Welcome aboard and buckle up. You’re in for a few jokes as I describe why this movie, then a bit of trivia about this movie, followed by a lengthy retelling of this movie’s tale as I see it through the prism of what we here at saintcarnival.com call the story enneagram.
Narrator: “The wildest and most vicious of animals is the tiny shrew. The shrew feeds only by the dark of the moon. He must eat his own body weight every few hours, or starve; and the shrew devours everything – bones, flesh, marrow, everything. In March, first in Alaska, and then invading steadily southward, there were reports of a new species: the giant, killer shrew!”
Well, actually, I don’t remember Alaska ever even being mentioned in this movie, nor it being the month of March, but that is what the opening voice over says. And by the way, this is not a movie that is full of narration, we never even hear from the Narrator again … perhaps he was an early victim? Bwahaha…
It was cheesy movie night, because my wife, who is not quite the connoisseur of cheese that I am, was not at home. And although she managed to take one of my kids with her to some choir-practicy-being-of-service-character-buildy-thingy she left two of them at home with me, and I immediately proceeded to rot their brains with this B horror schlock from 1959. I chose this particular film because here in Alaska we get inundated with these little critters. They have caused quite the commotion in my house resulting in the dogs tearing apart the living room base board heaters to chase them down and, in some instances, kill them. So what better to do before sending ones children off to bed, beneath which might be scrambling these little fuzzballs, then watch a flick that features 100 pound poisonous man killing versions of the beasts?
Never having been a favorite show of mine, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode all the way through, I do recognize Best’s character immediately. Isn’t he basically a mash up of Andy Griffith and Goober from the old Mayberry days? I see Best as playing on Andy’s good looks and southern swagger and Goober’s comical idiocy, and in Shrew he throws in more than a dash of Elvis to try to ramp himself up into leading man-ishness, but whenever he has his captain’s hat on in this film he unfortunately let’s in a bit too much … Gilligan.
There is a lot of trivia out there on the web about this movie, for instance it was featured on a Mystery Science Theater episode, but my favorite is that it has a sequal! Yes, Return of the Killer Shrews was made in 2012 and stars … James Best again!
Ok, enough of the B-Movie love fest, we are here to talk enneagram, so let’s talk enneagram. Below is a publicity still of the main characters from the film which I draw your attention to because I will use similar nomenclature to identify them, in other words, instead of the characters actual names I’ll use monikers like “Hero” and “Hottie”, to make it easier to follow along. And don’t expect this to be a chronologically faithful retelling of the movie either, as I tend to enneagram a story with artistic license, hopefully producing a better telling of the movie’s tale than the movie actually achieved.
What was that? Your going to tell us the tale told in this movie … better than the movie does, you ask? Why edit a completed film, why not just overlay the enneagram in a best fit fashion and notate weaknesses, you ask? Because one day …
… we here at saintcarnival.com hope to get our hands on shooting scripts that we can enneagram prior to production. We’ll read them and hold them up against the enneagram of story that we have developed here at saintcarnival.com, as we do now to finished films, as I am doing to this film in this post which you are reading. Only we’ll get to make, move, add, and change suggestions, or complete rewrites, prior to production, which, if we have done our job well and the changes to the script make it through production and editing, will result in the original story … better told. Want to know more about the process before seeing how it applies to this film? Click here.
Now, back to … The Killer Shrews
1 Arrive on Island as hurricane approaches.
Our Reluctant Hero Love Interest (played by Best and heretofore named Hero) arrives on a remote island in a boat with his Disposable Comedic Sidekick First Mate (I will call him Crewman) to deliver supplies to the scientists living on the island. We are told of the approaching hurricane and that it will delay their departure. We meet the Love Interest (played by Swedish bombshell Ingrid Goude whom I will call the Hottie as she is referred to in the publicity still above) her father, the lead scientist, (aka Scientist) his Assistant, their Servant, and the Angry Scorned Ex Lover of Hottie (heretofore known as Ex).
