© Rob Hill 2017


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ROUNDUP | Giant Killer Animals 2

7 Aug 2017

Giant rabbits and a native god-cum-alligator pose various challenges to a baffled Doc McCoy and a dubbed Barbara Bach. But first up is Robert Lansing vs a 10 foot crab.



Island Claws (1980)

Country: USA | Runtime: 82mins | Director: Hernan Cardenas

Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks, Nita Talbot, Jo McDonnell, Martine Deignan



Biologists in Florida are sciencing crabs in the hope of developing bigger, fleshier specimens to combat world hunger. But a nearby nuclear power station could be contributing to any potential genetic developments by leaking toxic waste into the water supply.


Although part of the post-Jaws trend of demonising inoffensive animals via super-sizement and the accession of a bloodlust, Island Claws is nevertheless among the least committed of such movies. For 80 minutes we’re treated to nothing more than occasional, vaguely discomforting gatherings of average size crabs. They inexplicably injure people: a girl who falls off her bike when she’s distracted by them scuttling across the road, a man sets himself on fire trying to brush them out of his caravan, etc., but it’s all incidental and accidental. The main attraction, a 10-foot-tall mechanical crustacean, doesn’t appear until the last few minutes, and even then it’s effectively stationary and lit so poorly you can’t see it. ​​



"Crabs don't attack people."​​


The filmmakers’ attention is pointed elsewhere. Usually in these movies we’re given little more than character names as a means of filling out the background world. But Island Claws cares more about its various melodramatic subplots than it does its monsters. There are Haitian refugees who arrive by homemade sailboat and trigger a xenophobic manhunt of Trumpian fervour. Our ostensive lead, a profoundly forgettable pair of tight shorts called Pete (Hanks) is an orphan in love with the daughter of the power station’s manager, a dynamic that creates tensions among his island community buddies. Among them is acerbic bar owner Moody (Lansing), who blames the girl’s father for the death of Pete’s parents, and so on. There is scope for endless intrigue at the power station, in the lab and among the townspeople, with streams of characters introduced and multiple relationships established. Just what you want in a giant crab movie.



At least Lansing is great as the misanthropic Moody. Old-school quality also comes in the shape of Nita Talbot and Barry Nelson, but it’s young Hanks who shoulders most of the movie. I’m fine with that because he’s absolutely awful. His wide-eyed all-American cheese is a welcome distraction from whatever the locals are preoccupied with at any given moment (usually Haitians; seldom crabs). But it’s not enough to save this turkey from the worst trap a bad movie can fall into: being boring. It’s also nonsensical, not that it matters. It boasts a narrative featuring both traditional architects of the giant killer animal: scientific hubris and corporate irresponsibility. But it doesn’t even bother telling us which was the guilty catalyst on this occasion. We find out all about Moody’s difficult on/off love affair with his barmaid, but not why there is a massive beast killing people. Too much drab, not enough crab.  







WHAT?: 6







Night of the Lepus (1972)

Country: USA | Runtime: 82mins | Director: Hernan Cardenas

Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks, Nita Talbot, Jo McDonnell, Martine Deignan



A scientist seeking humane ways to control an explosion in the local rabbit population inadvertently creates a mutant strain of giant bunnies. 


As ridiculous as Night of the Lepus is, it’s probably more down-to-earth than its inspiration, Australian writer Russell Braddon’s The Year of the Angry Rabbit. In that 1966 novel the rabbits inadvertently lead to the creation of a super-weapon that allows Australia to take over the world. Within weeks mankind is plunged into a cultural dark age… probably. At least in the movie we only have to worry about being eaten by rabbits. 



"The bite of the Lepus, that's the Latin name for rabbit, can be dangerous."


Night of the Lepus is the result of a TV Western crew (various elements of which were responsible for dozens of episodes of Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and The High Chaparral) getting together during their off season to shoot a movie. This is evidenced not just in the rural settings and proliferation of denim, but also the bland look and slapdash approach. TV crews used to be like Roger Corman crews: they didn’t do anything properly if it could be done cheaply instead. Unfortunately, when you have complicated process shots to pull off, that isn’t necessarily the best approach. 


Obviously the big question we’re constantly begged to ask is, ‘why the fuck rabbits?’ As is often the case with these movies, Night of the Lepus attempts to tap into a current concern of the media, and in this case plagues of crop-destroying rabbits seem to have been the distraction du jour. That approach is fine with inherently sinister creatures like crocodiles, sharks and even insects, but there has to be a limit. It seems MGM came to the same conclusion because they ordered the name to be changed (from Rabbits) and all bunnies removed from the posters and trailers. It didn’t help. The movie opened to a critical drubbing and audience indifference, although, having been made on a TV budget, it did at least avoid significant losses.



