Classic Cinema #17: The Killer Shrews (1959) – By Jason S. Lockard

My Name is Jason S. Lockard and I love Classic Cinema and this being the month of my favorite holiday, Halloween; I’m opening the horror vault and breaking out a little science-fiction/horror classic from director Roger Kellogg: The Killer Shrews staring James Best known to most as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

James Best was born Jules Guy in Powderly in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky on July 26, 1926. His mother was the sister of Ike Everly, the father of the pop group the Everly Brothers. After his mother died in 1929, the three-year-old was sent to live in an orphanage. He was later adopted by Armen and Essa Best and went to live with them in Corydon, Indiana.

James began his acting career with an unaccredited role in the 1950 western ‘One Way Street‘. Best would go on to portray a wide variety of characters in a wide spectrum of film genres. Some of his more recognizable than others. In 1968 he would play a pivotal role in the James Stewart / Henry Fonda western Firecreek.

Besides acting in films Best guest starred close to 300 times on popular TV shows such as Gunsmoke, The Adventures of Kit Carson, Bonanza, Have Gun will travel, The Andy Griffith Show, The Mod Squad, I Spy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Incredible Hulk, Perry Mason and The Fugitive just to name a few!

Best is most remembered for his unforgettable role as Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in the TV classic The Dukes of Hazzard. While in the first episodes Roscoe was more serious, aggressive and a more competent police officer; as the series went on Roscoe became much more bumbling and much more fun to watch!

In 1959 James Best took the starring role in our Science-Fiction Horror Classic for this month ‘The Killer Shrews’ directed by Ray Kellogg. The plot is pretty much what you expect from a science-fiction film in the 50 and 60’s scientific experiments go wrong and monsters emerge!

The Movie opens with Ship Captain Thorne Sherman played by Best and his first mate Griswold are sailing to a remote island to deliver supplies to a group stationed there. When they arrive they meet a scientist named Marlowe Cragis, his research assistant Radford Baines, the scientist’s daughter Ann, her fiancée Jerry Farrel played by Ken Curtis [Gunsmoke‘s Festus], and a servant named Mario. Marlowe Cragis suggests that the two men stay with them at their house/lab because a hurricane is approaching! Thorne accepts the invitation mostly because of Ann but Griswold decides to stay with the boat!

While in the house/lab Marlowe tells of his experiments to make humans half-size to reduce world hunger. Smaller humans = less food needed. Unfortunately, his experiments have failed creating giant, venomous shrews.

As the movie move steadily forward expectedly Thorne and Ann begin to fall in love, which angers Jerry. The shrews have now run out of smaller animals to eat so they are starving, so they eat Griswold who was on his way to the house/lab and begin to close in on the house, ultimately breaking in through the basement. When one of the shrews kills Mario it is revealed that they have a poisonous bite. Time is running out and so are the members of the group how many will survive will anyone survive The Killer Shrews? You’ll have to watch the film to find out!

While the Killer Shrews is not the greatest of Science-Fiction/Horror Classics it is very entertaining and when you do finally see the huge teeth of the Shrews gnashing it is very satisfying and with it only being 68 minutes you can watch this classic in half the time it take you to watch one of this made for TV horror films that NEVER live up to the hype!

Later in life The star of ‘The Killer Shrews’ James Best moved to Florida were he taught at the University of Central Florida. Now semi-retired, Best runs a production company and takes occasional acting roles. He has also earned a name for himself as an artist and painter. James Best is currently a resident of Hickory, North Carolina.

In 2009, James Best completed his autobiography, "Best In Hollywood: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful." James Best played many diverse roles in his storied career but he will always be linked to Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and his silly little laugh will forever play in our memories!

Moral Rating: Violence
Audience: Teens and Adults
Genre: Science-Fiction / Horror
Length: 68 min.
Released: 1959
Our Rating: B-