FTP: The Deadly Mantis (1957)

AUGUST 2, 2022


There was a great joke on the Onion about 25 years ago, where the article was a mock cable TV listing and for the Syfy Channel (then Sci-Fi) they had an 8pm showing of MST3K: Quest of the Delta Knightsfollowed by an actual broadcast of Quest of the Delta Knights at 10pm. The joke being, of course, that the show - which used to be on Comedy Central - was perhaps an odd fit for a station that, at that time, was mostly just showing the same kind of movies the 'bots were mocking. So I had to laugh when Scream Factory put out The Deadly Mantis, with (besides a historian commentary) the only bonus feature of note being the episode of MST3k that tore it apart.

To be fair, they've certainly done worse movies. That first season on Sci-Fi (8, for the record) had a bigger licensing budget, and with Sci-Fi's relationship with Universal, they were able to access some better known titles from their monster library, even a relatively big gun with Revenge of the Creature, and it was fun to see them doing movies that a casual fan might have heard of, if not actually seen. People argue that This Island Earth was legitimately too good to be ribbed (counterpoint: it was their big screen movie so it makes sense to go up against a bigger title!), but the likes of this and Mole People, while not without their merits, aren't exactly the cream of the crop. By the end of the season they were back to the same crappy obscuros (such as Overdrawn at the Memory Bank and the immortal Time Chasers), so I guess they either blew their budget at the beginning of the season or lost their access.

But anyway, yeah - not the best giant monster flick of the era by any means. Even Tom Weaver can't help but make fun of it for half of his historian track, goofing on the odd dialogue, unconvincing scares (though one, the arm on the shoulder gag, is wrapped up in Universal's historical use of the cliche, so he keeps his historian hat on), and endless amounts of stock footage - at one point he refuses to speak until the actual movie returns! The horrible comic relief guy, who almost literally faints every time he sees the film's lone female character of note, is enough to sink the film into "for completists only" territory, though he's not the only character you wish the bug would eat and be done with it.

The mantis itself is a solid monster, however, and some of the miniature FX and composite shots are quite good. The attack on the eskimo village is a pretty good highlight, as is the part where the mantis smashes in through the heroes' cabin window. And if you accept the stock footage of warplanes and the like as "action", then it's technically one of the faster paced entries of the era, with TDM making its way from the North Pole to Manhattan and wrecking lots of stuff along the way, even if most of it is suggested rather than shown. But man oh man, the stock footage just never stops, and - as Weaver notes - the high def transfer makes it stand out even more.

Naturally it made for a good MST3k episode though, so I'm glad it was included as I hadn't seen it in over 20 years. And it was nice to watch it after seeing the movie on its own, as they obviously talk over some of the lines so I would occasionally lose track of what the context was for subsequent dialogue. Plus, as with any comedy thing of this type, it's always interesting to see which jokes I understand now that went over my head then, and - on the flipside - which ones have dated poorly (there's one about Kelsey Grammer driving drunk that I probably laughed at in 1997, when he was arrested that one time for driving drunk, an event I've since completely forgotten about). Not sure how often they did this; I know they did it for Mole People too, but not The Thing That Couldn't Die (much to my chagrin as I loved that episode). Ultimately there's very little crossover of "As a Universal monster movie fan I want that movie!" and "Hey, this was an MST3k episode!", so the *opportunity* for it to happen (and for me to notice) is extremely rare. And they still put out standalone MST3k sets anyway, so these might be the only examples. But I appreciate it; it's not often that a bonus feature consists of people making fun of the movie you presumably wanted to own. I'd certainly never buy Mac & Me unless it had the MST3k episode along with it. "Pretty nice...!"

What say you?


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