As far as giant creature movies go, or even giant bugs, The Deadly Mantis is one of the better ones. The visual effects are great and highly effective though it accompanies a story that is similar to many giant monster movies, but told well. It details the aftermath of a volcano explosion that has freed a prehistoric, gigantic praying mantis from the polar ice caps. Soon it goes on what mankind would call a rampage, as being stuck in the ice for millions of years would cause it to be a little hungry. For a while it poses a mystery as no one knows what is doing the killing, but soon, a scientist named Ned finds out and gets the army involved so as to kill this out-of-time insect. While it is a fun film, it follows a fairly standard formula and features many of the tropes that you would find in movies of this kind. It could have been a bad thing, for no one wants to keep seeing the same thing over and over again, but it all comes down to the execution of it, and as such, director Nathan H. Juran manages to weave a tight film and pulls it off despite the sameness of it.
As it was just previously stated, the effects were done exceptionally well for the time period and the giant mantis looks like it could be a real threat. The film looks beautiful having been shot in black and white and while it could have been filmed in colour; the movie would not have had the same impact. The bonus with shooting things in black in white is the ability to hide imperfections, especially when it comes to special effects or costumes for creatures. Sometimes colour can take the magic away so it is nice that with this picture, that does not happen. The biggest flaw that the movie sports is its script, which is not terrible per se and written well, but with the chance to do something different, the writers played it safe and made a film that was too much like many other creature films, giant or not. The mantis is an insect that does what it does not through malice or planning but because it is in its nature. If it needs to feed, it feeds, if it feels threatened it will react and so on. Of course having a two hundred foot insect alive in the world is not a good thing, but it would have been nice to see a little originality when dealing with the creature. Even the ending was like many other films with the people all crowded around the giant corpse and the film creates a little empathy in you as you want to see that creature come back and take care of its tormentors even though you know it will not happen.
The players in our game included Craig Stevens as the man who finally killed the mantis, William Hopper as Ned who was the paleontologist who deduced it was a mantis and Alix Talton as a museum photographer and the film’s damsel in distress. It would be nice to say that everyone did a good job, but as it was Stevens and Talton seemed just slightly out of place in this film with Hopper looking like he felt right at home. It was a little odd, but this was a film that would have benefited from some stronger actors. Also starring were Donald Randolph, Pat Conway, Paul Campbell, Paul Smith, Floyd Simmons and good old, reliable B movie actor, Phil Harvey.
Universal Studios, the machine responsible for gracing the world with innumerable monsters and creatures over the years would give us yet another with this film and while it was done quite well, it could have been a lot better. It was still highly enjoyable with enough drama and suspense to keep you interested from start to finish, but when holding it up to creature features that are better, it starts to show its flaws which are a disservice to the film and if a fan of this type of movie, is hard not to do. It is definitely worth a watch though as it is one of the better monster movies from the 1950’s .
First entry – Giant Monster Gamera (1965)
Second entry – The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Third entry – Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)
Fourth entry – Tarantula (1955)
Fifth Entry – Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)
Sixth entry – Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Seventh Entry – Gamera vs. Viras (1968)
Eighth entry – The Cyclops (1957)
Ninth entry – Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)
Tenth entry – Monsters (2010)
Eleventh entry – Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)
Twelth entry – The Killer Shrews (1959)
Thirteenth entry – Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)