Saturday, March 11, 2006

ISLAND CLAWS


FEELING CRABBY!

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON ISLAND CLAWS

This fine cinematic achievement was created for the small screen in 1980. Directed by Hernan Cardenas, it stars Robert Lansing, Barry Nelson and a cast of KILLER CRABS!

Well, I thought I'd laughed before in my life, but I was wrong. THIS IS SIMPLY THE FUNNIEST MOVIE EVER MADE. Incidentally, it’s also a fine, incisive portrait of what we, the Fish People, are up against in promoting our glorious Cause.

Let’s do the quick plot summary first. Perky Blonde Reporter with great cheekbones, the daughter of a guy who runs the local nuclear power plant, makes a trip to a nearby fisheries-research lab to do a photo essay on the crab team's attempts to alleviate world hunger. She quickly falls in love with the Hero who is a blonde with great cheekbones. He is working on developing bigger and better crabs with a team of blonde scientists who have great cheekbones.

Meanwhile, back at the nuclear-power plant, there's a massive spill of contaminated water that runs off into the ocean. You guessed it: the local crabs begin to behave strangely, travelling in large packs at times and to places they wouldn't normally. The Perky Blonde comes across a molted exoskeleton that came off a crab the size of a Ford Festiva. Eventually the big crab (now the size of a bank building) shows herself. There’s a shootout, and the heroes prevail.

None of this has anything to do with why the movie is so funny.

>> This film gives me the impression that it was originally 18 hours long, but had to be cut down to its current 91-minute length to make room for the commercials. As a result, the dialogue in this movie sounds as if it were shredded by an army of -- KILLER CRABS! People just sort of blurt out random sentences that have nothing to do with what anyone else is saying. They also smile in all the wrong places. Strangest of all: this is not, in fact, a film-editing problem; in even the most surreal scenes, the camera is pretty well stationary with no visible cuts. Here’s my favorite conversational exchange:

PERKY BLONDE: When can we see our friend, doctor?
DOCTOR: Well, she came to briefly, but she was incoherent. What she said didn't make any sense at all.

>> Sometimes individual lines appear to have been run through a woodchipper. My favorite is spoken by Barry Nelson as they piece together the exoskeleton of the first giant crab they’ve ever seen or heard about. "It may be another crab of the same species that we've never seen before." Hunh?

>> The characters are weirdly assorted. Much of the story takes place in a bar called The Half Shell. In this down-at-the-heel setting, clean-cut blonde preppies, blue-collar roughnecks, hippies, bikers, and an assortment of guys who look like they are trying out to play Captain Quint can be seen drinking, joking and racing hermit crabs together like best buddies. This violates a cardinal rule of ‘70s filmmaking, namely that people of differing social classes and lifestyles must always be dire enemies, usually squaring off in a picket line or protest march of some kind in the course of the movie. This assortment is being serenaded by a guy who looks as if he wandered off the set of a Western being filmed on the next lot, using a player piano and a banjo to give us a rousing -- OK, not rousing -- rendition of "Oh, Suzannah." Presiding over this unsettling scene is a cartoon Irish drunk whose brogue fades in and out like a distant radio signal. We learn that the drunk raised the utterly preppy Hero from infancy, and was once best buddies with the rich guy who runs the reactor plant. Um, OK. Whatever you say.

>> We learn that the Hero and the Perky Blonde were Brought Together By Fate, because her dad killed both his parents years before in a drunk-driving accident. This potentially major plot point goes nowhere, even after the Hero finds out the truth. He is supposedly enraged about it, but he simply never mentions it to the Perky Blonde. And we never even find out if they hook up at the end. They just drop the ball completely.

>> There is no evidence that anyone in the movie has an IQ above about 53. When a blonde scientist with great bone structure is mauled in the woods, the good townspeople immediately conclude that she was attacked by Haitian boat people and get together a posse to hunt them down. They discuss with straight faces the likelihood that the girl's arm was ripped off by voodoo.

>> There are, in fact, some Haitian boat people in this movie. Everyone else in the story is being “attacked” in the safety of their homes by packs of dozy, apathetic, somnolent crabs that appear to have wandered in looking only for a place to curl up for a nap. Meanwhile, the boat people are sleeping rough in the woods by the beach without getting so much as a nip from the chelicerated menace. Let me add that the Haitians' voices are overdubbed in French, with flawless Nebraska grammar-school accents.

>> There's also a scene at the height of the crisis when the heroes stop on the causeway, having found an abandoned car, a boat moored to the causeway pilings and the boat's owner draped over the railing. Do they call an ambulance? Do they even check to see if the guy is alive? No, they pile into the boat and leave. Nice.

