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RUNNING TIME: 78 Mins.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Midgets in love!
Note: This is a Region 2 UK DVD, which will not work on American DVD players unless they are region free. Also, I decided to eschew the standard CHUD captions in favour of showing off the brilliant photography of The Incredible Shrinking Man.
A feature-length Twilight Zone episode written by the illegitimate spawn of Harlan Ellison and Paul Verhoeven.
Starring Grant Williams! Randy Stuart! April Kent! Written by Richard Matheson! Produced by Albert Zugsmith! Directed by Jack Arnold! It’s A Universal International Picture!
Scott Carey was just a man… a normal average man, with a normal average wife and a normal average boat. But this normal and average man took a journey into the unknown, the likes of which no one could ever imagine. On what was a normal boating vacation, Scott Carey experienced a strange mist that surrounded him and penetrated his very soul.
What had at first seemed like a harmless mist later proved to be the beginning of a nightmare for Mr. Scott Carey. The radioactivity in the cloud had begun to change Scott, in ways humanity could barely comprehend. Suddenly, Scott’s clothes were too big for him, and as the world grew around him, he finally realised the true horror of what was happening to him. He was no longer a normal and average man… he was THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN!
Take a look at the mouse next to your keyboard. It’s a small, pretty insignificant object, right? Now imagine that mouse is ten-foot tall. See your cat strolling up to you begging for you to pet it? Imagine that cat being as tall as a house, and screeching like a banshee, eschewing its Whiskas as it hunts for a different kind of dinner: you. Welcome, my friends, to the world of Scott Carey.
Coming from the minds of Richard Matheson – scribe of the classic science-fiction novel I Am Legend as well as co-screenwriter of the even more classic and influential Jaws 3-D – and Jack Arnold – celebrated director of 1950s genre movies such as Creature From The Black Lagoon and Tarantula – The Incredible Shrinking Man is a classic of the atomic age and an incredibly somber and poignant slice of 50s sci-fi.
One thing that immediately jumps out about The Incredible Shrinking Man is its title. Of course, the film is of an age where it was legally required for 85% of a studio’s output to have an exclamation mark at the end of the title, and where films such as It Came From Outer Space, Attack Of The Puppet People, and Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers roamed the Nevada desert looking to snack on Leo G. Carroll (who you might have heard was over a barrel). I remember one such occasion on CHUD’s own message boards where a certain young gentleman – who may or may not have had a coincidental case of Fucked-In-The-Head syndrome -questioned the quality of the film based on its title. The moral of this tale is that he was a moron, and that The Incredible Shrinking Man is the best science fiction movie of the 1950s. I realise that’s a heady claim, especially with movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers standing along side it, but here is an incredibly intelligent and brave piece of work that doesn’t look out of place in the genre forty-nine years later.
To expand on the plot summary above, after Carey is exposed to the mist, he begins to not only change physically, but mentally, which is understandable. As his body shrinks, he begins to treat not only his wife with contempt, but other women too. On a trip to a circus, he meets a midget girl with whom it is suggested that he played hide the mini-sausage with. However, when he shrinks to a size smaller than her, he ruthlessly dumps her like the pint-sized cad he is.
Before long, he’s the size of your average Walrus Man and living in a doll’s house. I don’t know whether his wife threw a Princess Leia figure in there for company, but his miniature piece of real estate is soon disturbed by an unexpected enemy: the family cat, who no longer sees Scott as the faithful owner and more as a midnight snack. Believed dead by his wife after she finds a shred of bloodied clothing being pawed by the tabby, Scott finds himself exiled to the basement, once a familiar room but now an alien world, dominated by towering boxes and matchboxes the size of Buicks.
But as Scott searches for nourishment, he is faced with the nightmarish reality that he is not alone in the basement, and that his very existence is challenged not only by a dwindling food supply, but also by a monstrous spider hell-bent on capturing Scott and devouring his insides like the Human Soup Of The Day. The dilemma now raised, does Scott try to live in peace with his eight-legged nemesis, or does he hunt down the bastard spider in a titanic struggle over food, territory, and life itself? I think you can guess the answer.
The first act of the film plays out like a fairly average melodrama, concerned with the little things that Scott is noticing. After he’s told by his doctor that he has a sort of “anti-cancer,” (his words, not mine) it starts to escalate faster and faster as Scott shrinks even further, and slowly grows apart from his wife. He then becomes more and more irrational, and it’s then where he sleeps with the woman at the circus. This all sets up one of Matheson’s themes, that of misogyny. We have Scott shrinking ever more, fuelled by his literal shortcomings to attack both his wife and the circus girl.
Credit to his wife, she never stops caring for him until she thinks he’s dead, even though he is often a pretty mean guy. Well, as mean as a 2ft tall man can be. Of course, this all leads to some pretty heavy scenes between Scott and Louise, which are played very well by the actors, but again, show Grant Williams unfortunately playing an asshole. The whole misogyny deal pays off in the second half, with Scott facing off against two decidedly feminine animal species; a cat and a spider. These themes are pretty interesting, and add another layer to the meaty onion that is this movie, but what gets me most is the final basement-set act, where Scott isn’t just faced with dealing with his illness anymore, but whether he can actually survive it.
