A nasty case of crabs

Voice-throwing crustaceans shake things up

When a movie has the words “crab monsters” in its title you feel pretty confident about what kind of creatures to expect. Big crabs. With eyestalks and sharp pincers. If you’re lucky they’ll actually look a bit like a crab and be big enough to eat the heroes. If you’re unlucky they’ll probably turn out to be stuntmen in cheap costumes with oven mitts repurposed into claws. Either way the danger is clear — we’re all going to get pinched to death.

Not so in the case of Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). Here the titular beasties will heat-ray your airplane until it explodes then make an entire island collapse around you and mock your impending demise with the voice of your dead comrades. Impressive!

So why do these giant super-powered crabs exist? Radiation of course. Nuclear fallout from H-bomb tests have drifted over a small island in the Pacific and created some cool-looking but stiff-moving evil crustaceans. A group of brilliant scientists and navy men arrive on the island tasked with finding a previous group of scientists who have vanished without a trace. (Uh-oh…) One of these scientists is played by Russell Johnson better known as “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island . That’s appropriate given that he again fails to escape from an island.

So let’s get back to those crab monsters. They’re suitably big and prickly and thanks to the high resolution of DVD you can see the strings that move them. But never mind that; these things are bulletproof not because of a sturdy carapace but because their mutated molecular structure makes them a bit like the “liquid metal” from Terminator 2 (1991). Projectiles pass right through them leaving no marks or wounds. Also the creatures can cause earthquakes and use concentrated heat rays to create subterranean tunnels or to annihilate aircraft. Of course they can decapitate you with their massive claws and eat your remains but here’s the really weird part — after you get eaten you continue to live on as part of the crab monster. Your brain just gets made into crab meat but continues to exist as a conscious being. How do we know this? Because the crabs use the voices and memories of the eaten scientists to lure the survivors out of hiding! (The dead guys have no allegiance to the human race — once they become part of a crab all they care about is their next meal.)

Crabs don’t have mouths so the voices just magically come out of any metal objects that happen to be lying around. That’s right — these crabs are ventriloquists. We get to see several suspenseful scenes of scientists hearing the calm voice of a presumed-dead colleague only to either be lured into a trap or to discover that the voice is coming from a coffee pot or a candlestick. At one point the heroes have an actual conversation with a handgun.

What do the humans have to combat this evil? Science… and explosives! Lots of explosives! Everybody has at least one crate of dynamite under their bed. One guy complains that he only has four hand grenades left. Two sailors play cards using sticks of dynamite as poker chips. (They do this under a flimsy kerosene lamp on a wobbly table while smoking cigarettes. Some people want to die.) The monsters can’t really be harmed by explosives but all the pointless detonations do keep things lively.

A couple of the crab’s weaknesses come to light and they’re all pretty weird. Electricity disintegrates them. (Handy!) A stalactite through the brain will stop a crab monster but pulling the shard out again will revive it. The semi-solid form of the crab can be “cut” with any blunt instrument so the good guys snip a claw off one of the sleeping monsters. Oh and I guess the beasts can be a bit shortsighted in their plans since they keep using their earthquake powers to erode the island that they live on in an attempt to trap the already-trapped humans. Still these things are the most impressively multi-talented monsters I’ve seen since Horror Express (1972).