“Once they were men. Now they are land crabs.”
(And I’m the sign of the crab!)
Attack of the Crab Monsters is an ESSENTIAL Ivanlandia film.
My VHS of this movie is falling apart, so I need to get a DVD—but it seems like it’s out of print right now—is a deluxe version in the works? Crab-claws crossed!
Shout Factory is planning a July 20 DVD re-release, a double feature with the original Not of This Earth (which was Crab Monsters original co-feature). Even though there are no details about potential supplementals--Can’t wait!
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Produced and directed by Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles B. Griffith
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editing: Charles Gross
Art Direction: Karl Brainard
Music: Ronald Stein
Cast: Richard Garland (Dale Drewer), Pamela Duncan (Martha Hunter), Russell Johnson (Hank Chapman), Leslie Bradley (Dr. Karl Weigand), Mel Welles (Jules Deveroux), Richard H. Cutting (Dr. James Carson), Ed Nelson (Quinlan), Beach Dickerson (Sailor)
B&W, 62 minutes
Land crabs used to scuttle about my grandma’s property in Puerto Rico; I once discovered one hiding inside a cinderblock: scared the crap out of nine-year-old me!
Those things are creeeeeeepy.
The enduring legacy of Attack of the Crab Monsters stems from the film’s luck/genius of having a title perfect for future kitsch-camp infamy bolted onto what was actually a really good B-movie.
Mel Welles, actor in the film: "I think the only thing that saved that picture was the title – comedians all over the country began to crack jokes about it, and it really became a pop-art kind of cartoon."
Anyone who says they do not like Attack of the Crab Monsters is my enemy.
This is a tense, bleak thriller…about giant crabs.
If you are capable of suspension of disbelief—if you can accept an obvious, poorly molded pile of paper-mâché as a hideous atomic mutation—and if you accept the other problematic elements of the movie, like Nobel prize winning nuclear physicists running around doing really stupid things—then Attack of the Crab Monsters is an absolute hoot!
Because the flick’s mood and pace trumps those lapses in “logic.”
Long story short, I once threatened a guy (a fat nerd; I was a bully) who wouldn’t shut up—to no one; he was sitting by himself!—about how fake it all looked.
(We were at a screening of Attack of the Crab Monsters during one of the annual Sci-Fi/Horror movie fests NYC’s Film Forum used to hold back when that theater used to be cool.)
“Yeah, we all know it’s paper-mâché,” I said, very crabby. “So shut up and let us watch the movie. Please.”
Attack of the Crab Monsters is my personal favorite giant monster flick—
–some can’t get past the bad acting and awful effects, but I have been incredibly willing to suspend my disbelief for this movie ever since I was a kid, when it was on heavy rotation on NYC’s old pre-Fox Metromedia Channel 5—once they showed it twice in one weekend. That was heaven.
When I was a kid, I met Roger Corman at a Sci-Fi convention; he was there to promote Battle Beyond the Stars.
Among some other goofball fanboy questions, when I got to meet the very gracious filmmaker, I asked him whatever happened to the crab monster prop, hoping that maybe it was in a garage somewhere—and wondering why it wasn’t used as a prop in a dozen more of Corman’s flicks?
Corman chuckled that awesome laugh of his, and told me:
After filming was wrapped on the last day, they relaxed and let the crab go, the wind picked up, and the prop was smashed to bits all over the beach.
While some sources claim that a young Jack Nicholson was one of the people operating the crab from underneath the prop, there are more sources that deny this and say that the only two actors inside were Ed Nelson and Beach Dickerson.
But Nicholson in the crab is a better story.
With Corman’s nonstop atmosphere of dread, and the movie’s lightning pacing, those talking crabs freaked me out.
I just couldn’t let go of the thought that if the atomic crabs ate your brain (ewww!), then they’d absorb your memories and personality.
And when I was a kid, I thought that it meant that the crabs would steal your soul, too.
