Friday, June 6, 2014

I saw the Killer Shrews...Return!!!

At long last, a sequel to Ken Curtis/Ray Kellogg's drive-in classic, "The Killer Shrews" is here, in Steve "Planet Raptor" Latshaw's aptly titled, "Return of the Killer Shrews".

As such, Thorne Sherman, the intrepid captain of "Shrew Island" is also back, with James Best (best known to "Twilight Zone" fans for his crafty performances in "Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank" and "Jess-Belle"), reprising his role; and with him are two "Dukes of Hazzard" co-stars, Rick Hurst, as his trusty first-mate, and John Schneider as the hot-shot, television personality, John Reno.

It's really Reno's clout that initiates the adventure, as he intends to use the island as the hub of a "Wild Safari" reality show. He hires Sherman to sail the crew there, and in that the captain assumes the original shrews simply starved to death without a supply of human flesh, he obliges, figuring he and his first mate can make a few bucks off the deal.

Best, though obviously older and far less energetic than in his first outing, still impressively holds his own, despite not always being the focus. In this regard, unlike in various big-budget Hollywood ventures where an older personality may make only a fleeting appearance, the filmmakers in this instance know Best is a sentimental favorite and the essential crossover between chapters, even inserting flashbacks of him from the first film. 

Additionally, Best shares writing credit on the script, along with Latshaw and Pat Moran and Patrick Moran (yep, we're talking two different individuals here, with the latter playing a supporting part in the film). Anyway, it's a most impressive credit for the veteran star and another reason why fans should pursue the sequel. (Additionally, Dorothy, Best's wife, is one of the film's producers.)

On the villainous side, the unfairly underrated Bruce ("Willard"/"X-Men") Davison plays the edgy Jerry Farrell (originally portrayed by Ken Curtis--God rest his soul), who's been manically nurturing the ferocious vermin for roughly five decades. Davison's take is frenetically quirky, adding just enough of that Willard Stiles "Tear Him Up!" fervor to keep the shrews in line (well, more or less). His character is also, for all intents and purposes, reminiscent of a "Blood Island" madman (only crazed up a few notches), which should not only please traditional "Shrew" fans, but also the Eddie Romero/John Ashley sect.

The plot is simple, even if sometimes a tad too comedic for its own good, with crew members being bumped off in the slasher-film vein. Some saucy titillation even bridges the deaths: a lusty, visual contrast to the monstrous, computerized shrews, which basically look the same, though I must confess, I prefer the original's disguised canines. 

Like the recent "Giant Gila Monster" remake (see my previous post), "Return" admirably hammers the exploitative nail: not a great film by a long shot, but the sort that would have surely made the prolific rounds if drive-ins were still widespread. Too bad Best and the gang didn't conjure this one sooner, but then, for the Best things in life (ha, ha), a long wait can often prove well worth it.

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