A film with shortcomings, many plot holes and poor production values but replete with imagination
Produced by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Edited by Charles Gross
Running time: 62 min
Box office: $1 million
Richard Garland: Dale Drewer
Pamela Duncan: Martha Hunter
Russell Johnson: Hank Chapman
Leslie Bradley: Dr. Karl Weigand
Mel Welles: Jules Deveroux
Richard H. Cutting: Dr. James Carson
Beach Dickerson: Seaman Ron Fellows
Tony Miller: Seaman Jack Sommers
Ed Nelson: Ensign Quinlan
Maitland Stuart: Seaman Mac
Charles B. Griffith: Seaman Tate
At the end of the day (God, I hate that phrase!), I guess you can’t argue with the fact that even though the film was made on a paltry $70,000 budget, it did manage to return $1 million. Not a bad investment!
Spoilers by the bucket load follow……
Playing firmly on the fears at the time surrounding the possibility of atomic apocalypse, the audience is presented with shots of mushroom clouds. The message is that this is what awaits us if we continue to flout the laws of nature. This is then underscored by a final shot of an explosion out at sea followed by a typhoon obliterating coastal houses.
Just in case we missed the point, a stentorian voice emanates from an ominously dark clouded sky and dishes out a dose of Genesis, (or at least a version of it);
"And the Lord said, I will scorn man who I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast and creeping thing and the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them."
The fear we feel of what lurks around the corner:
The force of consequence awaiting our transgression
Of laws forbidding self-destruction,
On pain of divine execution.
“You are about to land in a lonely zone of terror... on an uncharted atoll in the Pacific! You are part of The Second Scientific Expedition dispatched to this mysterious bit of coral reef and volcanic rock. The first group has disappeared without a trace! Your job is to find out why! There have been rumors about this strange atoll... frightening rumors about happenings way out beyond the laws of nature...”
A launch from a seaplane approaches a beach on a small Pacific Island. When the boat reaches the beach, a group of men and one woman disembark. They are part of the second expeditionary team to visit the island. We have leader and nuclear physicist, Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley); geologist, Dr. James Carson (Richard Cutting); meteorologist, Jules Deveroux (Mel Welles); biologists, Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan) and her fiancé, Dale Drewer (Richard Garland). We also have the radio man, Hank Chapman (Russell Johnson) and the demolition experts, seamen Jack Sommers (Tony Miller) and Ron Fellows (Beach Dickerson).
The seaplane pilot, Ensign Quinlan (Ed Nelson) wishes to leave due to an approaching storm. He had been on the island on a previous occasion to rescue the first team of scientists who were sent to study the island. No trace of this first group, however, has ever been found.
The setting of this small South Pacific island is close to a recent US Navy H-bomb test-firing site. The island received the worst of the fallout from the explosion, and the military sent the first team of scientists to check out the island. The disappearance of the first team is thought to have been due to them being carried away when a typhoon suddenly struck the island. The project is considered to be too important to be abandoned, so that is why this second team has been sent there.
Jules Deveroux: Strange. We can see only a small part of the island from this spot, but yet you can feel lack of welcome - lack of abiding life, huh?
Ensign Quinlan: Yeah, I felt the same when I came here before to rescue your first group. I not only knew that they were gone but that they were lost, completely and forever, body and soul.
As a second launch approaches the shore, it seems to be experiencing some difficulty. Suddenly, a sailor stands up in the boat, loses his footing and falls overboard. Under the water, the sailor looks down only to see a giant crab looming towards him. He frantically tries to swim to the surface, and is eventually pulled out of the water, minus his head!
The inexplicable and troubling aspect of this tragedy is that apart from noisy seagulls and beady-eyed land crabs, there is no evidence of any other marine creature that could inflict such a mortal injury.
We have only been given the briefest of glimpses of the kind of menace that will be featured in this film. This will serve to maintain the suspense and audience expectations. Being a rather ordinary prop, an initial brief glimpse will (not very successfully) also lessen possible audience disappointment or expressions of mirth.
Dr. Karl Weigand: Lieutenant, I don't want to annoy you again, but nothing was left? Not a hair nor a fingernail clipping? Only McLane's journal?
