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"Looks like a rat, smells like a skunk - some call them bone-eaters."
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A low-budget 1959 monster movie, directed by Ray Kellogg (who shot it in Texas back-to-back with The Giant Gila Monster) and starring James "Rosco P. Coltrane" Best.

Thorne Sherman is the captain of a small supply boat sent to bring provisions to a lab on an isolated island. When he arrives, inclement weather prevents the offloading of provisions, and he finds the resident scientists — Dr. Marlowe Cragis, research assistant Radford Baines, Marlowe's daughter Anne Cragis, Anne's (former) fiancee and lab assist Jerry Farrel, and a Mexican servant named Mario — nervously awaiting him with guns. Much conversation and beating around the bush ensues, until finally the truth comes out: The scientists have been performing experiments on overpopulation by genetically engineering shrews which grow to the size of sheep dogs, eat incessantly and breed profusely. These giant shrews have escaped and are overrunning the island, stripping it of food until the monsters must turn on the humans, trapping them in the small house/lab.

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Unfortunately for the humans, the rains are weakening the house's adobe walls, allowing the Killer Shrews to burrow their way in. Although only a couple shrews actually make it inside, it's enough to kill Mario and Radford; the shrews also gobble up Thorne's sidekick Rook whilst he's attempting to bring items ashore from the boat. Realizing they can't stay in the house because the shrews are getting in, but can't go out of the house because the shrews are out there, Thorne gets creative and builds a portable tank out of empty oil drums. He and the Cragises all escape to the beach in this tank and finally ditch into the ocean and swim out to Thorne's boat (now safe, since shrews can't swim); but Jerry panics and refuses to join them in their escape, and so gets himself eaten. The shrews are left trapped on the island, where it is assumed they will eventually starve and die off.

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For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode see here.

After decades of making jokes about doing it, Best starred in a 2012 sequel The Return of the Killer Shrews alongside Bruce Davison and his Dukes of Hazzard-costars John Schneider and Rick Hurst.


