Deadly Mantis, The (1957)

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

This Was the Day That Engulfed the World in Terror!

A volcanic eruption in the South Seas causes polar icebergs to shift, releasing a giant prehistoric praying mantis from its centuries-old icy confines. It slowly begins to work its way south from the North Pole towards New York, killing and destroying everything in its path.

 

A classic dose of 50s sci-fi rubbish, The Deadly Mantis is your traditional giant bug flick in which all manner of wooden actors get flustered when a flying fiend terrorizes America. Making a minor change of plot by not having the monster created by an atomic blast, the film shares many characteristics with the earlier Them!, a much better take on the 50s giant monster genre. Directed by Nathan Juran, the man responsible for my favourite film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Deadly Mantis is sluggish and I use that term mildly.

It takes an eternity to get going, opting to act as some form of pro-defence propaganda reel of America’s post-war capabilities. Much emphasis is placed upon the copious use of military stock footage, no doubt giving the running time a helping push in the right direction. Seriousness is the aim of the game in these 50s sci-fi flicks and The Deadly Mantis is no exception. Military characters bark out orders. Villagers flee in panic. Scientists argue like it’s the end of mankind. Even the guy doing the voiceover explaining the invention of radar at the beginning does so in a deadpan manner. I suppose there wouldn’t be any narrative if the characters all just stood and laughed at the creature. But at least they’d be doing something worthwhile instead of going through the motions. The human characters are dull and bland and there’s your generic forced romance between the male and female lead actors. However at few points during the film do they ever suggest anything worthwhile of a romance yet seem to pander to type by the end of the film by sharing a moment of intimacy after the creature has been slain.

The mantis makes its first cameo appearance at around the thirty-three minute mark. The creature looks no better or worse than you’d expect from a 50s science fiction flick. It’s not stop motion but a giant puppet which menaces a lot of cheap-looking miniature sets. The mantis looks creepy enough and has enough spark about it to actually look terrifying in a few scenes. Nathan Juran’s best shots of the creature are when it emerges from the fog-drenched tunnel right at the finale. Unfortunately for the majority of the film, the creature is nowhere to be seen and rarely do you see it doing any damage. Whenever it attacks someone or something, the film conveniently fades out to another scene, only hinting at what happened to the bus, the sailors on the boat or any number of other victims. We don’t actually see it eat anyone so maybe the scientists just got it wrong? Innocent until proven guilty I say.

 

The Deadly Mantis is one of the last of the 50s sci-fi flicks with giant monsters on the loose and it shows. Devoid of anything fresh, featuring a tired storyline, an over-use of stock footage and peppered with lifeless characters, it’s no surprise to see this drop off the radar whilst true classics likes Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms reign supreme.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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