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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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Featuring comics by
E.C. McMullen Jr.
Head Production Designer
JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
Special Effects Make-Up
A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Mammalocentrism. We're all guilty of it. When we think of "nature" and "animals" the images that come to mind are antelopes and horses and lions and tigers and bears, oh my. The fact is that 80% of the animal species on Earth are insects. This is a bug planet. Maybe deep down we know that, which is why so many monster movies are made about giant insects. Some good and some...
THE DEADLY MANTIS was directed by Nathan Juran (20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF) and written by William Alland and Martin Berkeley (REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, TARANTULA). Unlike most giant bug movies this film isn't about an insect made monstrous by radiation or pollution or anything else for which humans are being punished. Instead some overly earnest narration tells us that because of a volcanic eruption in the Antarctic an "equal but opposite reaction" near the North Pole causes a glacier to crumble, releasing a long frozen giant praying mantis.
Now I could mention things like there being no hint in the fossil record of 200 foot flying insects and I could go on about how simple engineering limits the size of any creature with an exoskeleton to no more than a foot or two in length1, but I won't. Those are valid points but we haven't catalogued all the species alive on Earth today, much less those that lived millions of years ago. And since this isn't a small insect made magically large but a large insect that evolved that way, who knows? Life surprises us all the time.
But before I go any further I must have a quick
There's lots of water in the cells of your body and if you or any other animal was frozen solid all that water becomes ice crystals. Jagged, razor sharp ice crystals, which reduce your cells to metabolic mush.
There are a few animals* that can survive such conditions because they have anti-freeze-like enzymes in their system that prevents ice-crystals from forming. But since the Mantis in the movie immediately heads for the tropics it's clear that it didn't live in an environment where being frozen was something to worry about (so you can imagine the Mantis' surprise when it happened! -Feo).
The annoying narrator comes in again with a grade school description of the lines of early warning radar stations the U.S. has built across far northern Canada to watch for Russian missiles (this is 1957). At a small, two-man station a strange object is noticed on the radar, followed by a loud buzzing sound and then the roof falls in.
We cut to a nearby larger base where it's noticed that one of the smaller stations hasn't checked in, in a while. Colonel Parkman (Craig Stevens: KILLER BEES [TV]) flies over and finds the building crushed but no sign of bodies. The two men have vanished. He also finds two long, straight marks in the snow that end in a three tined fork shape. What the hell is going on?
Not long after a cargo plane crashes and Colonel Parkman finds the same clues: wreckage but no bodies and the strange long skid marks. This time there’s one more hint of the culprit. A five-foot long claw, clearly torn from something living, almost falls on the Colonel’s head.
The claw is sent to Washington where paleontologist Dr. Ned Jackson (William Hopper: 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, CONQUEST OF SPACE) is brought in. At first glance he can tell this is from a creature with an exoskeleton, which can only mean an insect. He volunteers to head north and check things out in person. Ned's friend and photographer for a museum magazine, Marge Blaine (Alix Talton: CARNIVAL OF CRIME) talks her way into going along, so someone will be available to scream.
The big bug rumors reach the media after an Eskimo village is terrorized, although you mostly don't see the Mantis. You just hear it buzzing and see the Eskimos pointing at the sky and then running to their boats and rowing away to . . . safety? Ned and Marge arrive at Colonel Parkman's base and begin examining evidence (and the very lonely soldiers begin examining Marge). Before the investigation can really get going, however, the Deadly Mantis (as everyone is calling it by then) makes an appearance of its own.
Which, by the way, is really the only scene where our "central" characters are even briefly in real jeopardy. The concept here is interesting – a praying mantis is in fact a vicious carnivore and a giant one would be a great monster, but the writers failed story telling 101. That, plus a really bad sound effect choice for the mantis's "roar" (which is actually the same 'roar' sound effect for "Spot" in THE MUNSTERS TV show -Feo) and the really annoying narration equals a mere two ShriekGirls.