Others have mentioned this unnerving aspect of the film:
“What adds to the suspense of this film is that the island the scientists are on keeps shrinking in size, everyone keeps dying, there is no way to escape, the voices of the dead keep leading others to the crabs that clop off their heads, eat their victim’s brains and body's, while harboring the trapped souls of the dead in their large crab brains and bodies.”
Writes Netflix member California Astro
“Crab Monsters has taken a certain amount of grief from filmic ignorati due to its colorful title, but it’s a madly inventive film that is far better than one might expect.
Like most of Roger Corman’s movies, it has moments that redeem the poverty of the story’s surroundings.
And, as with many of his films, it’s lively and entertaining, but has a premise that’s incredibly grim if you stop to think about it....
Due to their odd molecular makeup, human brains ingested by the crabs remain active within their bodies.
In effect, each crab is now endowed with a committee of highly intelligent scientists’ minds – and now they’re on the crab’s side.
Despite the often risible nature of the proceedings, there’s something horrible in this idea.”
--Bruce Lanier Wright, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: The Golden Age of Science Fiction Movie Posters
“The picture is set mostly at night, and sounds are used effectively for eeriness....
In most other monster movies, the menaces are unthinking brutes.
Here, they are at least as intelligent as the people they are after, and have to be outsmarted as well as outmaneuvered.
The idea of battling a giant crab directed by a mind that only moments before was a friend of yours is amusingly ghastly."
--Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties
That the crab also has a face compounds that they also have your personality! Aieeeeee!
Warren says the model maker "seems to have been seduced by the plot idea that the crabs have the minds of people, and the entire front of the crabs wound up as a caricature of the human face. The eyes have lids, for god's sake, and are mounted partway up the shell where no self-respecting crab has ever had eyes. There's a suggestion of a nose, and a straight, expressionless mouth just beneath the lip of the shell."
I like that they have faces—but I admit to wishing that someone, somewhere would make another “giant crab attack” movie!
Although I’m (pleasantly) surprised no one’s done a giant crab invasion movie: you’d think it was a natch with CGI.
Although there’s a great spoof from France, that may be something longer eventually….
Gotta get me one of them Crabs books by Guy N. Smith (the first onein his series is Night of the Crabs)—they sound great!
But you don’t have to do a mutant crab movie about crustaceans the size of houses; what about land crabs the size of dogs?
Or just an invasion of regular-sized crabs gone mad from pollution from the Pacific Gyre?
Crabs that aren’t any bigger, but they’re hungry as fuck and can move as fast as rats: think about it.
Because crabs are not harmless—
At the beginning of Attack of the Crab Monsters, when they arrive on the beach, Hank is going to throw a rock at a particularly ugly (normal sized) crab scuttling in the surfy sand, but Dr. Weigand stops him.
When Hank asks why, the doctor says something like, “why hurt helpless little creatures?”
At which point, one of the sailors (Beach Dickerson, I think) quips:
"Helpless, nothing. Did you ever see a bunch of them start on a wounded Marine? They finish him off in five minutes."
Which is TRUE!
Check it out:
“Added to flies were land crabs, which had come to be the object of a special hatred from the division who first met the crustaceans on Guadalcanal but especially on Pavuvu.
Crabs, eating from the dead,
made rustling noises similar to the Japanese night infiltrators and could help to unnerve a listening marine.”
Other movies with giant crustaceans include:
Mysterious Island (Harryhausen animated an actual crab shell that had been wired; see above)
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (the climax—the tide rolls out, revealing crabs about the size of great Danes or rottweilers; hungry nasty buggers)
The highly recommended Will Farrell Land of the Lost remake has a crab cameo—
Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster (the Sea Monster, a giant lobster, yes, but crustaceanophiles have to take what they can get, also makes a cameo in Godzilla: Final Wars)
And the poster for Attack of the Crab Monsters makes a running appearance in last year’s Julia & Julie: It’s prominently displayed in Amy Adam’s living room throughout the flick.
