The Killer Shrews DVD Review: A Shrewd Release from Film Chest

Film Chest brings us a "digitally transferred" re-release of the Public Domain cult classic. But just what exactly does "digitally transferred" mean?
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After Toho unleashed its monstrous creation Gojira upon the world in 1954 - itself a metaphor to the bombing of Hiroshima and the radioactive horrors that were born that day towards the end of World War II - America couldn't help but jump in on the fun (again). And so, one mutated critter after another began to emerge, whether it be a creature spawned from the uncharted depths of the Salton Sea due to nuclear testing, alien monsters from the vast vastness of vast space come to teach us a lesson, or the (sometimes) accidental creation of something from some loony scientist's lab. Monsters were invading the entire nation, nay the world from all over the place - and horny kids in drive-in theaters on boths sides of the Great Plains were almost listening to the tinny monaural sounds their victims and victors were making.

In the instance of the independently made 1959 offering to the drive-in gods, The Killer Shrews, the latter man-made factor is as fault. And boy, is it a silly premise, kids. Working on a method to shrink human beings so as to create more space and extend the food supply (look, some men are insecure enough about their size as it is!), a group of scientists on a remote tropical island (well, okay, somewhere near Dallas, Texas) instead inadvertently enlarge some normally tiny shrews. Now resembling a pack of fierce wild dogs (mostly because they are in fact dogs, adorned with carpet remnants and weird fake head/teeth appliances), these killer shrews must eat three times their body weight every day or starve - and with only a handful of humans on the island, the hunt is on.

But nothing prevents these humans from partying it up like kings before fate rings the dinner bell as visiting delivery boat captain James Best - keen to avoid an oncoming hurricane - holes up on the island with its only other bipedal inhabitants, all of whom swarm around the mini-bar for the first half of the film while Best's black sidekick (Judge Henry Dupree; please, save your "Here come da Judge!" jokes if possible) is torn to shreds outside by the bad l'il beasties. The remaining (notable and semi-notable) survivors include Ken Curtis, Swedish honey Ingrid Goude, Baruch Lumet (the rabbi of the memorable "What's My Perversion?" program in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask), all of whom would have stood a much better chance had they laid off the martinis in the first half.

Of course, the nonchalant attitude the film's protagonists display is only part of the charm this guilty pleasure provides. The regional horror flick was produced as part of a terrible twosome for the drive-in circuit, with some of the same crew filming another monster, The Giant Gila Monster as its intended companion piece. Inevitably, both '50s cult flicks would wind up being parodied during the Fourth Season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Falling into the Public Domain years after their initial release, The Killer Shrews (and its counterpart) have been subject to one cheapo VHS and DVD release after another over the years. And now, in 2014, Film Chest has brought us a version of the film wherein the cover art proudly exclaims "digitally transferred". Does this mean it's been remastered from an original negative? And is there a newly-mixed 5.1 soundtrack or recently-recorded audio commentary from James Best to boot? Or even a trailer?

No such luck on either front, boys and girls. Instead, once again, the budget label Film Chest has taken the piss by re-releasing something that has already been released and making it sound like they've done us a favor. Don't get me wrong, I loved their Blu-ray release of Zaat. Their HD take on Roger Corman's Public Domain (PD) nightmare The Terror? Best I've ever seen the film look. But in the instance of The Killer Shrews looks like they've taken a PD print of the flick, applied a few video filters, et voila: "digitally transferred". The filtering doesn't even look like it was done properly, for that matter, as all motion leaves a telecine effect behind. Since I'm on the subject, it looks like the film could have hailed from a copy of a 16mm print or a really good-looking video source.

But we we can't say it isn't what they advertised. I mean, they definitely transferred it from one source to another. And what was that final output source? A Digital Versatile Disc. Essentially, it is exactly what they offered - though that's not saying much, even for a film that sports a bunch of playful puppies in shag carpet scraps and false teeth as monsters. Truth be told, Legend Films had a much better release several years back. I actually went to the trouble of making a comparison between the Film Chest DVD and the Legend Films disc (which was sourced from actual, genuine, original materials).

The Film Chest disc is simply not up to par, even with its $10 price tag. And it's a darn shame, I tell you. You can pick up a copy of Alpha Video's cheapo PD disc for much less if you wanted to. Frankly though, if you wish to add the film to your collection (and why the heck shouldn't you?), you'd do better to pick up the Legend Films release. Not only is it paired with its original companion feature, The Giant Gila Monster in both their classic black and white incarnations as well as computer colorized versions (for those of you who enjoy such things), but the video quality is much better than what's available on this barebones Film Chest DVD (sorry, guys). Plus, with two bad '50s sci-fi B movies to sit through, there's a better chance those martinis you tanked up on during the first half of the feature will work their way out before the second movie concludes (just be sure you get to the concession stand before it closes so you can score some greasy pizza and fries!).

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