Ensign Quinlan: The Navy thinks they were all at sea in their small boat when the typhoon hit. "Lost with all hands" is an old story.
Hank explains what has led to everyone being on the island:
Hank Chapman: Well, you remember that first big H-bomb test - the one that blew Elugelab Island right out of the ocean?
Seaman Ron Fellows: Well, who forgets that?
Hank Chapman: "A tremendous amount of the radioactive fallout came this way. A great seething, burning cloud of it sank into this area, blanketing the island with hot ashes and radioactive seawater. Dr. Weigand's group is here to study fallout effects at their worst. Dr. James Carson is a geologist. He'll try to learn what's happening to the soil. The botanist, Jules Deveroux, will examine all the plant life for radiation poisoning. Martha Hunter and Dale Brewer are biologists. He works on land animalism while she takes care of the seafood. Dr. Karl Weigand is a nuclear physicist. He'll collect their findings and relate them to the present theories on the effects of too much radiation……."
Just as a storm hits the island, Hank tries to send out a message but the radio can only receive local commercial radio stations. It seems that electrical interference is blocking any signals being sent out.
Their isolation is compounded by the fact that rather than the navy eventually sending out a search party once the seaplane doesn't return, it will simply assume that the landing party had decided to stay on the island to wait out the storm.
There is nothing now to be done except for the scientists to begin their investigations, including the reading of MacLean's journal;
Dr. Karl Weigand: [reading McLane's journal aloud] "Friday, March 12: This afternoon Professor Carter found a large piece of flesh having the same composition as that of the common earthworm, but measured twenty-four inches by eight. With this section as a measure, the worm-like creature would be more than five feet in length. Most intriguing is the tissue's consistency: it proved impossible to cut - knives passing through the flesh leaving no mark. Fire was applied to the tissue and the corollary result..." The journal ends there. (Mid-experiment!)
The journal’s contents seem to rule out the Navy’s explanation of the previous scientists’ fate. It is clear that they were not carried off by a typhoon. The strange finding is that of a mass of tissue similar to earthworm flesh, but of such size that only the largest of deep-sea tube worms could possibly account for it. The tissue was also impossible to cut because any incision made in it immediately resealed itself!
Tension is built again a bit later when Karl and Dale hear a strange noise coming from outside. After a few anxious moments staring out into the shadowy darkness, they notice a vine scraping against the cabin wall due to the wind. The sense of relief is dampened as the camera pans back to the offending vine, perhaps suggesting that something else may be lurking among the shadows.
Weigand and Carson call to the couple on the beach, telling them that they really need to come and see something important. The couple follows Jules, Jim, Carl and the sailors to an enormous pit that has mysteriously appeared where there was no pit before. It's approximately 50 feet deep and has occurred on the very spot that Martha walked over on her way to the beach. Carson wants to explore, but Weigand forbids it stating that any further disturbance might cause a cave-in that could trap anyone unfortunate enough to venture down. Carson observes that the rocks are unusual, that they have been glazed over as if they had been fired in a kiln.
Later at night, Martha is awakened by a ghostly voice that calls out her name and pleads for her help. It appears to be the voice of the missing Doctor MacLean. Martha gets up, changes into her clothes and searches through the woods to locate the source of the mysterious voice of MacLean. But why go alone?
Dr. James Carson: So you heard it, too.
Martha Hunter: Yes, it was Oliver McLane's voice.
Dr. James Carson: He called me as plain as day.
Martha Hunter: Strange... because I only heard him call my name.
Apart from Martha’s help, James doesn’t bother to get anyone else’s assistance when he impulsively decides to try and solve this mystery by climbing down to the bottom of the pit. He dismisses any possibility of a cave-in. For scientists, these people have very low IQs!
Actions and decisions
By amnesiac jurors
Forgetful of lives lived
Suddenly another earthquake strikes causing Martha to fall and strike her head on a pick axe while Carson’s scream is heard coming up from the pit. The rest of the team arrives and Martha recovers to tell them the whereabouts of James, "He's in the pit; I saw the rope go slack." They call to James who informs them that his leg is broken.