They do far too much talking while standing around on the beach at this point, and I would move this dialogue to the Four where conflict and plot development belong. We are in the One, the stage is set, a hurricane has stranded them all on an island with a mystery, now move on. They invite our Hero inside the house and he orders his Crewman to remain with the boat to secure it from the storm. It is clear that Hottie was hoping to leave immediately and that there is something wrong that no one is talking about. They move inside and immediately start drinking, they drink a lot in this movie, and talking, they do a lot of this too, and like the beach scene some of this dialogue should be moved to the Four or scrapped.
The actors who play the characters who live on the island are clearly playing tension here, as evidenced by the fact that they are disappointed they can’t leave immediately and the Ex is carrying guns, and I would capitalize on that by having them beat a much hastier retreat into the house, much to the bewilderment of our Hero. One more thing, when they enter the house they do so through the fenced yard off the back of the house and the camera stays fixed on the fence for an extra long time. I would encourage this and add some dialogue here with Hero commenting on the apparent extra strength of the fence and then the Ex exclaiming that it would take a tank to get through that fence. This line, or something close to it actually appears later in the film and I would move it here for reasons that will become clear in the Seven.
2 Killer Shrews imprison them
With some of the beach and house dialogue moved later in the film it will no longer take too long to get to the shrews, which will be good because now is the time to reveal the Killer Shrews in all their campy glory, as they scramble to get inside the house. One comment I read on a blog referencing the film referred to them as dogs wearing halloween masks and shag carpet remnants and that was a pretty good description.
I would make the following change here. At some point early in the movie we see the Crewman get killed by shrews as he is affixing a tie line to the boat. Actually, he runs away from them and gets killed while trying to climb a tree that is too small to bear his weight, I like this death but not right now and not for him. I would have him affix the boat and be chased by the shrews to the house where he would pound on the security fence, unheard by the occupants therein which is pretty well handled in the film by emphasizing the hurricane force winds as being all that can be heard. The shrews would reach him and bite at him and he would break in through a small basement window, leaving the shrews to leap at the fence and walls of the house in a very threatening, Two-ish, fashion.
3 A single shrew gets inside the house
I’m way off on timing here, having moved some scenes around as well as added a few, and this may prove to be a weak 3-6, but I see the Crewman alone in the basement boarding up the small window he just came through, one shrew manages to get through and into the basement by literally scratching through the adobe wall surrounding the window and kills the Crewman. I can’t think of a better possible 3 at this time, but it mirrors the 6 pretty well, so I’ll leave it as I see it.
4 Hero gives way as the Ex argues with the Blonde
There is a lot of drinking and refreshing of drinks in this movie as they all stand around the bar in the living room talking, and a lot of back story is laid out while they drink. In the Four the characters would lay down some of this back story pipe, including the very Fourish arguments between Hero and Scientist and Hottie and Ex that are already there, and then, continuing with my revision, they would hear the screams of the dying Crewman in the basement which would lead the Hero to rush to his aid. The Assistant, who is always at a typewriter in the film, would insist on staying behind as the Scientist goes to help the Hero. They would hunt and kill the lone shrew in the basement as they do in the film. The Hero would barricade the window, in the film he just latches it, and in my version he would notice the scratched and crumbling adobe and the Scientist would take notice of a supply of rat poison on their way up the stairs.
Once back upstairs we get Hero demanding an answer to the obvious “What the heck are those things!?” question, and we get animosity between Hottie and the Ex and sexual tension between the Hero and Hottie. The actor, James Best our Hero, removes the captain’s hat for these scenes to downplay its Gilligan effect and really lays on the Elvis to increase sexual tension, I’ll leave it to the ladies in the audience to decide whether this works for him, but seeing as he didn’t have much of a leading man career after this film I’d have to conclude that his increased Elvis makes no one feel … all shook up.
Here in the Four is where I would move some of the earlier dialogue to give our Hero something to dig out of them. After all, he is locked in a house, his Crewman has died, and they are surrounded by mutant rodents … our man would want some answers! This dialogue could occur while they are barricading the house.
