Ever since I saw Kamacuras stalking around in the Kaiju movie Son of Godzilla, I’ve had a deep dread of this (let’s face it) fairly timid mantises. Whenever I watched the movie, I must have been at that impressionable age where this triangular headed insect embedded into my mind. Its essentially one of the things that initiated my aerozoophobia.
So imagine my trepidation upon learning that amongst Universal Pictures scifi horror canon during the mid fifties is movie entitled The Deadly Mantis.
Set in the South Seas, a volcanic eruption unearths a 200 foot long praying mantis that has been frozen in ice for hundreds of years.
When one of the remote Canadian outposts fails to return any calls, Col. Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens) is sent into investigate. Upon his arrival, Parkman discovers no sign of life and strange marks imprinted in the snow.
Later, an Air Force plane is grounded by the giant insect and Parkman notices the same slash marks he’d witnessed from the outpost. Only this time who also finds a five foot long spur. Fuelled by curiosity, he hires his top scientist to work our its origin but without success. So, in steps paleontologist Nedrick Jackson (William Hopper) who traces it to the praying mantis species.
When another attack happens at an Inuit village in the Arctic, the press become interested and magazine editor Marge Blane (Alix Talton) talks her way into joining the expedition posing as a photographer.
Its indicative of the time when Marge turns up to the base, all the men are instantly smitten by her presence, but its out hero Parkman that is the most taken by her, and the feeling is mutual between them. As with most trauma based narratives, these events often draw people together and as the the story unfolds between military and mantis attacks, their bond becomes further united.
The films conclusion smacks of earlier giant creature movies, most notably King Kong and Them, where the military bombard the monster with aero dynamic arsenal, this time forcing the Deadly Mantis into the Manhattan Tunnel. Trapped inside, Parkman takes a number of troops inside to kill it once and for all, armed with rifles and chemical bombs.
The feature didn’t live up to its gigantic proportions in the box office however, and failed to ignite massive interest. Looking back at it now, one can’t help but identify with this reaction as i struggled to connect with the plight, nor any fear that it tried to invoke, despite my own animosity.
Much like other sci-fi features of the era it would find itself subject to ridicule in Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a symbol of how these movies were received and the fall from grace that Universal was starting to find itself in.
- Saul Muerte