Despite everyone's eagerness to rescue Jim, Karl is against making such an attempt using the rope claiming that it may not be long enough to reach the bottom. Instead, he suggests making a rescue attempt by going through the caves down by the seashore. He is confident that the caves must connect to the pit as he believes that it has been artificially created. The two sailors arrive on the scene to report that whole sections of the island are crashing into the ocean. The rescue party then proceeds into the cave system.
We know we feel superior
When we long to state the obvious
And “tsk tsk” a by-gone era
It’s views of “she” erroneous,
But will fingers of the future
Wag at us too, smug and vigorous?
Yes, Martha is accompanied back to the house while most of the men traipse off to do secret “men’s’ business.” Yes, it was the 1950s: a different era with different attitudes! So what? Get over it!
Anyway, before entering the caves, Hank catches sight of a crab and throws a rock at it. Karl tries to stop him stating that he hates to see any living thing killed, even if it’s repulsive. Jules comments that crabs are harmless, but one of the sailors believes that crabs are in fact ruthless killers that will tear a man apart if given the opportunity. I hereby swear off eating crab ever again!
Dale and Martha go over MacLean's journal and learn about cave formations only happening at night. Suddenly they hear a booming sound and the strange scraping noise heard earlier on. This is soon followed by the sound of wood splintering coming from an adjoining room in the house. Dale then enters with gun at the ready to investigate when suddenly a giant crab claw snaps out at him Bruce Lee-like from off-screen causing him to let go of the gun. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Dale beats a hasty retreat back to the living room.
The men venture into the caves and soon spot a strange light ahead. The rescue party calls out to Dr. Carson who replies and tells them to come quickly.
A fuse fails and Dale and Martha are left in the dark but the noises finally end.
Dale re-enters the room to find its contents have been smashed up. Even the radio seems to have been deliberately wrecked, putting paid to any attempt to call for help.
Martha Hunter: I suppose you can tell us what tore up this room last night.
Dr. Karl Weigand: No, I cannot tell you that... but I can tell you this. Everything that has happened from the death of the first sailor to the destruction of our radio must be somehow related. They are too far from the normal scheme of things to be separate accidents. (See what a good education and degree can do for you!)
The next morning the scientists inspect the room more thoroughly. There is a hole in the wall to the outside through which Martha is looking out of. It was made by whatever attacked last night.
Deveroux asks Hank if he can fix the radio; Hank isn't sure and feels that it will have to be practically rebuilt. Dale wonders what prevented the creature from smashing through the door and coming after him and Martha. Karl conjectures that a lot of energy such as what the lights of the cabin could produce might deter such a creature. This thought leads him to speculate that the attacking creature is afraid of electricity. Dale then wonders if electricity could prove be a defense against the creature. If only someone had told the giant crustacean which disappeared as soon as the electricity was cut off!
As Martha is looking outside, she notices that an entire mountain has disappeared, “Yesterday, when we came to this island, there was a mountain out there. Today there's no mountain.”
The scientists decide to leave the house for yet another rescue attempt for Dr. Carson. At the cave, just as Karl concludes that Jim is beyond any help, another earthquake strikes causing Deveroux to fall and have his hand severed by a large boulder. As the others set about wrapping up the wound, the two sailors arrive on the scene. It turns out that they had been lured into the caverns by Jim's voice.
Jules is carried back to the house and is now in bed. Martha has given him a shot to help him sleep. He mumbles in French before falling off to sleep.
Seaman Ron Fellows: Okay, whadda ya got?
Seaman Jack Sommers: Three queens!
Seaman Ron Fellows: Well, big deal. So you finally won a hand. I'm still 100 sticks of dynamite and one wild explosion ahead of you.
An Unlucky Hand
On a beach two sailor boys play cards
With stakes set so high,
Gambling with their lives,
Playing with dynamite
While something crab-like comes closer,
Its claw dragging a stuttering stick
Along a picket fence.
With fear-wracked features
In the light of a lamp
They come face-to-face
With Fate and ill-fortune,
Both boys dealt an unlucky hand.