>> Just about every crab-related injury is caused by human panic. The Perky Blonde, riding along a trail in the woods, runs into and over a pack of crabs in her path and falls off her bike. She gets up, walks away from the scene without any suggestion that the crabs are coming after her – as well they might after she ran them over! -- then calls the hero in a panic to ask him to come get her, seeing as she's just been attacked by ferocious monsters. She gets a scratch on the arm; the crabs lose half a dozen comrades under the wheels of her Schwinn. Nevertheless, the conclusion drawn is that the crabs are a terrible menace.

>> Likewise, the giant crab later tears a house to the ground. There are people inside at the time, but nobody gets a scratch. Unless the guy’s homeowner’s insurance has lapsed, where’s the problem?

>> In a scene intended to terrify the decapodaphobiac, crabs advance on a converted school bus lived in by one of the characters. They are quite civil about this; you even see one of them knock politely on the door of the bus. As soon as the crabs realize the owner is unfriendly, they leave calmly and in an orderly fashion. He freaks out anyway, whacks at them ineffectually until he knocks over his oil lamp or candle or whatever it was, and burns himself to a crisp, the dork.

>> Can someone explain how EVERYONE in this movie manages to miss seeing the friendly attitude of every crab they encounter? Even the giant one does a minimum of damage. She’s amazingly tolerant of the Naked Apes harassing and assaulting her, and she even has the presence of mind to play dead when the Hero hacks off one of her eyestalks – and that probably didn’t tickle, either. Check out the scene when a guy gets picked up in one of her tremendous claws, and he screams in agony and squirts blood out of his mouth as if all his innards had been crushed. Well, all I can say is that it must have been psychosomatic, because she ISN’T EVEN SQUEEZING. He’s just draped over her thumb. She didn’t even put a crease in his shirt.

>> Can someone explain to me why, after all the fuss made about getting the crab darts at risk of life and limb, and making sure the gun is aimed at the soft part of the crab's thumb joint, does the hero give up on using it? The crab isn’t even kicking up a fuss. She’s just standing there quietly in front of the bar. He could have shot her a dozen times.

>> Can someone PLEASE explain the way he finally dispatches the giant crab by hacking off a single eyestalk with a pointed stick? Would that kill any crab you ever heard of? Would a fisheries research scientist working on a crab project REALLY not know any better than this?

>> Can someone explain how a guy with a history of drunk driving and negligent homicide even gets put in charge of a nuclear power plant? Oh, wait, I forgot; in ‘70s terms that would make him perfect for the job. That would even help explain the radiation spill. Never mind.

>> Can someone explain to me how the science team’s goal of developing bigger, meatier crabs is going to alleviate hunger for anyone but the rich folk crowding into the seafood restaurants along the Eastern seaboard?

>> Can someone explain to me how a fisheries research lab happens to have a tranquilizer gun and a supply of experimental crab darts on hand?

>> Can someone explain to me why the best acting in the whole movie is done by "Trouble" the dog, who has a great death scene, limping pathetically onto the beach with ketchup poured all over him after an apparent off-camera tangle with the giant crab? Indeed, why is “Trouble” almost the only character to come to grief? I notice that his owner is the guy whose house is pulled down by the crab, and that a little girl who pets him experiences crab difficulties as well. Is “Trouble” the Tippi Hedren of the crustaceans, or what?

>> Can anyone explain how this movie came out so lousy when one of the writers on the script was none other than Ricou Browning, former Olympic swimming star and the guy who wore the Gill Man suit in the underwater scenes of The Creature From The Black Lagoon? How could the result be anything less than expert, nay, dazzling in its brilliance?

>> Can someone explain why this terrible movie, of all the lousy killer crab movies ever made, has absolutely the most stunning creature effect I've ever seen? Yes, I'm including Ray Harryhausen's giant crab from Mysterious Island, because Ray just hollowed out a regular crab and ran wires thru. This baby was clearly a carefully-constructed 15’ tall working model. She’s huge. Graceful. Detailed. NICE paintjob. Anatomically correct, except for the disconcerting way she stuck her tongue out at the camera in that one shot. Even though they made her roar like a lion, she was CONVINCING. The entire budget must have gone into the crab. Not that I'm complaining. I LOVE IT. But crabs everywhere must be mortified to be associated with this film.

Honestly, ladies, the very ineptitude of this movie is a MESSAGE OF HOPE FOR US ALL. How can we fail in our world-takeover scheme when the enemy is this damn dumb? OK, not all of them are this bad, but according to the best intelligence available to me, the North American Cabal Leader (Women’s Division), the dumb ones vastly outnumber the smart ones. A viewing of this film should help clarify the situation if you are unsure.

Of course, this movie also underlines the need for great caution in working with new contacts among the landscum. Some of them do come unglued, no matter how well you follow the excellent example set by the friendly crabs in this film, and next thing you know someone’s hacking off your eyestalk with a pointed stick.

One thing I especially liked about this movie: unrealistic and laughable as it is in many places, there is nothing fictional about one aspect of the story. The landscum always forget that where there is one giant crab, THERE ARE A BUNCH MORE WAITING TO COME ASHORE.

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