Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Chester W. Schaeffer
Cast: Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther)
The 50s Big Bug movies are all terrific. Some are better than others, of course, but there’s something about them I love. They’re just so damn entertaining! The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the later ones, and while it’s certainly no Them! (1954), it’s got plenty going for it.
A volcano eruption sets off a chain reaction — an iceberg melts, releasing a giant praying mantis that’s been frozen for eons. It attacks polar military outposts, an airplane and an eskimo village, all through the liberal use of stock footage (this film might have the most stock of any movie I’ve ever seen). It’s up to a scientist (William Hopper), an Air Force CO (Craig Stevens) and a reporter (Alix Talton) to sort it all out.
While it has the mandatory pseudo-science and military propaganda, what sets The Deadly Mantis apart are the monster scenes. There are the usual teases — a claw here, a shadow there, some buzzing from time to time — before the big reveal, and it’s all handled well. The bug models are pretty well done — especially in the final scenes in the Manhattan Tunnel. (They’re a bit like the final scene in Them! deep in LA’s drain system, but still very cool.)
Then there’s the Washington Monument. They took a real praying mantis and let it do a slow, graceful, creepy crawl up a (very) miniature monument. It might be the best single shot in the movie.
The mantis stuck in traffic is effective, too. These are images forever seared into my brain as a kid — who cares how good the rest of the movie is? The strength of these images might be attributed to director Nathan Juran. Before trying his hand at directing, he was an art director — one of the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, including several Audie Murphy movies, before The Deadly Mantis. This was his first horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie, and he’d go on to do stuff like 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). Those last two he did under the name Nathan Hertz. His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is really good. (Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray release of Juran’s Law And Order from 1953.)
Scream Factory has brought The Deadly Mantis to Blu-Ray in grand fashion. It looks terrific — the contrast is near-perfect and all the dust and scratches you see are from the original stock footage. The audio is quite strong and there are so nice extras — commentary, trailer and the episode of MST3000 that pokes fun at the picture. (They were wise to keep Reynold Brown’s original poster art for their packaging.)
I have a soft spot for this movie bigger than the deadly mantis itself, and I’m so stoked to see this type of thing get this level of TLC. Highly recommended.