"The only thing that could cause this much destruction would be a saber-toothed tiger."


That old-school Western DNA is evident in every aspect of the movie. Characters are comically harsh when it comes to their treatment of children and animals, with one rancher blowing his horse’s head off without a second thought after it twists its ankle, then barking the news unsympathetically at a small child who asks after the poor thing. All the men are glum, all the women hardy, and all the children prone to starting sentences with expressions like ‘gee whizz…’ You’d guess it was set in the 1890s if it weren’t for the cars and clothes. And, as in a classic Western, the community is completely inward looking, there’s seldom any sense of a wider world beyond the dusty vistas. This is illustrated hilariously when the protagonists first discover the giant rabbits and stoically set about trying to wipe them out. This could be the greatest scientific discovery in history, an event with the potential to change the world by eliminating hunger, but it doesn’t occur to anybody to even communicate the news of their existence to the outside world. It would have been earth-shattering… if anyone knew about it. 



"Would you get me a clean rabbit please."


Besides, the yokels could have done with outside help getting the rabbits under control. The genius idea they come up with is to trap them in a mine. I’m no expert, but aren’t rabbits of the digging and burrowing flavour of animal? Doesn’t that make trapping them in a mine akin to trapping a bird in the sky? Obviously it doesn’t work. But fortunately for everyone, particularly the special effects crew, they only come out when it’s dark, so there’s plenty of time to come up with the sort of clever solution a movie like this needs. Instead they just drive the rabbits into a field and massacre them with guns and flamethrowers in a brutal orgy of bunnicide.







WHAT?: 8







The Great Alligator (1979)

aka Alligator, Big Alligator River

Country: Italy | Runtime: 89mins | Director: Sergio Martino

Starring: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer, Romano Puppo, Fabrizia Castagnoli



Non-specific Westerners building a tourist resort in a non-specific jungle anger a non-specific local god, who turns into a giant alligator and eats people.


New York born Barbara Bach’s career in Italian exploitation was the inadvertent result of an early marriage to Roman businessman Augusto Gregorini. After moving to her husband’s home city in 1968, Bach made a series of horror and crime quickies that established her as among the leading foreign exponents of the Italian B-movie. After the failure of her marriage, a return to the US lead to starring roles in The Spy Who Loved Me and Force 10 from Navarone, but further premium studio movies proved elusive, and a return to Italy’s haphazard exploitation merry-go-round beckoned. The Great Alligator was the last such movie she made before marriage to Ringo Starr took her life in a very different direction. Some Bach background is important because director Sergio Martino points his camera at little else.



"Not even the biggest crocodile in the river could do this. Only the great god Kruner, but of course, he doesn't exist."


The Great Alligator is not so much bad as vague. There are long sequences completely devoid of dialogue, and when characters do speak it’s in dubbed, disjointed banalities that sort of wash in and out thanks to the distracting sound design. It makes for a pretty abstract movie in which sequences, tensions and tone are built entirely by music and imagery. As a result we don’t form much of a bond with the characters and seldom feel completely confident of what’s going on. The conceit doesn’t help much. With virtually all schlock moviedom’s giant animals the result of scientists underestimating nature or evil corporations cutting corners, it takes some getting used to a beast that’s meant to be the embodiment of an angry tribal deity. 



"It's wonderful, come on in! Even if you shit yourself no one's going to see it in here."


As we home in on the third act, a more traditional narrative starts to unfold. So traditional, in fact, that you don’t need to see this thing to guess how it goes. There’s a sympathetic young couple; so they’ll figure out the threat posed by the godigator. There’s a property developer; so he’ll ignore it. There are innocent visitors; so they’ll be placed in peril during the finale. It’s almost disappointing after the ethereal first half, but at least it gives you something to latch onto. 


As with some of Martino’s better-known movies (Slave of the Cannibal God and 2019: After the Fall of New York spring to mind), The Great Alligator isn’t bad enough to generate much ironic amusement value. But, like those movies, there is stylish fun to be found in the score, the cinematography and the general wackiness. If you imagine a second rate Aguirre, the Wrath of God crossed with Shark Attack 3, you’ll at least know what to expect.







WHAT?: 7









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