Director: Roger Corman
Screenplay: Charles B. Griffith
Music: Ronald Stein
Producer: Roger Corman
This vintage low-budget fifties item makes an excellent case for producer-director Roger Corman's mantle as "the King of the B's." Like Corman's best films, Attack of the Crab Monsters is brisk, well-staged, and generally intelligent. Which, of course, is not to say that the film's colossal crustaceans are credible -- they're not -- only that they're handled in a savvy manner.
The plot concerns a group of scientists who've journeyed to a small Pacific atoll to discover what happened to the island's former scientists. It turns out that radiation from a nearby H-bomb test has caused some of the island's crabs to grow to gigantic size. But that's not all -- the crabs also absorb the memories and personalities of any human brain they consume, thus they know whatever their victims know; they are as smart as the human protagonists.
This alone makes these 1950's monsters different. In American films, radiation frequently caused bugs and other critters to grow giant -- the ants in 1954's Them!, the spider in 1955's Tarantula, the locusts in 1957's Beginning of the End. But Crab Monsters is unique in that it is the only fifties movie in which radiation not only increases the menace's size, but also its intellect.
You might argue that the crabs' ability to absorb their victims' intelligence is ridiculous, but it's no more ridiculous (and probably no less impossible) than H-bomb fallout creating house-sized crustaceans. In Crab Monsters, we are clearly in the realm of science-fantasy, as are most fifties sci-fi movies (including those from Japan).
This movie also features a better script than most. The dialogue isn't bad, and the situations are handled without histrionics, and almost without sexism. For example, when the female scientist is going to swim with the male technician on a perilous undertaking, none of the male scientists objects.
Minor attempts are made to broaden Russell Johnson's character (you may remember Johnson as Gilligan's Island's Professor). Johnson clearly seems to be falling for the female scientist, who is already involved with one of the male scientists. This is handled subtly and matter-of-factly, without any of the characters being "bad guys." Thus, this subplot appears more realistic than the usual Grade-B romantic entanglements.
One disquieting aspect of Crab Monsters is the fact that once you have been eaten, you become "one" with the crab that ate you -- and one with the other human intelligences that have likewise been consumed. Apparently you abandon your human loyalties at once and turn against your former Homo sapien friends. Why? When the female scientist asks this question, she is told that the answer is survival of the fittest; now that their colleagues have become one with the giant crab, they place their own needs above those of humans. This implies that if we trade our species, we trade our morality as well -- you become not what you eat, but rather what eats you, a chilling notion for such a "little" movie.
But make no mistake: Attack of the Crab Monsters sports a miniscule budget. The crab creatures themselves make this clear. Though there are supposed to be two of them, we never see more than one of them at a time. And when we do see it, it is awkwardly maneuvered. Its legs don't move, and often we can see that they are not even touching the ground. Weirdly, the crabs are given faces that not only have human eyes, but human eyelids as well. In fact, the raising and lowering of the eyelids is often the only sign of life the crab menaces demonstrate.
Still, the film opens with a typhoon inundating what appears to be an island village, and the miniatures and water effects in this sequence are, by 1950's standards, quite good. Given this movie's impoverished budget, it's hard to believe these somewhat elaborate hurricane effects were filmed for Crab Monsters -- I suspect they have been lifted from another movie.
Attack of the Crab Monsters is a nostalgic look back at science-fantasy filmmaking on a shoestring. It's worth at least one viewing by every kaiju fan, and baby-boomers will likely have a good time reliving their memories of having seen the movie as kids.