During these scenes we learn that the mutant shrews were the result of an experiment gone wrong. (The actual goal of the experiment, the Scientist says, was to shrink the shrews in order to double their lifespan and half their food requirements, something he was hoping to repeat with humans to avoid overpopulation…or something like that … but instead it enlarged them and made them hungrier!) At one point in the film we see Hottie argue with Ex and accuse him of being responsible for releasing the mutant shrews when he was drunk, and Hero does not interfere, he just leaves the room. This is good Four stuff for this movie.
For further action in the Four we’ve got Hero and the Ex locked and loaded and heading out side to see if Crewman secured the boat, because Hero thinks they all might fair better in the choppy seas with a hurricane than in a house with soft adobe walls surrounded by mutant digging rodents. Once outside we get the Ex going full retard and actually pulling a gun on the Hero, in my version I would have them reach the boat and see that it is secure and start to head back at which point Ex would turn and make for the boat alone, in a crazed attempt to run away and leave them all. A fight would ensue and, emotions would run high, and Ex would accuse Hero of trying to steal his girl.
As in the film, Hero takes Ex’s gun away and makes him walk ahead of him back to the house. Shrews chase them to the gate and the Ex manages to get in and locks Hero out. Scientist and Hottie see this and push the Ex away and let Hero in who immediately pounds the piss out of the Ex. At this point I would insert some dialogue in which Ex, in a high emotional state, would declare that Hero is trying to take his girl because Hero has fallen in love with Hottie, which infuriates Hero even more and he, as in the movie, lifts Ex up and acts as if to toss him over the fence into the snapping jaws of the shrews below. Its kind of a unique moment as you don’t get to see a hero so fed up with the antics of his adversary that he’s willing to murder him in cold blood very often.
Switch – Hero declares his love for Hottie
At this point in the movie the Assistant leans out the window and yells “Stop it you two!” or something equally silly, but in my version it is beauty who tames the beast as Hottie throws her arms about Hero’s neck, he looks into her eyes and recognizes that Ex was right and that he does love Hottie, and he releases the Ex who crumbles into a sobbing heap as Hero embraces Hottie. And that, if I don’t say so myself, is what we call a Switch.
5 Hero defends the Blonde from the Ex
A major adjustment I would make here would be to take an event that is referenced in dialogue and turn it into screentime. Specifically, in the film we are told by the Scientist that when the Servant dies of relatively superficial wounds from the shrew attack that the reason is because the Scientist had tried to poison the shrews and that the poison, instead of killing the shrews, actually made them poisonous! This is great mad-scientist-science here and we should get to see it played out.
To make my idea work we’d have to see them regroup around the bar, as they do in the film, and come up with a plan, which they don’t do in the film. The Scientist would recall the poison, which I planted him as having seen in the Four, and they would go to get it. Wondering how to get the shrews to eat it the Assistant would suggest that they apply it to the Crewman’s corpse and then toss him over the fence. Much emoting would occur at this suggestion but Hero would finally agree that it is what Crewman would want, so in true Five fashion they would all work together (even the corpse!) and carry Crewman’s body upstairs, douse him in the poison powder, and toss his body over the fence.
Back inside, and with Hero in control, much like in the film, he would make a schedule for them each to stand watch and they would try to rest. The Ex blows off his shift because he is drunk and talks Assistant into having a few hits off the bottle with him and pulling a double shift, even though the Assistant says he is tired. In the movie it is Servant and this is where he gets it in the basement, in my version there would be some dialogue between Assistant and Ex wherein the Assistant expresses how he is really interested in knowing if the poison killed the shrews, and that he wants to do an autopsy on one of the shrews if they are dead. I would have the Ex pass out and the Assistant continue his rounds. He would make his way out to the fenced yard area and, looking over the fence, he would see a dead shrew by the gate. Cautiously he would open the gate and reach out to grab the leg of the shrew and start dragging it back in. In true horror fashion it would wake up and bite his arm. He would shut the gate and go back inside.