Cancer means crab in Greek.
The “Father of Medicine” Hippocrates was a Greek who lived from 460-377 B.C. He thought that tumors looked like crabs.
Did you know that the teeth of a crab are in its stomach?
And is Attack of the Crab Monsters fast! Only about 65 minutes long!
I have an autographed copy of Charles Griffith’s original script; Corman cut out about 20 pages; not that I blame him, it was mushy romance crud, and had it been left in, I don’t think the movie would still have its fans.
And comedic relief is kept to a minimum—and usually followed by a creepy crab attack.
According to TCM, Corman in
1957 was contracted by Allied Artists to produce a science-fiction double feature:
Not of This Earth and
Attack of the Crab Monsters:
“It was the practice in the 1950s (at studios like AIP and Allied Artists) to devise a double-feature program by coming up with the genre and the movie titles and to pre-sell bookings of that package to drive-ins and hardtop theaters. Once the "territories" were covered, the titles, along with a predetermined budget, could be handed over to a producer/ director like Roger Corman for the actual production. The titles and ad campaigns were geared for exploitation, of course, and Attack of the Crab Monsters proved to be one of the most famous titles of the era.”
The flick cost $70,000 to make, and took in over $1 million at the box-office, “making it Corman's most profitable picture up to that date,” says TCM.
Roger Corman sez in Ed Naha’s The Films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget,
"This was the most successful of all the early low budget horror movies. I think its success had something to do with the wildness of the title, which even I admit, is pretty off-the-wall.
However, I do think a lot of its popularity had to do with the construction of the plotline.
I've always believed that, in horror and science fiction films, too much time is usually spent explaining the characters in depth and developing various subplots.
Genre audiences really come to these movies for their science fiction elements or their shock value.
Of course they want to understand the characters and want to empathize with them all in order to share the emotions present.
But they don't wish to do that at the expense of the other aspects of the picture.
I talked to Chuck Griffith about this. Chuck and I worked out a general storyline before he went to work on the script.
I told him, 'I don't want any scene in this picture that doesn't either end with a shock or the suspicion that a shocking event is about to take place.'
And that's how the finished script read.
You always had the feeling when watching the movie that something, anything was about to happen.
I think this construction, plus the fact that the creature was big and ugly, won audiences."
Like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, the underrated (albeit rip-off-eriffic) Event Horizon, the almost-forgotten but darn good Dead Calm or the Evil Dead movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters is a superb example of the “What happened to that previous expedition?” sub-genre.
I love scenes of “reading the diary”—
which always end abruptly in a weird mystery.
Speaking of The Mighty Carpenter (come back, all is forgiven!),
This is from
John Carpenter's Guilty Pleasures
Film Comment magazine, September/October 1996
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957, Roger Corman)
Giant talking crabs with eyeballs and eyelids terrorize scientists on a Pacific atoll.
Richard Garland and Pamela Duncan seem to be a couple but she starts falling for blue-collar Russell Johnson.
Ed Nelson dies early.
Beach Dickerson dies in a tent.
Severed heads, severed hands, and the crabs disappear when you zap them with electricity.
Several descents into the pit.
A giant crab claw keeps leaping into frame and attacking people.
Something suspenseful happens in almost every scene.
Dickerson and Nelson play the crab.
A Corman classic.
“The original theatrical running time of Attack of the Crab Monsters was a cool 62 minutes.
When low-budget films were sold to TV for syndication in the late 1950s and 1960s, local stations needed a roughly 75-minute film to fill a 90-minute slot, so distributors added prologues and text crawls (and sometimes newly shot footage with the film's original actors) to pad the running time.
In the case of Attack of the Crab Monsters, two approaches seemed to have been taken.
For some markets, a 'crab attack' from late in the film was simply spliced at the beginning, prior to the credits, as a sort of teaser."
