In the mid-50s, there was a major fear of small things taking over the world. The fear could be as simple as Mao’s Little Red Book or tiny lizards becoming the radioactive Godzilla thanks to the nuclear bomb. In Hollywood this fear came when the major movie studios began to lose box office as people stayed home to watch tiny black and white televisions. What could they do to lure people back to the seats? They went big with Cinemascope and Technicolor. But there had to be more and they needed to pay less. Universal looked to the west and decided to make a small creature huge to make nightmare leap off the screen. Except instead of a reptile, they went with a bug that already creeped people out. The praying mantis was an already scary insect with hit’s giant buggy eyes, noticeable jaw and spiky arms. They look like the kind of creature that would have battled King Kong on Skull Island if only they were bigger. Leave it to Universal to make it huge and enter the nightmares of small children that caught a matinee in 1957. The Deadly Mantis made the praying mantis go from biting the head off their lover to snacking on the Washington Monument.
The film opens with a long piece about America’s radar system that monitors the arctic using tons of stock footage. These leads to explaining about how a volcano exploding in the South Pacific led to polar ice melting. Before things get too far, a monitoring base in Canada has stopped reporting back. Col. Joe Parkman (Peter Gunn‘s Craig Stevens) flies up to discover the place has been destroyed. The men are all missing. The only clue is a giant pointy thing. He brings it back for paleontologist Dr. Nedrick Jackson (Perry Mason‘s William Hopper) to examine. He brings along museum magazine editor Marge Blaine (In a Lonely Place‘s Alix Talton). Ned immediately declares the piece is part of a giant preying mantis. This immediately gets confirmed when the Mantis attacks Eskimos. The creature later attacks a Polar military base with Ned, Marge and the Colonel. There’s a lot of destruction in the battle between man and bug. However the creature won’t be snowbound. It flies down South and perches on the Washington Monument. Like the Beatles, the Mantis wants to head up to New York City.
The Deadly Mantis was part of the wave at Universal where they figured out plenty of ways to save on the budget. There’s plenty of stock footage to take the action to the Arctic to save on sending a crew to a location or just filmming inside the freezer at the Universal cafeteria. The Mantis effects aren’t are pretty fine when compared to a few other films about giant bugs that came out during this time. You could almost imagine the Deadly Mantis battling the ants from Them. This is not like the painful puppet bird from Sam Katzman’s Giant Claw. The mantis looks extra threatening as it tears up buildings. This touch makes up for all the stock footage that takes up the screen time. Deadly Mantis keeps up the fear.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 2K scan brings out the details in the attacking mantis. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The mantis doesn’t make that much noise except when it flies. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentary from Tom Weaver has him get deep into the production notes. He even brings in a couple guests.
Still Gallery (7:56) includes the promotional photos, posters. ad art and lobby cards.
Theatrical Trailer (2:09) shows how the mantis was unleashed from the polar ice.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode (92:16) has Mike Nelson and the Bots on Business Casual Day at the Satellite of Love. This was episode 804.
Scream Factory presents The Deadly Mantis. Directed by Nathan H. Juran. Screenplay by: Martin Berkeley. Starring: Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph & Pat Conway. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 78 minutes. Released: March 19, 2019.
Tags: Deadly Mantis, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Perry Mason, Scream Factory