Wednesday, 2 May 2012

"The Shrews Were Out There! I Couldn't Take A Chance"

The makers of The Killer Shrews (Ray Kellogg, 1959) must either have picked those animals for a bet, or all the good ones had been taken.

Either way, the shrews were played by Dalmatian dogs with fake-fur costumes (you can watch the whole film here). This, and much else beside, formed the meat of a fascinating and insightful paper by Elena Woolley, titled The Raw and the Cooked: Attitude and the Spectatorship of Death. In it, she discussed the 'food chain' movie, a genre specialising in fantasies in which humans are replaced at the top of the food chain by giant or mutated animals - we saw clips from Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters, Jaws and Jurassic Park. The point seems to be that when humans meddle with nature, the Great Chain of Being is (temporarily) overturned. Sometimes it's nuclear war causing the mutations, sometimes it's hubristic scientists (as in The Killer Shrews and Attack of the Crab Monsters), but the result is always the same - an existential threat to mankind.

Elena's major point was that this sub-genre encourages a detached attitude towards death. Like the unnamed red-shirted security guy in Star Trek, we don't feel compassion or empathy for the victims, we just observe it for entertainment rather than engaging with the underlying socio-political concepts.

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