Combining/stealing ideas from previous atomic-monster movies, The Deadly Mantis was unleashed upon the world in 1957. Scream Factory is responsible for the creature feature resurfacing on Blu-ray. It’s not great, but there’s entertainment to be had from this cheaply made production and the disc’s extras.
On an island in the South Seas, explosions from the testing of atomic bombs trigger the melting of glaciers near Greenland because the world is interconnected. An iceberg topples over, revealing to the audience (dun dun dun) a giant mantis frozen inside it. The characters take a while longer to discover what’s happening.
After an arctic military outpost is destroyed and its men lost, an investigation finds a large object like a tooth or tusk. With the government scientists stumped, they call in paleontologist Ned Jackson (William Hopper, known to Perry Mason fans as private detective Paul Drake). He solves the mystery, but the big reveal is underwhelming as he just shows a picture inside a book of a mantis.
Ned brings photographer Margie Blaine (Alix Talton) with him to a military base where many of the men go gaga at the sight of her, especially Col. Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens) who woos her but neither exhibit much of a personality. The mantis terrorizes the U.S. revealed through headlines, including one that amusingly states a congressman calls the mantis a hoax and demands an investigation.
Even funnier is seeing the Eskimo-village-evacuation sequence. Taken from S.O.S. Iceberg (1933), the footage is sped up to comical effect as the villagers look off screen while a loud buzz plays on the soundtrack. They run around and paddle away in canoes before a short shot of the creature appears. Here, and in most scenes, the creature looks phony as the models move unnaturally. The one time an actual praying mantis is used it looks nothing like the creature in its other appearances.
The Deadly Mantis is filled with what seems like an inordinate amount of stock footage. Of course, it’s clearly a producer’s decision to save money on the budget, but editor Chester Schaeffer does a masterful job piecing together a visual narrative. In fact, the first six minutes is almost all archival material. The score and narration help tell the story as well.
Music is clearly important for the production. During the first arctic investigation, there’s a musical sting to heighten the moment as a body-less hand enters frame, but it’s just a guy getting the attention of his co-worker, but no one would pause like that in real life. On the commentary track, Tom Weaver states this was a common Universal horror trope.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Created from a new 2K scan of the original film elements, the image presents a good spectrum of grays. Blacks are typically inky, although at times the levels are too high and the contrast is thrown off, affecting the clarity. Film grain is apparent and intensifies during scenes filled with fog and smoke. The latter which help obscure the monster. There are occasional scratches and specks throughout, and the flaws are progressively worse on the stock footage. A spot on the camera moves as it pans across a map during the opening sequence.
The audio is only available in DTS-HD MA Mono. Dialogue is clear, especially the strong voice of the narrator. The score sounds more robust than most mono Blu-ray soundtracks. There is a faint hiss on the track, which is expected for its age and budget.
For extras, the aforementioned commentary track by Weaver, who is as knowledgeable about the movie as he is dismissive of it, was created for this release. At one point, he reads from portions of a Starlog interview with Mantis director Nathan Juran in 1989 so he has done his homework. There are also “a few lengthy silences” from him. David Schecter is also listed but doesn’t show up until 52 minutes when there’s a clip of him talking about the score for 12 minutes. He’s informative, but sounds a tad rushed to get everything in he has to say.
A sure treat for some folks is the inclusion of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 (SD, 92 min) Season 8 Episode 4 with Mike Nelson (Mike), Kevin Murphy (Servo), and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) riffing on the movie. A Still Gallery (8 min) and Trailer (2 min) make up the rest.
The Deadly Mantis suffers from its nonsensical plot, especially the love story, due in part to the cast’s poor acting, although it’s hard to see what the screenwriter gave them to work with. But this monster-movie fan still found elements that made it enjoyable, both intentional and unintentional. For those that prefer the latter, make fun of it with your friends or watch the professionals from MST3K do it.