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Friday, August 10, 2018

The Deadly Mantis (1957)




Another Friday means more fabulous Fifties flicks. This time I grabbed an old favorite of mine The Deadly Mantis. Sitting on the couch and watching this with my Dad is one of my earliest memories. Does it hold up after all of these years?

“For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Or so says the opening narration. There is a large explosion or maybe volcanic eruption on the South Pole and we see that a huge chunk of ice breaks off in the North Pole. This exposes the long-frozen body of a huge prehistoric mantis that thaws out and starts attacking everything and everyone. Since this was the cold war the first thing that it runs into as it heads south are the early warning radar systems manned by the military.

Initially baffled as to what is destroying all their equipment and why the men are disappearing the Army consults scientists. Those scientists recommend the army ask a paleontologist to look at the evidence. It is he who figures out it is a long extinct form of life stomping around. This leads to lots of jets vs mantis action that eventually ends with the big green bug hiding out in the tunnels between New Jersey and New York. It is up to the army to exterminate it before anyone else is killed.

I still enjoy the heck out of this movie. The last ten minutes or so of the movie takes place in a heavily foggy country side where the mantis appears out of nowhere and then disappears into the mist. As a kid I always thought this was creepy and while as an adult it isn’t as spooky as it used to be I still dig it. There is a surprising amount of effort to create an atmosphere for what is basically a creature feature which is unusual but appreciated. The bit at the end where the army has to go into the tunnel to finish off the wounded monster is kind of sad and satisfying at the same time. It is a dangerous animal that has to be stopped, but it is just acting as nature intended it too. Perhaps it is because I first saw The Deadly Mantis when I was a kid, but I’ve always felt sorry for it.

One of my favorite creatures from the Fifties.
The effects work is top notch for the Fifties. They don’t hide the creature as it shows up in the opening credits! It is your basic puppet interacting with scale models of buildings and aircraft. Though there is a clever bit with an actual mantis crawling up the side of a model of the Washington monument. The few times that it does interact with the cast they use rear projection to put the two elements together. It might not look great to a modern audience, but I appreciate the work that had to be done to pull it off. I’ve always loved the old school tricks used to pull off the special effects. So much better than CGI.

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned you have a solid cast, a story that wastes no time getting to the good stuff, and liberal use of stock footage in the best way possible. This is one of the greatest examples of the giant bug movies that you will ever see. I put it on a level with Them! which is high praise as I consider that the best of the decade. Check out The Deadly Mantis.



© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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