In an age of unnecessary remakes / reboots (Planet of the Apes? Oh, Tim, why did you do it?), it’s great to get news of a remake — or at least a reboot — that is likely to result in something worthwhile, namely an upgrade.
The Killer Shrews (US-1959; dir. Ray Kellogg) is one of the most hilarious of low-budget Z-horror films of the 1950s. Its titular monsters — puppets in close-ups and dogs dressed up in ratty fur and big teeth the rest of the time — are nothing if not memorable.
Filmed by independent regional film company Hollywood Pictures Corporation to be released as part of a double feature with The Giant Gila Monster (US-1959), The Killer Shrews was made for an estimated $123,000 and made a reported $1,000,000 in the US — not counting DVD sales since, I assume (IMDb). It frequently appears in lists of the worst films of all time, yet people seemed to like it…
Now, we have Return of the Killer Screws, co-written (with Pat Moran) and directed by Steve Latshaw, hoping to recreate the exploitation enjoyment of the original for a new generation of B-horror fans while pushing the technical quality up a few notches. In a production driven by the original film’s main star, Latshaw gets to direct James Best in his reboot; Best will be recreating the role he made “famous” in the 1959 late-night classic.
A TV Reality Show hires Captain Thorne Sherman (James Best) and his boat to cargo supplies to the deserted offshore island they’re using as a filming location. Thorne would have refused the job because he’s been to that island before and stills sees it in his nightmares. Unfortunately, as the boat departs, Thorne is too hungover to realize where they’re going and his first mate Rook (Rick Hurst) needs the money. So they sail — to a place Thorne Sherman never wanted to see again as long as he lived: the island of the Killer Shrews.
As the TV crew and two-fisted animal expert Johnny Reno (John Schneider) shoot their reality show, some of the cast and crew go missing, attacked and eaten in a bloody feeding frenzy by strange creatures. But tough as nails Producer Stella, sleazy Director Willard and manipulative Writer Lenora couldn’t care less about the human cost. They are ruthlessly focused on getting their show in the can, regardless of the body count. Only cute young camera operator Mickey (Jennifer Lyons) and her on-again off-again boyfriend Sam grow concerned about their vanished friends. And Captain Thorne grows uneasy. Only he knows that the island holds hidden danger. The place is crawling with giant Killer Shrews, the result of a 50 year old experiment gone terribly wrong.
No one is prepared when the Killer Shrews attack, devouring everything in their path! Thorne moves the panicked and blood-spattered survivors to a safe house – the same scientific compound where the man-eating shrews were spawned half a century ago. Everyone is grateful, but creeping suspicion grows. How does Thorne know about this place? And what is his connection to the Killer Shrews?
But these questions can wait. The shrews are fast and ferocious, able to strip flesh from their screaming victims in seconds. And they are ready to attack – now! Stella rises to the occasion, taking charge among the bloody carnage. But her heroism leads to her sudden and gory demise, and soon more crew members fall prey to the creatures’ ravenous, slathering jaws. To make matters worse, Jerry, a mysterious castaway, stalks the survivors. Jerry has a strange hold over the ravenous Killer Shrews, and at times he can control the crawling monsters.
Thorne and Jerry share a strange history, a past linked to the horrific-flesh-eating Shrews. Now Jerry is targeting Thorne for bloody vengeance, and no one is safe from the dangerously insane castaway. Fleeing the relentless carnivorous shrews, Mickey takes refuge in a cave. But her safe haven turns to shocking horror when Mickey is trapped by Jerry. Sam braves the hordes of flesh eating monsters to rescue Mickey from the madman’s lair, but Jerry gets the upper hand. On this island, it’s eat or be eaten, and Jerry decides who is hunter and who is prey.
As the number of survivors dwindle they must overcome their differences to avoid getting eaten alive. But before Thorne can get off the island he must face his horrific past — and a final showdown with Jerry. Time is running out for the survivors to get off the island before the voracious monsters turn them all into bloody Shrew bait.
Kaiju Search-Robot Avery has been twitching to release news of this production for some time now. Always eager to embrace new independent low-budget films, his enthusiasm for this knows no bounds. I asked him about it.
I remember reading back in the early 2000s about how James Best wanted to do a sequel to The Killer Shrews [he said] ….obviously it never really got off the ground. I think he wasn’t totally serious about it at that point…. then when Brett Kelly did his remake of Attack of the Giant Leeches and so many other B-classics were getting remakes, I started wondering what had happened to this project. Also the 50th anniversary of the original film was creeping up fast. This was in early 2008…. I decided to contact Mr Best and shortly afterwards I was let in on the “secret” but sworn to secrecy. James had started thinking more seriously about this project and was working to make it happen. Of course it took some time but James kept me in the loop with updates as the wheels began to finally turn. Then once Steve Latshaw was hired and other producers stepped on board, the project finally got off the ground and things started really happening for the film. Now the film is finally really happening — some 52 years after the original and with the star of the original film, a living legend, returning to reprise his same role. The killer shrews will be introduced to a whole new generation!
See? An enthusiast!
Director Steve Latshaw waiting for the Shrews to turn up
Hopefully we’ll be able to show you the first trailer soon. Until then, here are a few pictures of scared cast members and conceptual artwork that may or may not show what the Shrews will look like.
Sources: James and Dorothy Best via Avery Guerra. Written by Robert Hood.
Never seen the original? Well then, what are you waiting for? Watch it for free now!