The Deadly Mantis

Movie Information

In Brief: The title pretty much says it all. This is a 1950s insect-fear film (of course) about a giant praying mantis (what else). In its favor, the effects work is pretty good and the solid — if not exactly exciting — cast manage to take it all very seriously. You may find yourself having a harder time doing so, but isn't that the appeal?
Genre: Entymological Sci-Fi Tomfoolery
Director: Nathan Juran (20 Million Miles to Earth)
Starring: Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway
Rated: NR

Having already been through ants, grasshoppers and spiders, the giant bug movie was clearly running the risk of making the entire sci-fi subgenre unbelievable when someone thought that giant praying mantis was the inevitable next in entymological thrills. That, of course, is just what Nathan Juran’s The Deadly Mantis (1957) is all about. The posters promised the viewer, “This Was the Day That Engulfed the World in Terror!” — a bit of an optimistic claim, though the big fella definitely worried some B-list stars, a smattering of extras and some stock footage. They also told us, “Out of a million years ago…a thousand tons of horror,” though I don’t recall anyone actually weighing the beast. Apart from the basic presposterous choice of insect, the most unusual aspect of the film is that the voracious creature has nothing to do with atomic mutation. No, our mantis is just some kind of prehistoric horror that ended up embedded in the ice of the frozen north, but now — much like Bela Lugosi’s caveman in Return of the Ape Man (1944) — has thawed out to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. (And really, when’s the last time you expected a thousand ton mantis to show up? Exactly.) It’s all on the goofy side as we watch Craig Stevens (TV’s Peter Gunn) and his paleontologist buddy William Hopper (Perry Mason’s leg-man on TV) try to rid the world of this winged menace. However, that doesn’t keep it from being pretty entertaining in its own way.

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Deadly Mantis Thursday, March 7 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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9 thoughts on “The Deadly Mantis

  1. Ken Hanke

    Anyone care to try to figure out why this movie packed ’em in tonight? I admit I’m at a loss. One thing was proved tonight, though — I seem to scare small chilren (there were three in the audience). I had no choice but to sit next to one — he promptly moved to the other side of his mother. It’s not like I even looked askance at the lad.

  2. DrSerizawa

    Dunno. It made one of the better episodes of the old Mystery Science Theatre:3000 show. In a way there’s nothing that represents the 50s crapola sci-fi better than The Deadly Mantis. It’s a fine example of the lower end of the spectrum. At least the effects are better than The Beginning Of The End. Though it doesn’t feature Peter “Let Them Use Rakes” Graves.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Those Alix Talton fanboys will come from far and wide

    Well, one of our more cerebral regulars did come in asking whether or not last night’s movie had a heroine with ample bosoms.

  4. Ken Hanke

    It made one of the better episodes of the old Mystery Science Theatre:3000 show

    No movie deserves that treatment. (I will forego my usual rant against that show, however.)

    In a way there’s nothing that represents the 50s crapola sci-fi better than The Deadly Mantis. It’s a fine example of the lower end of the spectrum.

    I wouldn’t argue that, but it presupposes prior exposure to the film. My guess is that 5 or 6 of the folks there had seen the film and not that many more had even heard of it. So they were either drawn by the title, or — and this is perhaps more likely — they know there’s a free horror or sci-fi movie on Thursday night and the weather wasn’t dicey,so…

  5. Dionysis

    “No movie deserves that treatment.”

    Not even MANOS: The Hands of Fate?

  6. Ken Hanke

    Well, I’ve never seen that, but on general principles I’m against the practice.

    • Dionysis

      I can respect that, but MANOS is a special case indeed. Among other things, the writer/producer/director was a fertilizer saleman from Texas who never made a film before, and three of the, er, ‘actors’ committed suicide within a year of its release. Coincidental? Maybe, maybe not.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I understand it’s bad in ways I can’t imagine, but my problem is actually two-sided. I’m also appalled by the idea that we’ve dumbed down to a point where we have to have someone make fun of crappy movies for us.

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