The Giant Claw

Movie Information

In Brief: The Thursday Horror Picture Show is serving Grade-A turkey this week with Fred F. Sears’ deliriously dreadful The Giant Claw. To give some barometer of its quality, consider that it was released in June of 1957, and even though Sears died in November of that same year, in the intervening five months he managed to crank out another eight movies and one TV episode before handing in his Directors Guild card. To say he was a meticulous craftsman would be an untruth of some note, but he could undeniably churn ’em out. And in all honesty, it’s not the workmanlike direction, the screenplay or the echt-1950s acting that stuffs and bastes the bird. It’s the bird itself. In fact, the first 26 minutes of the movie aren’t that bad. And then … the title monster shows up — and not just his claw, but every ill-advised turkey-feathered inch of the damned thing. It is … well, just, wow. This is one of those rare cases — owing to the way the film was put together — where it’s easy to believe that the stars, mindless of what the monster looked like, went to the premiere showing, only to slink away in abject embarrassment, hoping not to be recognized. The truth, though, is that it’s entirely due to this plucked buzzard-from-hell puppet that anyone remembers the movie today. Otherwise, The Giant Claw would be nothing but another 1950s giant monster flick. As it is, its unique awfulness makes it a strange kind of very wayward “classic.”  
Genre: Giant Puppet Buzzard Horror
Director: Fred F. Sears (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers)
Starring: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, Louis Merrill, Edgar Barrier, Robert Shayne
Rated: NR



To give credit—or blame—where it’s really due here, you have to look to the producer—our old pal, the astonishing Sam Katzman, one of the most underrated names in exploitation. Indeed, old Sam may well have been the first truly successful exploitation filmmaker—by that I mean he made a working career out of it. He started, unpromisingly, making serials and westerns in the 1930s, but he came into his own with his Banner Productions in 1940 at Monogram (the first time he had access to actual studio releasing, such as it was). Here he turned the Dead End Kids into the East Side Kids and offered a down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi to star in a series of really cheap movies that offered a lot of Lugosi and very little else.




Contemptuous of everything—including his audience (he once went on record saying there was “something wrong” with the people who went to his movies)—he was the ultimate schlockmeister. Always ready to latch onto a trend, it was hardly surprising that he’d gravitate toward sci-fi in the 1950s. Actually, his 1956 epic Earth vs. the Flying Saucers isn’t bad, but those Ray Harryhausen special effects were not Sam’s cup of tea—meaning they cost money. So he found something cheaper—farming out the effects on this one to a Mexican studio. That the monster was laughable (let’s face it the most horrifying thing about it is that it sometimes looks like a demented Jimmy Durante) was no concern of Sam’s. This may be the origin of outsourcing, come to think of it. More unbelievable is the idea that anyone anywhere at any time thought this creature was acceptable.




This is why no one in the cast—except for the screaming extras who parachuted into the buzzard’s mouth, or rather a rear-screen projection of it—even saw the bird till it was too late to realize that the monster they’d been “reacting” to in stark terror was quite possibly the most ludicrous thing ever put on film. That it managed to embarass actors whose credits weren’t all that spiffy to begin with makes this no small accomplishment. That this was the sine qua non of silliness in the era that saw Bert I. Gordon showing “giant” grasshoppers crawling up photos of skyscrapers is nothing short of mind-boggling.

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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5 thoughts on “The Giant Claw

  1. Will Lugar

    Ken Hanke, I have long enjoyed your reviews of turkeys. I would be very interested to see you someday review Monster a Go-Go, directed by Bill Rebane and Herschell Gordon Lewis. That film doesn’t have a turkey, but it does have a monster (sort of) and one of the strangest endings of all time. It is also remarkably incoherent and if I recall correctly it far surpasses the degree of cobbled-togetherness of anything by Ed Wood. Highly recommended.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    —except for the screaming extras who parachuted into the buzzard’s mouth, or rather a rear-screen projection of it—

    Is the foley used for those scenes a person eating a hard taco?

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