[THIS IS WHAT I REMEMBER CHANNEL 5 DOING—Ivan]
Further padding consisted of stock footage of A-bomb explosions, tidal waves and other disaster footage, along with an uncredited Skip Homeier reading this Bible quote (an adaptation of Genesis 6:7):
"And the Lord said, I will scorn man who I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast and creeping thing and the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them."
Then Ronald Stein’s moody and haunting music kicks in—
The movie has some incredible opening titles—
The expressionistic animated titles create a mood—
[Synopsis, also courtesy of TCM:]
As the film opens, a Navy seaplane arrives on a small atoll in the Pacific.
Ensign Quinlan (Ed Nelson) has brought a team of scientists to study the effects of radiation on the sea and animal life.
This is the second group to arrive following nuclear testing nearby – the first group, the McLean expedition, has mysteriously disappeared.
The new group consists of nuclear physicist Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley), land biologist Dale Drewer (Richard Garland), marine biologist Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan), botanist Prof. Jules Deveroux (Mel Welles), geologist Dr. James Carson (Richard H. Cutting), and technician Hank Chapman (Russell Johnson).
As the group travels inland to search for the McLean party's encampment, Quinlan watches as shipmates arrive on a supply raft.
Seaman Tate (Charles B. Griffith) loses balance and falls overboard.
He has an encounter with an oversized crab, but his crewmates Ron Fellows (Beach Dickerson) and Sam Sommers (Tony Miller) don't realize that; but when they pull Tate up, his head is missing!
The expedition gathers to watch the Navy seaplane take off, and react in horror as it explodes in mid-air.
The scientists continue their work; McLean's journal tells of a mutated earthworm he discovered, while constant low rumbling quakes seem to be chipping away at the landmass of the island.
One night, Martha is awakened by the voice of McLean calling her to a large pit that connects with caves.
At the pit, Martha encounters Jim, who says that he heard McLean calling his name also.
The expedition comes to realize that the tremors are rapidly causing the island to crumble into the sea, and that the source is coming from below.
They cannot call for help because their radio has been sabotaged, and the party begins to be picked off one by one.
The culprits, as the survivors discover to their horror, are a pair of oversized mutated crabs who absorb the minds of the people they devour and communicate telepathically with the living!
As TCM writer John Miller notes, “It probably contained enough interesting ideas for five movies.”
This film has flaws galore, but it’s a childhood fave I still love!
Today’s Crab Quote:
Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing?
That’s the way the mind of man operates.
And I AM a fan of the TV show Deadliest Catch (the crab fishermen in Alaska show)—RIP Capt. Phil!
Crabs are hideously beautiful or beautifully hideous? Yes.
And of course, Russell Johnson in Attack of the Crab Monsters is fabulous with a variation on his Professor persona (which also makes an appearance in the underrated This Island Earth).
Introducing himself, he says, “I’m no scientist. I’m a technician and a handyman.”
Meanwhile, there was exquisitely cheesy dialog in the film, like
“Once they were men. Now they are land crabs,”
as well as practically everything the crabs say:
"So! You have wounded me, and I must grow a new claw. Well and good! For I can do it in a day. But will you grow new lives - when I have taken yours from you?"
DEVEROUX: We can only see a small part of the island from this spot, but yet you can feel… lack of welcome – lack of abiding life.
DEVEROUX: I’m not so sure you are right, Monsieur Quinlan – maybe their bodies are gone, but who can tell of their souls, eh? Maybe if I call to them they will answer – their ghosts will answer. (calling): McLean! Hello!
DR. KARL WEIGAND: Something in the air is wrong. Can you tell me what it is, Lieutenant?
QUINLAN: I don’t know, sir. Maybe it’s because there’s no sound. No animal noises of any kind.
DR. KARL WEIGAND: Lieutenant – I don’t want to annoy you again, but nothing was left? Not a hair or a fingernail clipping? Only McLean’s journal?
QUINLAN: Well, that’s all, doctor.