Back in Jules' room, we find that he is awakened by the voices of the two sailors telling him that they've found Carson and that he must quietly come to the pit. Jules agrees to go alone.
Just as Jules approaches the pit and calls out to the voice that has led him there, he is attacked by a giant crab claw which latches on to his neck. Martha is awakened by his screams and soon everyone rushes out into the living room. They hear the chattering voice of Deveroux emanating from his room, despite it being empty. Karl picks up a metal dish on the bed stand that Jules' voice seems to be coming from. When asked where he is, Jules' voice replies that he is where they shall all be soon enough and that they will hear again from him tomorrow night.
The next day the scientists discover that the sailors are missing, along with most of the dynamite. The grenades, however, are still there.
Dr. Karl Weigand: No. No, I do not believe in ghosts. We are dealing with a man who is dead, but whose voice and memory live. How this can be I do not know, but its implications are far more terrible than any ghost could ever be.
Jules' voice invites them to come to the caves again, where all will be explained. When they ask about Carson, Carson replies in his voice. claiming that they will be reunited with him, too. This all seems like an obvious trap, nevertheless the men head off to the caves, feeling that they have no choice if they want to find out what's going on.
The three men enter the caverns once again where they soon hear the strange ticking or tapping sound. Suddenly they are attacked by a giant land crab of which we have our first full shot. Now it is on for young and old! Guns are fired and grenades are hurled but nothing seems to have any effect on the giant crustacean. As luck would have it, a grenade thrown by Dale blows some rocks loose from the roof of the cavern, which crashes down on to the Crab Monster. It turns out that a piece of jagged rock pierced the creature’s head and struck its brain. It is feared that if this rock were removed, the crab monster might return to life. Why? Who knows?
Karl uses a camera to take some happy snaps of the creature and then uses a pick-ax to amputate one of its claws.
Dr. Karl Weigand: Any matter, therefore, that the crab eats will be assimilated in its body as solid energy, becoming part of the crab.
Martha Hunter: Like the bodies of the dead men?
Dr. Karl Weigand: Yes - and their brain tissue, which, after all, is nothing more than a storage house for electrical impulses.
Dale Drewer: That means that the crab can eat his victim's brain, absorbing his mind intact and working.
Dr. Karl Weigand: It's as good a theory as any other to explain what's happened.
Martha notices that one of the crabs is about to reproduce thereby proving that it is a female. Hank attaches the claw to a battery causing it to glow, and then be reduced to ashes. This eventually leads to the idea for the construction of an electrical device with which to destroy the crab.
Karl has also worked out that the crab monsters are able to throw out arcs of heat which they have made use of to create the pit and the caverns.
Once They Were Men
“Once they were men;
Now they are land crabs.”
From monsters of our making
Have men been made monsters,
Sucked dry of heart and soul
Scuttling along under another’s will,
Encased in hard shells of ill-will,
Emptied of all free will,
Waving claws of clamping hate,
In a mindless fate.
Dr. Karl Weigand: No, thank you, Martha. I have no ambition toward becoming a mad scientist, but I do think we ought to try and capture the thing. Would you not like to examine a live specimen?
Martha Hunter: Certainly I would, but I had a chance to see how the "specimen" examined the lab wall last night.
What’s your decision?
Faced with death and destruction,
With each sinking option,
Taken by tides of desperation,
Carried on waves of emotion,
Hungry for retribution,
Lack of imagination
In search of a final solution
That will bring us salvation:
What’s your decision?
Step back from……. Confusion,
Enter into the equation,
Ask a bold question,
Call for information,
Join in cooperation,
Seek a resolution
Of a stupid situation
What’s your decision?
Hank and Martha don scuba gear and descend into the pit with the trap leaving Dale and Karl on the hill. Hank and Martha don’t seem to have their minds on the task at hand as they chat about loneliness and finding that special someone. Perhaps the idea of heading down a dark pit while carrying dangerous baggage might be someone’s idea of a metaphor for some types of relationships? I’m just saying!
