Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pre-Release Screening Room: Return of the Killer Shrews!

Return of the Killer Shrews  (Coal Train Productions, 2012)

Before the Camera:

James Best  (The Killer Shrews)
John Schneider  (Cocaine Wars)
Jennifer Lyons  (Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman)
Rick Hurst  (The Cat from Outer Space)
Jason-Shane Scott  (Curse of the Puppet Master)
Sean Flynn  (Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood)
Jeneta St. Clair  (Barely Legal)
Holly Weber  (Supergator)
Chris Goodman  (John Carter)
Katherine Randolph  (Jarhead)
Maggie Wagner  (Bad Girls Dormitory)
John Anthony Williams  (Manny's Orphans)
Patrick Moran  (Jack-O)
David Browning  (A Tale About Bootlegging)
Billy Towers  (Daydreamer)
Bruce Davison  (Willard '71)
Jerry Farrell

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Steve Latshaw

Produced by Dorothy Collier Best, Pat Moran, Dan Golden, and Steve Latshaw

Written by Pat Moran, James Best, and Steve Latshaw

In 1959, in the movie The Killer Shrews, boat captain Thorne Sherman (Best) took a load of supplies to a group of scientists engaged in crazy 50's style scientific research into overpopulation on an island off the coast of Texas. The result of those experiments - rodents called killer shrews - normally thumb sized - grown to the size of knee high dogs! The beasties were ravenously hungry and vicious beyond imagining - killing several of the scientists and their staff. The last remaining scientist - Jerry Farrell - stays on the island and the shrews chase him down as Thorne and a couple of others make a daring escape attempt. In the end, Thorne was lucky to escape with his life.

Thorne Sherman - the man, the legend.

Now, it's fifty years later, and Thorne Sherman has unwillingly returned to that island, this time delivering a load of supplies to a crew of a outdoor survival reality show. Along with him this time is his trusty first mate Harold (Hurst). The show turns out to be a low-rent affair starring Johnny Reno (Schneider), a typically overblown Hollywood star. But the cast and crew have something far worse than an actor's ego to deal with on this island. First, the production interns disappear, then more of the cast and crew go missing. Jerry Farrell - still very much alive - is still on the island, and the intervening years have not been kind to his sanity. As the production crew continues to work on the TV show - there are strange noises out in the woods. Thorne Sherman has heard those noises before. Fifty years before - on this very island. The Killer Shrews have returned - and this time no one may survive!

Still getting the girl...to come inside before the Killer Shrews show up...

 I was looking forward to this movie for scads of reasons the minute I heard about it. A true sequel, not a remake/reboot/reimagining? Check. Steve Latshaw - my online acquaintance and creator of several really fun movies - as co-writer, producer, and director? Check. James Best - returning to the role of Thorne Sherman 52 years after the original movie? (I still say this has got to be a world record and the producers should contact The Guiness Book for a new angle on some publicity for the movie). Check. Getting a Dukes of Hazzard mini-reunion with the cast additions of John Schneider and Rick Hurst? Check and check. Another fave actor joining the show - Bruce Davison? Check.

Bruce Davison - seriously great actor and hell of a nice guy according to
friends who have worked with him.

With the feel of a classic drive-in flick, this production manages to respect the original movie, offer up some fun and knowing performances and monster movie thrills, and best of all - do it all with a real sense of humor. Everybody plays it seriously in the attack scenes, and with a wink the rest of the time - and there are in-jokes and references to a lot of these actors and their previous associations that couldn't be more welcome to me. (I'm also not going to spoil even one of them.)

The standouts in the cast are of course the three Dukes vets and Bruce Davison - but don't count the other actors out - everybody has some good moments, and while some of the smaller roles feature less polished actors nobody is less than adequate.

That's Sean Flynn - grandson of Errol - peering through that lens...

I also have to give a little more love to the veteran actors. James Best is a marvel - in his eighties but still getting around like a man thirty years younger - and still with that marvelous twinkle in his eye. He's playing Thorne pretty lightly for the most part - but watch the scenes when he's reliving the events of the original movie - he's completely solid in these more dramatic moments. This is an actor who has been criminally underappreciated for too long - and I'm thrilled he's in this movie.

John Schneider said in a behind the scenes interview that James Best advised him to play Johnny Reno as "Burt Reynolds circa 1982," and that's a perfect description of what he's doing here - a little pompous, a little clueless, and believing his own press for a little too long. He's hilarious in this role.

