A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Deadly Mantis

July 18, 2011

The Deadly Mantis

Here’s another movie we bought after seeing it riffed on MST3K. I have always been a fan of fifties monster movies, but I don’t know if I would have added this to our collection if we hadn’t had the MST connection. It’s not quite bad enough to be notable for its laughable qualities (like some of Roger Corman’s movies.) It doesn’t feature actors who went on to be stars in small roles (no Clint Eastwood or Peter Graves.) It doesn’t really stand out in my mind from other movies of the day. It is a great way to look at the tropes of the genre though.

As we watched the movie un-MiSTed for the first time we both commented on the fact that it does kind of require riffing. It starts out so very slowly! I think that the problem is that the movie is trying so hard to make it’s monster plausible. The film makers spend a lot of time trying to ground the events of the film in the real world, which makes things very slow to start.

The first shot of the movie is a very – very – slow pan over a map of the world zooming in on a volcano in the middle of the ocean deep in the southern hemnisphere. Then it pans up to the north pole, where it is implied that the volcanic activity has caused the ice on the edge of a vast glacier to fall away revealing a giant preying mantis encased in the ice. (Presumably this is the same iceberg that let loose the megashark and giant octopus in the Asylum film of the same title.)

Before the mantis can make with the killing and menacing though this movie briefly morphs into a documentary about the radar fences that defend our country from a sneak attack over the north pole. It’s an odd decision that makes the somewhat slow opening of the movie feel even more awkwardly paced.

Now Stephen Spielberg has famously said that in Jaws he built the tension by not showing the shark until the third act of the movie. This movie is evidence that this notion hardly originated with Senior Spielbergo – it’s just common sense in a monster movie. The deadly mantis is slowly built up through a series of attacks where we don’t get to see it in action. It breaks into an isolated radar station in the frozen north and devours a couple of airmen left there to monitor the skies leaving nothing behind but a wrecked shack and a strange clawprint in the Styrofoam snow outside. Then it attack a plane in the sky, again leaving not a sign of the plane’s occupants but breaking off a giant toenail clipping.

Then the movie stops following the mantis’ attacks and instead introduces us to a paleontologist who is brought in to figure out what kind of creature is causing this destruction. The reasoning of the colonel in charge of stopping the attacks, and the crack team of scientists he assembles, is that no creature alive today would leave behind this clipping, so it must have come off of a creature that is thought to be extinct. A paleontologist, they figure, is used to reconstructing a prehistoric creature using only the tiniest scraps of evidence. What’s amazing is they’re perfectly right – this guy figures out exactly what the monster is from just its toenail clippings and so he and his plucky reporter sidekick rush off to the north in search of it – just in time to be there when we finally get a glimpse of the deadly mantis, which wrecks the building they’re having a meeting in.

The enormous insect then proceeds to fly in a generally southwesterly direction, followed by radar, fighter jets and ground spotters who have giant charts of known enemy aircraft (Russian I presume) but no entamological charts. It menaces Washington DC very briefly, then it flies off again – impervious to bullets and missiles, until finally a brave airforce pilot rams it with his plane, and it takes refuge in a tunnel somewhere.

I do have to say that although this movie is strangely paced, kind of bland, and prone to long winded lectures when maybe some action and mayhem would liven things up, it does have a very cool monster. The mantis is a series of well done puppets and a couple shots of a real mantis on tiny models of DC landmarks. (It reminds me a lot of the forced perspective work and locusts on postcards in The Beginning of the End which came out in the same year, but this director doesn’t have Bert I Gordon’s passion for the material.) For the rousing conclusion in the tunnel they even have a parade-float sized version of the monster that waves its serrated fore-limbs about and has an articulated mouth.

It seems that a reasonable amount of actual research went into this movie, or at least the writer read a couple encyclopedia articles while dashing off the script. Certainly the movie misses no opportunity to have one of its characters talk at length about the science behind the creature. In the end though it’s just a kind of bland movie that almost completely failed to keep my attention while it was on. With its odd pacing and constant strange digressions from the main plot of a giant insect crawling around on landmarks and smashing buildings this movie simply begs for riffing. I need to find the tape we recorded the MST episode on now.

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July 18, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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