A small island off the coast of Florida has seen a sudden, rather alarming, increase in their crab population, and even worse, these marauding little critters are making their way out of the ocean and are on the offensive. Their aggressive behaviour could be attributed to a large toxic spill from the nearby nuclear power plant or it may have something to do with Dr. McNeil (Barry Nelson) and his team of marine biologists. They’re working on accelerating the growth cycle of some marine life and the local crustaceans are showing signs of progress, which they hope will help eventually alleviate the global food shortages. Of course, like any “nature runs amok” film, these rather imprudent ideas always give way to some bigger, more dangerous problem. This time, a crab the size of a house terrorizes the local populace.
Not sure if this was ever meant to play theatrically, but ISLAND CLAWS plays out like any TV “Movie of the Week” with lots of padding and some innocent PG-rated mayhem; the only thing missing are the usual fade-to-black intermissions for commercial breaks. Coming across like a mid-day soap opera, there is plenty of build-up with lots of characters and various sub-plots, some of which vanish as quickly as they’re introduced. Even though the film opens with a toxic spill, this angle is barely expanded on and even the power plant’s head supervisor Frank Raines (Dick Callinan), who is conveniently set-up as the bad guy, disappears from the rest of the film as well. He is only mentioned in passing when his daughter Jan Raines (Jo McDonnell), a reporter researching a story on world hunger, teams up with Dr. McNeil’s assistant Pete (Steve Hanks) and his surrogate father Moody (Robert Lansing), whose hostility towards Frank is still very much a sore point; apparently Frank “drove off the causeway” and killed Pete’s parents many years ago. Moody runs ‘The Half Shell’, a local fisherman’s bar that is right out of a B-movie western, whose clientele seem to be employed more as barflies than fisherman. When Amos (Mal Jones), the town drunk, is killed by the giant crab in his out-of-the-way trailer, a mob mentality is formed against the local, and illegal, Haitian population (“It’s them Haitians who done it!”) by the consistently inebriated Half Shell crowd. Although Moody tries to dissuade them, they can’t get past the Haitians' “voodoo” practices, which they blame on just about everything. Of course, Pete and Jan begin to suspect something far more dangerous when they discover an inordinately large and recently shed crab shell. It’s here, in the film’s final act where the locals finally put aside their petty squabbles and band together against the giant killer crab, which at first glance, is actually quite impressive. Even though the climactic showdown is well cut for maximum excitement, the crab doesn’t do a whole lot other than wave it’s “giants claws” and angrily roar, but despite its limitations, it’s great, silly fun that any monster-fan will enjoy just the same.
Although everyone in the cast offer decent but unspectacular performances, the film definitely benefits from Robert Lansing’s turn as the crusty old islander, which at times feels like a combination between Roy Scheider’s Captain Brody and Robert Shaw’s Quint from JAWS (1975), no doubt as much an inspiration on this film as the ‘50s monster flicks it tries to emulate. Ironically, Mr. Lansing also battled giant ants a few years earlier in Bert I. Gordon’s EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) and then battled flesh-hungry cockroaches in Terence Winkless’ The NEST (1988).
Perfect as a Saturday morning timewaster, ISLAND CLAWS will most likely not endear many new fans, but those that caught this either on TV or via Vestron’s 3-decades old VHS will be pleasantly surprised by the clarity of this Blu-Ray. Limited to 1200 copies, pick up a copy from Diabolik DVD before it scuttles away into oblivion for good.