Before his stints on “Bonanza” and “Perry Mason”, and long before his popular role as Roscoe P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard, “ James Best played a part in the B-movie horror flicks like “Forbidden Planet, “ and “The Killer Shrews.”
Best plays Captain Thorne Sherman, hired to deliver some precious cargo to a doctor on a desolate island. Sherman meets Dr. Craigis (Baruch Lament (“The Group”)), his daughter Anne (Ingrid Goude (“Once Upon a Horse”)), and his assistant, Jerry Farrell (“Gunsmoke” veteran Ken Curtis). The elder Craigis and his staff are conducting biological experiments. Sherman would be ready to set sail, but there’s a hurricane heading straight toward the island.
Craigis and his partners are working on longevity studies, conducted on small rodents. He asks Sherman to take his hand-wringing, nervous daughter off the island, and it’s obvious that she knows something is amiss. Viewers might key in on the potential danger of the experiments through dialogue. If they don’t, they’ll be hit over the head by the fact that every time Dr. Craigis mentions something that could go wrong, his daughter casts a wide-eyed gaze of terror in his direction.
Sherman’s sidekick, Rook, is the first to be attacked by the dogs covered in welcome mats…I mean…the killer shrews. Anne lets Sherman in on the secret, and soon the Captain is trapped between the starved carnivores outside and Farrell, Anne’s jealous fiance’, on the inside.
The characters drink like fish and chain smoke through the movie. This may be due to the pending varmint attack just outside the perimeter, but I doubt it. Something tells me these jokers would be slugging back shots if the threat outside was a pair of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Sherman and Mario, the housekeeper, chase a shrew that made its way into the house. These overgrown rats are starving and at the brink of eating one another, so naturally, this puppet…I mean…killer shrew, hides under the stairs in silence before pouncing on the unwitting assistant.
Dr. Craigis discloses that the shrews are not only giant, starving carnivorous carpet-wearing dogs…I mean shrews, but they’re poisonous, too. Naturally, everyone has a drink in response. Sherman and Jerry go investigate the boat, get chased by the hunting dogs….I mean shrews, only to nearly get mauled to death and beat the crap out of each other.
The film’s finale’ is exactly what everyone should expect. The guy making the terrible decisions is Alpo and Sherman gets the girl, survives the meat-eating mutts, and lives to fight another day.
“The Killer Shrews” has its share of interspersed bolts of lightning, plenty of plot-revealing dialogue, romance in all the inappropriate spots, and a great deal of overacting. It’s a fantastically terrible movie.
This film and “The Giant Gila Monster” came from the same Texas-based studio, which may explain why the African-American and the Latin American guys die first.
“The Killer Shrews” was thankfully featured in a 1992 episode of “Mystery Science Theater: 3000.”