In the movie the Assistant sits, after being bitten for some other reason, and types away until he dies in full view of everyone and then the Scientist reads what he had written and exclaims in great admiration that the Assistant had written out all the side effects of being bitten right up until his death. Its really a wonderful bit of schlock screenwriting and acting and the only thing I would change is that the Scientist and the rest of the house would wake to find him already dead at the typewriter and the Scientist would read the note which would explain that the shrews are now, in addition to being, mutant, large, and rabid hungry, also … poisonous.
I see a moment where the Hero and the Scientist discuss what comes next which depends on whether the poison killed any of the shrews. They look over the fence and there are no dead, or living shrews to be seen, they look at each other and wonder briefly where the shrews have gone and then from inside the house comes Hottie’s scream.
6 A lot of shrews get inside the house
Very little changes remain for the rest of the movie. Here in the Six we see shrews chewing and scratching holes in all the walls of the house. They begin pouring in through the holes and Hero, Scientist, and Ex start shooting them, but there are too many.
7 They decide to leave, but how?
Hero orders everyone into the fenced yard and barricades the door to the house. Shrews are outside the fence and making their way through the walls to get at them. Hero surveys the shrews leaping at the fence and then turns to the enclosed yard looking around frantically, he spots a large metal water tank and turns it over. Our Hero recalls the line planted in the One when the Ex said that it would take a tank to get through that fence. He then decides to turn the water tank into an anti-shrew tank. They find more tanks and a gas welder and he proceeds to weld four tanks together and cut eye slots in them. Sounds like a bit much, doesn’t it? I mean the guy whips out a welder and goes to work while shrews are nipping at his heals? Remember this is 50’s horror schlock!
Enneagram education moment: I moved the line about the tank and the fence so that it would be juxtiposed between the One and the Seven because the One is always a good place to plant things that will be drawn upon in the Seven. This is because if you look at the enneagram symbol there is a direct line between the One and the Seven. These should not be overt plants, just minor things that help with the brain blast moment in the Seven when our cast decides what to do.
8 They escape the Killer Shrews
There are four big heavy tanks welded together and Hero, Scientist, and Hottie each climb under one, but the Ex bales out of the plan at the last minute and climbs on the roof of the house instead, and he has the rifle. Which in all honesty seemed like a pretty good alternative to facing killer shrews from beneath a metal tank to me as well.
Giving up on the Ex the other three open the gate and start dragging the tank from the inside. There are some really cheesy shots of this welded-tank-thing surrounded by killer shrews, plodding along, and even cheesier shots of them inside their tanks crouching and scuffling along. Great stuff here.
As they make their way to the water we see that the three of them are barely strong enough to lift and drag the four man tank and then the film cuts to the Ex who leaves the roof and gets killed by shrews for no apparent reason. A death scene is a terrible thing to waste! I would change this to the following. First have the Ex watch from the roof as they struggle. At one point we see Hottie lose a shoe and in my version we could have the Ex see the shoe left behind and see the tank completely surrounded by shrews and he takes up his gun and … breaking free from his fear … he tries to aim his gun, but his aim is obscured by a tree next to the house, so he climbs from the roof to the tree and climbs out on a limb to get a good shot. The limb creaks as he shimmies out further and we see shrews snapping up at him from below. He aims and shoots away several of the shrews, and the tank continues to the water, giving the Ex just a touch of redemption.
We see the tank enter the water and the shrews retreat back in the direction of the Ex in the tree. Once in the water the Hero flips the tank off and orders Hottie and Scientist to swim for the boat. She points to the tree with the Ex in it. Hero starts for the shore and Hottie holds him back as they watch the Ex’s limb break and he falls into a pit of shrews below. She buries her face in Hero’s chest and then they all swim for the boat together.
9 Leave the Island as hurricane retreats.
Once on the boat the three look back to the island and then leave it in their wake.
So why did I just spend 3831 words fixing The Killer Shrews? Because I love movies … and my family and I have uncovered and developed this unique method of aligning the structure of a story to the Enneagram and it can result in a better way to tell whatever story is being told, regardless of scale, budget, actor or screenplay, give us a shot, and we’ll help you make a better movie … even if it is the Killer Shrews.
Thanks for reading and if you ever get a chance to watch the film be sure to drop us a comment here at saintcarnival.com and tell us what you think.