You may recall that one of my favorite old time-y science fiction movies was 1959’s “The Killer Shrews”, staring James Best as Thorne Sherman, fearless boat captain who fought off the shrews, rescued the girl and lived to sail another day.
Well, Mr. Best has revisited Thorne after fifty years, along with a new cast of characters who find themselves on that ominous island, filming a reality show (what else in this day and age?). Steve Latshaw and Coal Train Productions were kind enough to send me a screener dvd last week. I’d interviewed Steve on the blog last year and he knew of my fascination with this long-time-in-coming sequel. I’m not normally a movie reviewer but I’ll share my thoughts with you – no spoilers, I promise!
First of all kudos to Mr. Best for presenting us with the man Thorne has become, and showing how the loss of his best friend during the original adventure has stayed with, and affected him ever since. I loved the parts of the movie where Thorne was relaying events from the original “Shrews” and the screen would subtly fade into black and white and replay scenes from that 1959 movie. I think those were really the most effective special effects. Mr. Best’s performance was excellent – it was interesting to see Thorne again, through the filter of 50 more years of living.
All the sly references to “Dukes of Hazzard” were highly entertaining, because of course Mr. Best and John Schneider (“Johnny Reno” reality TV star), plus Rick Hurst (who plays “Harold Rook”) worked together on that series. Mr. Schneider brought terrific energy to his role and even has a song on the soundtrack. (I always loved his single “What’s A Memory Like You…” so I’m a fan.) When he was on screen, you didn’t even want to blink because he did such a great job with Johnny Reno.
The secondary characters were interesting, each in their own way, some stereotypical (The Director, The Agent) but as usual in a movie like this, most of them are there to be shrew breakfast, lunch and dinner so we didn’t get to know them in any depth.
Sam the Unit Production Manager character, however, was a standout. As portrayed by Jason-Shane Scott, he was everything you’d want in a hero – brave, handsome, cool headed in a crisis… Fortunately the movie gives him a lot of screen time and heroic action, although I don’t think he got to kiss the girl at the end, which is a bummer in the eyes of a romance writer like myself. Mr. Scott treated the events of the movie with appropriate gravity and captured the audience’s attention (well the audience was me) whenever he was in the scene.
I would have liked to have seen a lot more of The Camerawoman, Jennifer Lyons portraying “Mickey.” I think she was the closest we get to a heroine and I resonated with her take no guff character. The script didn’t give her enough to do, but she made the most of her scenes.
We can’t forget Bruce Davison, Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee. You could tell he was thoroughly enjoying every moment of his scenery chewing role, which I can’t say too much about or there will be spoilers LOL. He was so into his character you’d had to love him, despite the VERY unsavory goings-on. He and James Best had several effective scenes together, where they “discussed” old times on the shrew infested island.
I was certainly entertained but somewhat puzzled by the movie as a whole at first, because it’s not a straight forward scifi movie like the original (although I grant you “Shrews” was very much of its time in the late 1950’s, doing the best it could with a low budget, at $123,000). Nor is “Return” played as pure camp, which would have bothered me, since I loved the classic original film. I woke up the next morning with one thing in my head – “Lost in Space” – the TV series not the more recent big budget movie remake. That’s the vibe inagoodway of the plot, the special effects and parts of the action. Not having a blockbuster size budget, it was a good call to trend toward the end of the science fiction spectrum where the drama mixes with hints of comedy. The viewer is free to enjoy the in jokes that harken back to the original, relish the references to “Dukes”, laugh at the sillier parts of the action, while always remembering they’re watching a science fiction movie, with the characters doing their best to stay alive. Well done!
And of course, you wait for the shrews to dine on someone else….
He also gets to rather chastely kiss a girl in the movie…had to smile at the way the script worked that moment in!
Don’t let me forget the shrews themselves! In the 1959 movie the fearsome creatures were portrayed by coonhounds with rugs over them, as I understand it. Although in “Return” I did like the shrew “puppets” in the close-ups – think giant, bloody, slavering teeth! – the cgi shrews kind of left me longing for the dogs of yesteryear, which could do more seamless interacting with the humans. But that’s just me…
Apparently there will be a sequel…I can’t imagine and I can’t wait! Stay tuned for details about the dvd release schedule.
(Disclaimer: Coal Train Productions provided me a free screener copy of the movie with no expectations for anything other than my honest opinion, favorable or unfavorable.)