Directed by: Nathan Juran (20 Million Miles to Earth)
Starring: Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway
Having already been through ants, grasshoppers and spiders, the giant bug movie was clearly running the risk of making the entire sci-fi subgenre unbelievable when someone thought that giant praying mantis was the inevitable next in entymological thrills. That, of course, is just what Nathan Juran’s The Deadly Mantis (1957) is all about. The posters promised the viewer, “This Was the Day That Engulfed the World in Terror!” — a bit of an optimistic claim, though the big fella definitely worried some B-list stars, a smattering of extras and some stock footage. They also told us, “Out of a million years ago…a thousand tons of horror,” though I don’t recall anyone actually weighing the beast. Apart from the basic presposterous choice of insect, the most unusual aspect of the film is that the voracious creature has nothing to do with atomic mutation. No, our mantis is just some kind of prehistoric horror that ended up embedded in the ice of the frozen north, but now — much like Bela Lugosi’s caveman in Return of the Ape Man (1944) — has thawed out to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. (And really, when’s the last time you expected a thousand ton mantis to show up? Exactly.) It’s all on the goofy side as we watch Craig Stevens (TV’s Peter Gunn) and his paleontologist buddy William Hopper (Perry Mason’s leg-man on TV) try to rid the world of this winged menace. However, that doesn’t keep it from being pretty entertaining in its own way.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Deadly Mantis Thursday, March 7 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
In Brief: The title pretty much says it all. This is a 1950s insect-fear film (of course) about a giant praying mantis (what else). In its favor, the effects work is pretty good and the solid — if not exactly exciting — cast manage to take it all very seriously. You may find yourself having a harder time doing so, but isn’t that the appeal?