DR. KARL WEIGAND: That they are dead, I can believe possible. But to vanish from the face of the earth?
MARTHA HUNTER: It’s funny but I was using a big black rock as a landmark, but when I swam back the rock was gone.
DALE DREWER: Land crabs and seagulls – everything else is dead.
CRAB/McLEAN: Martha. Martha Hunter. Awake. It is McLean. Come to me. Help me. Help me.
MARTHA: Jim, you don’t know what’s down there.
JIM: What could there be other than earth, water, and a few land crabs?
DR. KARL WEIGAND: Because the pit was created from below, not from the surface.
DALE: Whatever it was that did this deliberately destroyed the radio. It had to be deliberate. Every piece of wiring has been ripped out and chopped to bits. Look – every tube has been sliced neatly in half – and it had to reach way inside to do it without wrecking these cabinets.
MARTHA: Once upon a time there was a mountain. Yesterday when we came to this island, there was a mountain out there. Today there’s no mountain.
DR. KARL WEIGAND: No, I do not believe in ghosts. We are dealing with a man who is dead, but whose voice and memory live. How this can be, I do not know, but its implications are far more terrible than any ghost could ever be.
CRAB/DEVEROUX/GUN: Be not shocked that the weapon speaks – I transmit, so I must be received. Hearken to all things metal, for I may be in them.
DR. KARL WEIGAND: The crab has free atoms – all disconnected. It’s like a mass of liquid, with a permanent shape. Any matter, therefore, that the crab eats, will be assimilated in its body as solid energy, becoming part of the crab.
MARTHA: Like the bodies of the dead men?
DR. KARL WEIGAND: Yes. And their brain tissue – which, after all, is nothing more than a storage house for electrical impulses…
CRAB: By the time ships and planes could arrive, this island will have vanished beneath the waves of the sea. But you will not drown – you will be a part of me. And as with McLean, there will be no evidence of how you vanished, or of my existence. We will rest in the caves and plan our assault on the world of men.
Osaka loves crabs:
When The Missus and I spent a day in Osaka in 2006,
we notice BIG FRICKIN’ CRABS on practically every building!
I’ve searched the Intertubes, but except for Osaka’s being a port town with a heavy yakuza presence, I can find no reason for such a BIG CRAB obsession. Hmmmmm...
While I love crabs, I have to admit that this hungry dragon (below) was my fave piece of Osaka signage.
During the course of my Crab Monsters R&D, I discovered:
“Attack of the Crab Monsters”
A poem about/inspired by the film (made up from dialog from the movie)
by Lawrence Raab (1946- )
(From Raab’s The Portable World, Penguin Books, 2000)
Even from the beach I could sense it---
lack of welcome, lack of abiding life,
like something in the air, a certain
lack of sound. Yesterday
there was a mountain out there.
Now it's gone. And look
at this radio, each tube neatly
sliced in half. Blow the place up!
That was my advice.
But after the storm and the earthquake,
after the tactic of the exploding plane
and the strategy of the sinking boat, it looked
like fate and I wanted to say, "Don't you see?
So what if you're a famous biochemist!
Lost with all hands is an old story."
Sure, we're on the edge
of an important breakthrough, everyone
hearing voices, everyone falling
into caves, and you're out
wandering through the jungle
in the middle of the night in your negligée.
Yes, we're way out there
on the edge of science, while the rest
of the island continues to disappear until
nothing's left except this
cliff in the middle of the ocean,
and you, in your bathing suit,
crouched behind the scuba tanks.
I'd like to tell you
not to be afraid, but I've lost
my voice. I'm not used to all these
legs, these claws, these feelers.
It's the old story, predictable
as fallout---the re-arrangement of molecules.
And everyone is surprised
and no one understands
why each man tries to kill
the thing he loves, when the change
comes over him. So now you know
what I never found the time to say.
Sweetheart, put down your flamethrower.
You know I always loved you.