The Deadly Mantis (1957)
Lesser known when compared to some of its highly regarded 50s creature feature compatriots, The Deadly Mantis is an often maligned but certainly effective entry into the genre. Sit back and relax as way too much poor quality library footage is played as a backdrop to that 50s narrator voice giving you exposition after exposition about the US military’s northern and arctic defence systems. I hope you like library footage as The Deadly Mantis has its lions share. Take comfort in the knowledge that your in the safe monster movie hands of director Nathan Juran who would follow this with genre pieces 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and First Men in The Moon (1964). The very basic plot is a staple diet of the genre, monster melted from ice, makes a few remote attacks on military outposts, military hires a couple of (good looking) scientists, creature heads towards a major US city and landmark for showdown. However what makes this film hold its head just above the waterline of good company is the Mantis himself. Forget about the humans and the story.
It’s just a great choice of creature, one that comes pre packaged with a great name (the praying mantis) and physical attributes that lend itself well to gigantism and threat. So plaudits here go to Fred Knoth for his special effects sequences. Knoth, who also worked on the fantastic effects in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) gives us some effective shots of the mantis passing along shorelines and buzzing eerily through the sea fog, the mantis vs. flame throwers, and even a very modern-day disaster movie shot of the mantis buzzing around the Manhattan skyline; a device so overused these days that its gone beyond a cliché and become a parody of the genre. The film borrows considerably from established genre heavyweights, there’s some monster peeping in through the window circa King Kong (1933), there’s the use of Washington DC iconography circa The Day the World Ended (1951), and the tunnel ending circa Them (1953). But if you like your creature features in eerie Black and White, if you like your monsters gigantic and on the prowl, and if you’ve made your way through the 50s must-haves then look no further than The Deadly Mantis for your Friday Midnight Movie.
Like Giant Bug Movies? Try these: Them (1953), Beginning of the End (1957), Mothra (1961), Mimic (1997)