This film provides examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Research assistant Radford Baines sits somewhere between here and Ambiguous Disorder. He's utterly focused on his work, to the point that even disasters like the deadly animals in the wilderness or the approaching hurricane barely register to him as important. Unlike the conventional examples of this trope, he's not portrayed as forgetful, just distracted. Even when he gets bitten by a Killer Shrew, he decides that the sensible thing to do is quietly die whilst recording the symptoms of the poison rather than tell the others about his having been poisoned.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The shrews were released into the wilderness to grow and multiply without any restraints because Jerry got drunk and let them out in a random act of drunken stupidity.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Shrews can swim. They're also inclined to engage in cannibalism even when they haven't stripped their habitat of alternate prey, making them a poor choice of analog for experiments in human overpopulation.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: When the Mexican servant is bitten in the leg by a shrew, Thorne tries to stop the bleeding with a tourniquet. What does he use to tighten it? The barrel of his loaded revolver.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Rook, Thorne's Afro-American partner, is the first person to be killed in the movie. Mexican servant Mario is the second. Both of the final victims, Radford and Jerry, are white.
  • Closed Circle: The reason the whole plot takes place is because Thorne arrives just prior to an imminent hurricane sweeps over the island, preventing the residents from simply jumping aboard and sailing off during the day, whilst the Killer Shrews are dormant.
  • Dirty Coward: During the second argument Jerry has with his former fiancee Anne, the latter mentions that when the Killer Shrews came after them the previous night, Jerry knocked her down and left her for dead in his efforts to escape into the safety of the compound. His second attempt at killing Thorne, by abandoning him to the Killer Shrews, is motivated as much by his cowardice as by his murderous jealousy of Thorne.
  • For Science!: The creation of the Killer Shrews was actually an experiment to study the effects of overpopulation, an experiment which has (everybody say it with me) Gone Horribly Right.
    • Also, one of the scientists, Radford Baines, when fatally bitten by a shrew, calmly records the progression of symptoms right up to the instance of his death, rather than say anything to all the people in the room with him.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Actually averted for Rook in the first film, rarity for the time. Heavily averted with the sequel, where Thorne is clearly very shaken by his first-mate's death with a flashback and tears shed over it.
  • From Bad to Worse: How can it get worse than being trapped inside a compound by a hurricane whilst ravenous predators with venomous bites are prowling outside? Have the compound walls be made of adobe—aka, dried mud bricks. Naturally, the torrential rain softens the clay walls to the point that the Killer Shrews can start digging right through them.
  • Giving Them the Strip: One of the girl's boots is torn off by a shrew, but she's not actually bitten. She apparently ditched her other boot herself, as when she's swimming out to the boat at the end, she's completely barefoot.
  • Island of Mystery: The setting for the film is, of course, a remote island without any inhabitants other than a small research team. The perfect place for dangerous experiments in bio-engineering to take place!
  • Jerkass: Jerry; a drunkard who released the shrews to wreak havoc in the first place in a bout of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy, he later compounds his asshole behavior by getting jealous of Thorne's growing closeness to Jerry's ex-fiancee Anne, to the point of trying twice to murder Thorne — first by simply shooting him, then by locking him out with the killer shrews.
  • Karmic Death: Jerry, after repeatedly trying to feed the hero to the shrews, finally is taken down by them himself. For added karma, the whole mess with the shrews is his fault to begin with, as he was the one who got drunk and let them out. To say nothing of how his claustrophobia is the reason why he fails to escape with the others.
  • Love Interest: Anne Cragis is this to Thorne Sherman, of course.
  • Love Triangle: Of the two "interested parties and one superfluous party" variety. Anne Cragis and Thorne Sherman fall for each other as they fight to survive, whilst Jerry Farrel, who used to be Anne's fiance, until she broke up with him for being a cowardly drunken idiot.
  • MacGyvering: The solution to escaping from the house to the boat without getting bitten is to assemble makeshift armor from empty 50-gallon drums.
  • Mad Scientist: Averted, surprisingly enough. Dr. Craigis may have accidentally created a pack of giant shrews as a side-effect of his experiments, but he gives a reasonable justification for everything he does and takes care from the beginning that nothing that he did could endanger anyone outside the island.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Dr. Marlowe Craigis' daughter, Anne, of course.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only 7 characters in the entire thing.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Jerry plots to murder Thorne out of jealousy over Thorne's growing relationship with Anne.
  • Poisonous Person: The killer shrews have venomous bites, so even if you don't get Devoured by the Horde, being bitten is a death sentence.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Rook, the hero's plucky sidekick (see also Black Dude Dies First).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The giant shrews having venomous bites? That's actually a common trait amongst normal shrews!
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Shrews are sort of like rodents, although now all classified in different orders.
  • Scare Chord
    Sherman: How big do [the shrews] get?
    [chord]
  • Slurpasaur: The eponymous shrews are played by dogs in very unconvincing masks.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Jerry Farrel, who is basically to blame for everything that goes wrong in this movie. The sequel even has him turn out to have survived his apparent death after being stranded on the island and become a mad hermit who feeds his surviving killer shrews with any human who stumbles on the island.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Subverted. Nobody on the island is oblivious to the danger that the Killer Shrews present, and whilst Marlow and Radford feel they have a moral obligation to stay on the island to continue documenting the experiment, they are intent on sending Anne and the sailors Thorne & Rook back to safety on the sea, with cowardly Jerry having every intention of joining them. Unfortunately for them, Thorne's ship arrived just before a hurricane is due to hit the island, so the inclement weather forces them to bunker down and wait it out. And then the adobe starts melting under the hurricane's torrential rainfall, letting the Killer Shrews burrow through their defenses...
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Lampshaded by the heroine herself, who chides the hero for not even commenting on her unexplained accent.

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