larger and more voracious day-by-day. The scientist and his staff must now barricade themselves inside their compound every evening before the sun sets, intending the shrews to kill each other once they have eaten every other living animal on the island.

Being in such close proximity, Thorne and Ann begin to be attracted to each other, causing Jerry to become jealous despite ruining his relationship with Ann. Outside the compound, meanwhile, the giant shrews have run out of smaller animals to hunt and eat. The giant shrews attack and kill Griswold when he comes ashore. After closing in on the compound and killing the livestock, one of them breaks a window and hides in the basement. Mario and Thorne go down to the basement when they hear the noise, and Mario discovers the shrew and shoots at it, but not before it bites him. The shrew is immediately shot and killed by Thorne. As the others come down into the basement, Mario dies from the bite. Radford discovers a highly toxic venom in the shrew's saliva, the result, it turns out, of the poisoned bait he had placed outside in an attempt to kill off the shrews. Another shrew is able to get in, and it bites Radford. As he dies, Radford records the symptoms on his typewriter, right up to the moment of his death.

Outside, on the main level, the shrews begin to chew through the compound walls. The group are forced to make impromptu armor by lashing together empty 50 gallon oil drums, and then duckwalk towards the beach. Only Jerry remained, due to his phobia, isolating himself on the roof before watching the shrews chase after the well-protected group. He attempts to flee before being intercepted by another group of shrews. Thorne, Ann, and Marlowe manage to reach the beach and swim out to the boat. Safely aboard and confident that the giant shrews would eventually die out from eating each other, Thorne and Ann share a long kiss.



Principal photography took place outside of Dallas, Texas.[1] Special effects were provided by first-time director Kellogg, who served as the head of 20th Century Fox's special effects department throughout most of the 1950s.[2] Close-ups of the shrews were filmed using hand puppets, and for the wider shots, coonhounds were costumed as the shrews.[3]

This low-budget feature was regarded as one of the most successful "regional films". Unlike other regional films, it received national and even foreign distribution.[4]


Home mediaEdit

A new colorized version of The Killer Shrews was released on DVD by Legend Films as a double feature set with the creature feature The Giant Gila Monster. The satirical TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the film in an episode during its fourth season. MST3K's version of The Killer Shrews was released on DVD by Rhino Home Video as part of the show's Volume 7 boxed set. The gags were focused on the film's main flaws: the lack of conflict in its first hour (which was mostly focused on the "living room" of the island's compound, as the characters talked back and forth to each other), the silly appearance of the shrews (coonhounds dressed up in long hair wigs), and how most of the dialogue was difficult to understand due to the regional accents of the actors.


At the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Killer Shrews holds an approval rating of 50%, based on 10 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 4.6 out of 10.[5] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, calling it "an inventive but silly sci-fi tale".[6] Despite mixed reviews the film was a commercial success. Unlike many American monster movies of the time, it was released internationally adding to its profits.

Sequels and remakesEdit

A sequel, Return of the Killer Shrews, was produced in 2012, again starring Best as Thorne Sherman. Bruce Davison took the role of Jerry. The film also stars John Schneider and Rick Hurst, Best's co-stars in The Dukes of Hazzard.[7] The length of time between the original film's release and the sequel's release (more than 54 years) is one of the longest time periods in film history between sequels. [8]

A film parody/remake, Attack of the Killer Shrews, was released in 2016 by White Lion Studios. Directed by Ken Cosentino, it was filmed as a horror comedy with "deliberately awful ... horrible shrew puppets" and a completely different cast of characters.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ The Killer Shrews TCM Notes
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Killer Shrews (1959) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  6. ^ Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 346. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^


  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties, 21st Century Edition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009, ISBN 0-89950-032-3.

External linksEdit