It’s campy, ridiculous, and impossible to take seriously, but “Attack of the Crab Monsters” is also full of heart and wildly entertaining.
Popular wisdom suggests we should never judge a book by its cover. I think, however, under the correct circumstances, it may be acceptable and even wise to judge a movie based on its title. If I hadn’t, I’d have never seen Attack of the Crab Monsters. And friends, that would be a damn shame.
Roger Corman released Attack of the Crab Monsters in 1957, claiming he wanted to make a move about crab beasts with “suspense or action in every scene.” He succeeded at exactly half of that goal. Guess which half?
Attack of the Crab Monsters asks the timeless question, “What if nuclear-irradiated crabs were able to absorb the consciousnesses of the people they ate and use it for very slow world domination?”
The answer, of course, is wacky hijinx.
Nothing about the movie’s premise is simple.
It’s all wildly convoluted and nonsensical, but you know what? It’s also super fun.
Attack of the Crab Monsters starts with a coterie of scientists and a couple of army engineers landing on an island to research the continued impact of nuclear fallout on the ecosystem. Hydrogen bombs usually cast heavy shadows, the weight of which no Roger Corman movie could shoulder.
Luckily, despite the dramatic biblical voiceover, Attack of the Crab Monsters does not pitch itself as a social statement.
The scientists, who are largely identifiable by one distinct characteristic (I called them: Girl, Frenchie, Sunglasses, Ascot, and The Professor), hear voices from the crew who preceded them calling out. Strange earthquakes shake the island. Surely, this must be the world of crab monsters!
Avid students of Bullshit Science will thrill to the absolutely bonkers attempts to provide a rational explanation for the giant rubber crab running amok, chomping up people, and-weirdly-absorbing their thoughts and ability to speak.
Apparently, the crabs also corrupted Frenchie’s absorbed brain because, sure, why not?
Suddenly Frenchie is hell-bent on world domination, scuttling furiously after his former colleagues.
Attack of the Crab Monsters runs a cool 62 minutes, including credits. The pacing is perfect; Corman wisely doesn’t allow too much time to pass between crab sightings because, let’s be honest. Most of us watching a movie called Attack of the Crab Monsters are just waiting for those little scamps to make their appearances.
If all of this sounds aggressively silly, it is.
Attack of the Crab Monsters is not high cinema, and no one with any Roger Corman familiarity would expect it to be.
However, there is a unique charm to movies like it. Nothing about Attack of the Crab Monsters is winking or self-aware. There is none of the ironic detachment a modern movie of its ilk would currently be rife with. Not one actor phones it in.
While the film doesn’t aspire to “art” status, it knows what it is. It is an earnest, sincere, and genuine film that truly wants to transport you to an island of giant crab beasts. And there is something deeply admirable in that.
“Attack of the Crab Monsters” wanted me to have fun. And you know what? I had a blast.
People love to cite edgy comedies as “movies that could never be made today,” but in reality, it’s films like “Attack of the Crab Monsters” that could never be made today. That sort of sincerity, paired with such an obvious lack of resources and ability, would be laughed right out of the cinema.
However, for 62 minutes, I was enchanted by this sweaty little oddity’s Herculean efforts to entertain me.
Did the crab monsters look good? Oh, heavens no.
And while we can allow a great deal of latitude to the notion of “well, it was a different time,” I do not, for one second, believe that audiences in 1957 thought, “Well, there’s a realistic crab monster.”
Like us, they delighted in the camp and the effort. They engaged with the promise. I would rather see an absurd but lovingly rendered practical crab monster scuttling gracelessly across the screen than perfect CGI with no soul.
The degree of pleasure any individual viewer experiences depends entirely on the joy that low-budget monster flicks inspire within them.
Roger Corman movies are schlocky and silly, and they certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Many audiences prefer slick, well-produced movies, and that’s entirely ok.
But for those of us who can’t imagine a greater delight than a giant, ridiculous monster and a wildly convoluted plot, “Attack of the Crab Monsters” is a perfect 62 minutes.