Attack of The Crab Monsters (1957)
How Pacing and Style Keeps Low-Budget Interesting

Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters is a 1950s drive-in classic that turned a $70K budget into a $1M profit. Despite being a mega-monster film about radioactive land crabs eating human beings, the Crab Monsters has little to no special effects. Corman relied exclusively on plot devices to keep the audience interested. This makes Crab Monsters an interesting film to study as it shows the beauty and power of great screenwriting. The screenwriter in question is Charles B. Griffith, a man who cleverly spun a tale about giant crab monsters with only a few scenes of exposition and a lot of tension in between. Consider Crab Monsters to be a Hitchcock-inspired thriller that's weird, fun and perfect for kids. There isn't a boring frame in it and a mysterious virtuoso violin that plays in the background sets a foreboding mood while the team of researchers investigate the mystery of the previous expedition team.


Plot Device: Two Ticking Time Bombs


If giant crab monsters wasn't weird enough, then it shouldn't be a big problem to know that they can send powerful telepathic communications to lure the expedition into a flesh-eating trap. To make it worse, they can do it in the voice of previous, dead expedition members. Insert a few mini-earthquakes and a huge scraping sound for about an hour of pure suspense. Suspense occurs when your brain fills missing gap in the story with horrid imaginings of dead research scientists. When the suspense comes in the form of a ticking time clock device, you've got a build-up that allows for high entertainment on a low budget.

A Closer Look


If we take a closer look at the devices we see that they're just enough to tease the troubled, unconscious human mind with thoughts of morbidity.

1) Mini-quakes: Right from the start, mini-earthquakes rock the island. No one knows where they’re coming from or how they’re happening. The island received fall out from nuclear tests, so no one assumed that the explosions brought everyone closer to death. In truth, the beasties are eating away at it so that the pesky humans don't get away (and of course, as land crabs, they can do without it).

2) Rattling sounds: The sound of rattling, like a stick dragged across a wooden fence is heard right from the start. It's as if big giant claws were scraping across something for effect. Good pacing also means no extraneous matter. We don't slow down to smell the roses, we keep going, like a beeline to giant crab monsters that want to eat people alive (cool!). Just loud scrapes will do!

To reiterate: No mushy scenes, just like kids want, but adults too, because sometimes a B-monster movie doesn't need anything else. That's not to say Crab Monsters isn't filled with real people and drama. Recurring plot elements aren’t enough to keep the suspense going.

The Film Moves Forward Too


Ticking time bombs might signal the film leading to a final showdown, but that doesn't mean it gives the film real movement. Scenes that move the story forward:

1) Hearing Dead People in their Dreams: Expedition team members start hearing the voices of the dead speaking to them at night. They are moved to go and investigate. It's a mystery that needs to be solved because at first we just don't get it. Mysterious mean leads, leads mean breadcrumbs that keep us engaged.

2) Someone Dies a Mysterious Death: The first death is usually good indication you’re bound to run into giant crab monsters soon. Like a good serial killer film, deaths keep us wondering what's going to happen next too.

3) Attack on the Lab:  When a big “thing” destroys the lab, then you know the plot thickens. It doesn’t help to hear the physicist on hand say that he probably knows what’s going on, but he’ll wait a little longer before he says it aloud. Hmph.

Throughout each little event, we find out more through basic exposition. We learn more about the tests. We learn more about land crabs. We learn more, of course, about radiation. Or, at least, what they thought it was like.

In Conclusion...


As a result, the film was a big hit, making over a million dollars on a $70K budget, proof that good storytelling will always be bigger than mere special effects and big explosions. A brief and sketchy list of references to this blog: Attack of the Crab Monsters on Wikipedia. Accessed August 25, 2016. Land crabs on Wikipedia. Accessed August 25, 2016. IMDB's profile the Attack Crab Monsters. Accessed August 25, 2016. Attack of the Crab Monsters on YouTube. Accessed August 25, 2016.

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