Rick Hurst brings all of his likabiliy and his chemistry with James Best to bear here - you worry about him constantly - because the sidekick is always in mortal danger in this kind of movie - and he makes you care about Rook.

Bruce Davison was cast at the eleventh hour according to the film's website cast list - and wow, what a stroke of luck for the movie. As the only other returning character not being played by a returning actor (original Jerry - Ken "Festus" Curtis - died in 1991) Davison has a pivotal role - and while he's not on screen for hours on end - his appearances are cleverly dotted in, and it's just wonderful to see him - as it always is - and his willingness to poke fun at one of his iconic former roles is as cool as it gets.

James and John - friends to the end.

The locations are gorgeous, the cinematography crisp and colorful, and credit must also go to the production design team - as they recreate the interior of the house on the island to a T. Considering the budget and schedule here, no department is slouching - and I give kudos to all of them for providing some solid production value onscreen. Everything has been marshaled to the screen by director Latshaw with a real sense of engagement - he seems to have had a good time directing this movie - and that is some real production value - because it's passed on directly to the audience.

That said, now let's talk about the effects.

The 1959 movie catches hell in pretty much every review that its effects are shoddy - with dogs in costumes in the wide shots and puppets in closeup - but I will forever state for the record that until they show everything a bit too much in the climactic scenes those effects are pretty danged good.

I have a feeling the same kind of thing is going to happen here - as the costumed dogs have been replaced by CGI Killer Shrews with a new animatronic puppet for some closeup work. So expect most of the reviews to harp on the CGI. But here's the thing - you only have about four other ways you could possibly create the effects of giant killer shrews. You could go completely animatronic - but that means few or no wide shots. You could go stop motion animation - charming and retro - and one of my favorite visual effects - but still glaringly obvious as a special effect. You could do dogs in costumes again - not well received the first time - bound to be slammed this time - or you could do the old Bert I. Gordon trick and composite real killer shrews with the actors - again, some charming effects, but still completely obvious as an effect. So, for the money on hand, CGI was the way to go. The Killer Shrews look great - it's a really scary design - and they themselves look good and pretty "there" in the shots - except where their feet touch the ground (or their victims when the shrews land on them). The CGI blood in the attack scenes is also a little obvious - but it's still better than the CGI blood spray you get when whatever Syuh Fyuh channel movie has its MegaDinoOstrich chomp somebody. The practical effects - the Killer Shrew head and claws, and the practical attack effects are well handled and most welcome.

Lastly - when you watch - be sure to stay through the end credits - where you get a brand new song called Shrewd Awakening - which is so meta you'll be mindblown when you finish reading this. Now, this cool song has vocals from Katie and Jillian Torrence - daughters of Dean Torrence, who is Dean of "Jan-n-Dean" fame - but it gets better - Dean Torrence also performs on the song - along with actor Bruce Davison, who once played Dean Torrence in a movie about Jan-n-Dean! See? Mind blown!

So that makes this...Dean-n-Dean...sort of...

Basically, if you like cool old movies like The Killer Shrews or newer movies like DinoShark, you'll find a lot to love in this old fashioned creature feature. However, if the only value you find in these movies is to point out their low budget issues while being snarky and hipster about them - move along, there's nothing for you here.

My thanks to Steve Latshaw for providing LGOOH with a screener copy of Return of the Killer Shrews.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 37:40, Jason-Shane Scott has gotten enough footage with his camera.

Eye Candy ?

Oh my yes!

Jennifer Lyons

Jeneta St. Clair

Katharine Randolph

Maggie Wagner

Holly Weber

Yowza! Welcome to the list, ladies!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Return of the Killer Shrews was worth
the fifty two year wait."

Thank you Buddha Man! Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. haven't seen the original yet but I'M sure I'm gonna check it out soon. Think it's hilariously awesome that this is no remake but a real sequel. Thumbs up! Boo to Hollywood who'd never do this.

    1. Yeah, Harry - I'm telling you - I have always like sequels - and when one is put together decades after the original - but with at least one returning cast member - man that is some fun stuff.

  2. This is an epic piece you've written, definitely one of the very best at LGOOH. I watched my own wonderful screener copy and thourghly enjoyed it from first to last frame. Steve and crew created a most awesome tribute to the original flick and those 50's monster B movies.

    1. Thanks buddy! Can't wait to see your write up on this one!