Now there’s a title that a schlock fan can get behind.  It promis­es excite­ment, mon­sters and the kind of dead­pan sur­re­al­ism that one can only get from a vin­tage cheap­ie made before the advent of iron­ic humor in gen­re fare.  However, a vet­er­an gen­re fan knows that it is vir­tu­al­ly guar­an­teed that a low-bud­get quick­ie from the 1950’s won’t be able to deliv­er the kind of spec­ta­cle and car­nage that the title sug­gests.

The best one can hope for is that the film will deliv­er enough straight-faced absur­di­ty to deliv­er on the “dead­pan sur­re­al­ism” front.  If you get a few inter­est­ing ideas or some traces of per­son­al­i­ty along the way, it’s a nice bonus.  Thankfully, Attack Of The Crab Monsters is able to deliv­er the afore­men­tioned mod­est plea­sures.  This ear­ly exam­ple of the cre­ative part­ner­ship between direc­tor Roger Corman and screen­writer Charles B. Griffith shows the two doing their best to be inven­tive when work­ing in pover­ty-row cir­cum­stances.

The plot begins with a ship of sci­ence types vis­it­ing an atoll to find out what hap­pened to a pri­or expe­di­tion team that has gone miss­ing.  The group includes scientist/sweetheart duo Dale (Richard Garland) and Martha (Pamela Duncan), the adven­tur­ous-mind­ed Dr. Weigand (Leslie Bradley), botanist Jules (Mel Welles) and tech­ni­cian Hank (Russell Johnson).  They’re in trou­ble from the moment they land: a sailor gets decap­i­tat­ed by some­thing unseen beneath the waves and the plane that dropped them off explodes before it can sail off the waters.

That night, they hear click­ing nois­es in the dark and the voic­es of their miss­ing cohorts call­ing after them.  When they begin to explore the island, they dis­cov­er that it is rapid­ly crum­bling and shift­ing under them.  The rea­son for all the­se mys­te­ri­ous occur­rences is revealed to be giant-sized crabs that were mutat­ed by the atom­ic test­ing in the area.  Not only do they have tremen­dous destruc­tive abil­i­ties, they are super-intel­li­gent, tele­pathic and have the abil­i­ty to assume the per­sonas of the peo­ple they devour by pro­ject­ing out thoughts using their “voic­es”.

If you want to poke fun at Attack Of The Crab Monsters it’s pret­ty easy.  The haste with which it was made leads to incon­sis­ten­cies between what we hear and what we see: for instance, Dale is attacked in bright­ly lit room by a giant crab claw and then tells Martha it was too dark to see what attacked him when he escapes.  Moments like this pile up as the film bar­rels through its 62 min­ute run­ning time and the straight-faced approach used by both Corman and his actors gives it a campy feel (this was right before Corman and Griffith learned that it helped to add a bit of hip, self-know­ing humor to off­set the rough edges of their endeav­ors).

That said, Attack Of The Crab Monsters is a com­pelling view for fans of vin­tage gen­re fare despite its ragged edges.  For starters, it is fierce­ly imag­i­na­tive and tries to off­set its lim­it­ed bud­get with a con­stant stream of off­beat ideas.  Griffith adds in all man­ner of inter­est­ing wrin­kles to keep the view­ers intrigued: exam­ples include the con­stant­ly shift­ing topog­ra­phy of the island, the method the mon­sters use to “throw” their voic­es to com­mu­ni­cate with the humans and the fun pseudo-sci­ence that explains why the mon­sters are imper­vi­ous to con­ven­tion­al weapons.

The film also ben­e­fits from Corman’s brisk direc­tion.  He sum­mons up a decent atmos­phere — Floyd Crosby’s styl­ish black-and-white cin­e­matog­ra­phy plays a big role in cre­at­ing this atmos­phere — and man­ages some gen­uine­ly creepy set­pieces, the best being the moments where the “voic­es” of the fal­l­en com­rades call out to the explor­ers in the dead of night.  He gets solid per­for­mances from his cast, with Johnson (best known to most view­ers as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island) offer­ing an impres­sive turn as the low-key, resource­ful tech who is as brave as his cohorts are bril­liant.

In short, Attack Of The Crab Monsters might be a hum­ble entry in Roger Corman’s fil­mog­ra­phy  but it offers plen­ty of imag­i­na­tion alongside the expect­ed cheap­ness.  He was still work­ing out the kinks in his low-bud­get for­mu­la but this film shows the abil­i­ty to be ambi­tious with­in lim­it­ed means that would soon make him a suc­cess.

Sci-Fi Classics [Triple Feature]

Sci-Fi Classics [Triple Feature]

Attack of the Crab Monsters: A group of sci­en­tists are trapped on a remote island inhab­it­ed by atom­i­cal­ly mutat­ed giant crabs. War of the Satellites: An “unknown force” declar­es war again­st Earth when the United Nations dis­obeys warn­ings to cease and desist in its attempts at assem­bling the first satel­lite in the atmos­phere. Not of this Earth: A humanoid alien from out­er space is sent to earth to bring back human blood to his home plan­et for trans­fu­sion pur­pos­es.