The Crab Monster is soon encountered having 40 winks and incredibly Dale sets about obtaining yet another specimen for Karl to study. All he really had to was set the device up and use it. Why tempt fate? Perhaps there are things more important than just immediately wiping stuff out? Perhaps there is an opportunity to learn things for the future? Or who knows, it could even be a lame device to keep the tension going….I’m just saying!
Hank sets off on his mission to do some good, but in an ironic twist, the crab monster's eye suddenly opens. By pretending to sleep, the crab monster has set a trap of her own! Don’t underestimate your foe!
Hank and Martha high-tale out of the cavern with Mrs. Crab Monster in hot pursuit. Unable to climb out of the pit in time, they both head for the water. They make it on to shore, followed soon after by Mrs. Crab Monster.
Dale grabs a rifle and manages to lob several shots at the crab monster but it's useless as the bullets merely pass right through the beast's body. The crab monster magnanimously congratulates the humans success in taking one of her claws, but points out to them that it will grow back in a day, whereas the humans won't be able to grow back the lives that they are soon going to lose. Dale must have kept the claw tucked away like Gollum’s “precious” seeing that there wasn’t any footage of him hacking the claw off the crab monster!
Back at the house there’s a discussion about how the island is steadily shrinking as large chunks of it have fallen into the sea. Later on Hank asks Martha how she met Dale. She tells him that they studied at the same school for which they are now both researchers. She sure sits pretty close to Hank and seems to be giving some mighty mixed messages. What might be going through the minds of the two men right now? Both might be considering a plan that uses each as bait for the crab monster!
While exploring what little of the island remains, Dale and Karl make their way to the cave entrance and spot two streams of oil, leading Karl to conjecture that the explosions and seismic activity had tapped into some subterranean oil source. Karl suddenly goes into action-man mode and insists on investigating his hypothesis. He waves away any objections by stating that the crab monster is like a rattlesnake that can be heard long before she can approach close enough to pose a danger. He also claims that she is destroying the island in order to trap the scientists who will have no place to run. Karl believes he and Dale will be able to easily avoid falling prey to the creature if they keep their wits about them. Karl and Dale then surprisingly decide to split up with each following one of the oil streams.
After a short while, Dale hears the sinister sound of the creature and after spotting her, rushes off out of the cave where he runs into Hank and Martha. Dale then insists on re-entering the cave to warn Karl that the creature is making its way towards him. Martha is told to stay outside, but after briefly hesitating, she runs after the two men. Go girl, tell ‘em to get stuffed! What so you say now “tsk-tskers”?
Meanwhile, Karl comes across the electronic trap that Hank and Martha left behind earlier on. Seeing this an opportunity to capture the creature, Karl tries to get it working. Suddenly, he is interrupted by the sound of the approaching crab monster.
In his attempt to escape, Karl is zapped by the trap, which he now knows works only too well. The electrical charge paralyzes Karl and he is left to scream in terror and no doubt contemplate the little twists of irony that life and 50s sci-fi films seem all too frequently to offer. What he set out to study now advances towards him and sets about Borg-like to consume him.
As Dale, Martha and Hank flee, Dale pauses long enough to set fire to one of the oil streams referred to earlier. This trap, however, fails to have any effect on the crab monster.
The Crab: [with Karl's voice] And as with McLane, there will be no evidence of how you vanished, or of my existence. We will rest in the caves and plan our assault upon the world of men!
As the island rumbles, rips apart and tumbles bit by bit into the ocean depths, our three survivors make it out of the house before it collapses and traps them.
The three humans make their way up the remaining island peak that's still left above water. Once at the top, they can see a solitary radio transmission tower through which the crab monster transmits its taunting messages to them.
Dale and Hank decide it’s better to die fighting on their feet rather than submit to the crab monster. They decide to fight back by using their remaining grenades and a hatchet which is retrieved from a toolbox by the tower.
The grenades have no effect on the crab monster but in the ensuing struggle Hank somehow manages crawl over to the transmission tower and throw a switch that turns on the electricity. Hank then begins shaking the tower in an attempt to topple it over.
"He gave his life..."
Although safe from the crab monster, Dale and Martha appear now to be trapped and in danger of perishing.
Or are they……..???????