Color, 1980, 90m.
Directed by Hernan Cardenas
Starring Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks, Nita Talbot, Barry Nelson, Jo McDonnell, Martina Deignan
Scorpion (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
While movie screens were about to become inundated with slasher movies in 1980, the makers of Island Claws had another idea: a cheap throwback to '50s giant monster movies, most obviously Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters, complete with the same pacing that worked at drive-ins over two decades ago. That means lots of scenes of scientists and locals yammering about their personal lives and an unseen menace that only shows its face fully in the last reel, often to profoundly lesser effect than what was promised on the poster art.
Something's afoot in a small Florida oceanside town when female reporter (was there any other kind in the early '80s?) Jan Raines (McDonnell) shows up for a story about scientific breakthroughs that could affect the world's inadequate food supply. Her subject is Dr. McNeil (TV veteran Nelson), whom we assume will turn out to be a mad scientist but turns out to be anything but. He's developing a method to accelerate the growth cycles of marine life, with crabs in particular showing promising results. Meanwhile the doc's assistant, Pete (Hanks), thinks there might be trouble with a nearby nuclear spill sending abnormally vicious, fast-growing crabs scuttling around the area, which Jan's friend Lynn (Diegnan) finds out the hard way when she falls face first in the woods and gets attacked by clawed predators. Soon the locals and the power plant owner get involved in lots of bickering and plotting as one particularly oversized chunk of potential seafood seems to be responsible for the growing body count.
There's a certain "Dallas meets Charlie's Angels" vibe to the first hour of this film, which is loaded with bright but flat lighting and lots and lots and lots of character development. Fortunately the wait pays off, more or less, with an enthusiastic climax involving a gargantuan papier-mâché foe and a few car stunts and explosions for good measure. This one doesn't try to reinvent the genre at all, but if you're looking for a goofy old school monster movie to pass the time, you could do a lot worse than this.
For reasons that should be glaringly obvious, Island Claws was passed over for wide theatrical distribution and instead reared its head as a VHS release from Vestron after a TV airing (which understandably required no censorship at all). Unfortunately the long, numerous night scenes were turned into a murky mess, rendering much of the film completely incoherent. The 2014 revisit on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing is automatically many giant-sized steps up by virtue of the fact that it's a fresh HD scan from a pretty solid 35mm print with night scenes you can actually follow. The film element has been kept in nice shape, and it's probably safe to say that almost no one has ever seen the film looking like this before. The DTS-HD mono track is fine considering the fact the soundtrack is mostly dialogue and flat music. Basically if you love the low-rent Floridian charms of the films of William Grefé like Sting of Death and Death Curse of Tartu, this one should be right up your alley. The one extra here is a new 9-minute interview with co-writer Ricou Browning, who swam to fame in Creature from the Black Lagoon and its two sequels before writing and directing many episodes of TV's Flipper. He doesn't have a heck of a lot to say about this film (which he still hasn't seen and barely remembers), but he does cover some other odd highlights from his career and his prolific television work. As with their Blu-ray edition of Girly, Scorpion has pressed this in a limited edition available when it's in stock at Diabolik.