‘This was the day that engulfed the world in terror…’
The Deadly Mantis is a 1957 American science fiction monster movie produced by William Alland for Universal-International Pictures. It was directed by Nathan Juran (The Brain from Planet Arous; 20 Million Miles to Earth; The Boy Who Cried Werewolf) from a screenplay by Martin Berkeley (Tarantula; Revenge of the Creature) based on William Alland’s story.
Craig Stevens (Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Circle of Fear; Killer Bees), William Hopper (20 Million Miles to Earth), Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway.
“For every action, there is an equal — and opposite — reaction.”
In the South Seas, a volcano explodes, eventually causing North Pole icebergs to shift. Below the melting polar ice caps, a 200-foot-long praying mantis, trapped in the ice for millions of years, begins to stir.
Soon after, the military personnel at Red Eagle One, a military station in northern Canada that monitors information gathered from the Distant Early Warning Line, realize that the men at one of their outposts are not responding to calls. Commanding officer Col. Joe Parkman flies there to investigate, and finds the post destroyed, its men disappeared and giant slashes left in the snow outside…
The Deadly Mantis begins with a paranoid beware-of-the-Commies pseudo documentary look at the good work being done by the obliquely named ‘Red Eagle One’ military base. From there on, it’s almost as if Universal-International were being paid by the CIA to explain the terror of the potential ‘invasion’ (a notion not without plausibility as the Agency did pay for a 1954 British animated adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm). “Sound the red alert” has never been so poignant.
Despite the bogus bogeyman fears, the real terror is obviously a giant praying mantis. Yet, even when the presence of a massive insect is suspected, the flag-waving nuttiness continues; with shots of four “hot phones” connected at the ready to “save millions of Americans”, and scenes of devoted scientists slavishly working for Pentagon generals, thus reinforcing the ‘Uncle Sam knows best’ ethos.
Mention of the 400,000 members of the ‘Civilian Ground Observer Corp’ make it clear that The Deadly Mantis is a metaphor for the real deadly menace: “Take no chances, report any unusual flying object”. The Cold War rhetoric is scarier than any giant insect could ever be.
Several references to “skid marks” will doubtlessly induce mild sniggering for some British viewers, but the biggest laughs come from the creature’s frenzied attacks – with defending flame throwers and bomber planes a go-go – that are combined with an overly dramatic score by Irving Gertz (The Alligator People) and William Lava.
The Deadly Mantis is an undeniably crude creature feature that’s peppered with the aforementioned bombastic militaristic nonsense, yet it remains mildly enjoyable whenever the titular monster is on screen, at least.
Adrian J Smith, Horrorpedia
” … there are elements of this film that make it more fun than many an entry into the genre – the ridiculously earnest opening narration that makes it sound more like a US military propaganda film that a bug movie, the admirably straight faced approach by the whole cast and the superior monster ensure that this rises above the films of Bert I. Gordon, for instance, and it it’s not first class science fiction, it’s certainly up in the higher echelons of the second tier.” David Flint, The Reprobate
“Disappointing. The special effects are competent, but Clifford Stine’s photography was far more convincing in Tarantula. There is not enough use of actual mantis footage (again unlike Tarantula with its skilful use of live tarantulas). There are no frightening sounds and few memorable images of monster attacks. There is no cumulative suspense.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“It closely follows The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms but the special effects by Clifford Stine aren’t half as good.” John Stanley, Creature Features