There’s something incredible about taking an environment that you visit every day without even thinking out and switching it so it becomes this vast alien landscape that seems inescapable. Especially when you find out that in this environment, you’re at the bottom of the food chain. Here, the scenes take on a certain poignancy, as well as sheer desperation and almost depression. There’s an amazing scene of Scott trying to retrieve a piece of cheese out of a mousetrap. Of course, in this world said mousetrap is ten feet long.
Scott uses a nail to try and catch the mechanism, and he tries and tries, and we see how weary and desperate he’s getting. Suddenly, it works, and the cheese rolls free – only to fall down a nearby drain. Once again, Scott is defeated by an object he probably set up himself. As he looks around, he sees some more cheese; however, it’s right next to a huge spider’s web. Uh oh.
What’s interesting is the ingenious way Scott deals with his task. Luckily, there is a box of sewing implements in the basement, so Scott is able to use a pin as a form of defence, as well as bending another pin into a hook shape and attaching it to a piece of sewing cotton to create a grappling hook. This allows him a pretty nifty climbing tool, and how Scott uses the “tools” is a really believable and innovative concept.
What’s most impressive about this final act of the film is the tension. It’s tense enough when he’s foraging for food and escaping floods of water, but as soon as we catch a glimpse of the monster fucking spider, it’s amped up to eleven. The first time we see Scott’s nemesis is pretty akin to the ‘Slow ahead’ scene in Jaws. Scott is standing at the bottom of the box, looking up at the cheese on top. Suddenly, out of the darkness inside the box, a bunch of HUGE furry legs jump out with a sting of music.
I have to admit, it made me jump a mile, although how much that has to do with my utter fear of spiders in general I’m not sure. It’s worth noting I grew up on this movie as a kid, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in at least five years. But the way the scenes are played out is fantastic, and the photography is stunning even now. The spider itself inevitably is a tarantula, although it’s worth noting that they probably used a spider that big for scale, and to make it look extra frightening. They speed it up occasionally, so it runs real fast which makes it look scary as fuck, but the camera knows how to work it so it always looks a menace.
I’ve read some reviews on the web that attack the film for using a tarantula, writing about it as a plot hole, “as if Scott never noticed a huge tarantula in his basement before,’ and also mentioning that tarantulas don’t have webs. Well, it’s clearly supposed to be a normal spider, especially when you see its scale up against objects like matchboxes and sewing pins.
Incidentally, I found out on TCM’s website that the actual spider used was called Tamara, and was the same one featured in Arnold’s Tarantula, although TCM mentions that it was a “trained” spider. On one hand, I’m not sure how trained a tarantula can really be, but on the other hand, I’m immediately terrified by the idea of someone out there teaching tarantulas to do stuff. However, I’m still wondering about the scene where it’s finally defeated by Scott, because to be blunt and honest, it really looks fucking dead. Either that tarantula is giving an Oscar® winning performance, or Tamara is on her way to the great web in the sky. I think it’s fair to say they didn’t have any Animal Humane Association folks watching.
What’s amazing about this whole act is that it’s done without hardly any dialogue whatsoever, except for a tiny bit of narration. The rest is done with the visuals, sound effects and music, and it makes for a really compelling piece of work, capturing the absolute isolation of the character. The music score is incredible, and really works the situation well, making us absolutely terrified at the mere sight of the spider.
Overall, the film works beautifully. Arnold’s use of trick photography, along with Matheson’s script and the somber narration by Grant Williams that insulates the narrative, helps create a believable story that can proudly stand as a masterpiece of science fiction cinema. But what is most surprising – and what was really surprising as a younger viewer – is the ending.
The still shrinking Scott delivers a final coda where he talks about his inevitable shrink to nothingness, which yet takes an almost victorious tone as he connects the infinite to the infinitesimal and asserts not the audience – but himself – that he matters. That he is part of a new world, a new movement. That he still exists. It’s something that most sci-fi flicks even now wouldn’t attempt – let alone a 1950s film where a man battles a giant spider. But therein lies the danger of taking things at face value. If you look at the poster of the film, it looks like an exploitation horror.
As opposed to the absolute masterpiece it really is.
It’s worth noting that I’ve been waiting since 1999 for this movie to come out on DVD. I’d love to report that it’s brimming with extras, but there’s absolutely nada. At least they don’t insult us with putting scene selection under a “bonus features” banner. It’s kind of a shame though, although remember this is a Region 2 release, so perhaps when the Region 1 edition finally comes through, it’ll be packed to the brim with features like the Universal Monsters discs, which are incredible. What is good here is the transfer. It’s anamorphic, it’s very, very crisp and it looks fucking great. The sound is mono as expected, but it’s still a very good presentation.
The cover art here is cool, using promo stills from the film, with the main one being the spider attacking Grant Williams, although to be honest, it looks like an awfully, well, dead spider, propped up against some books. I’m not sure why they didn’t use the actual poster art, as they did with its companion release, Tarantula, but it still works well. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s pretty cheap, and if you go on Amazon UK, you can pick it up for just under eight English bones.
I’m not sure what to do about a final score. On one hand, we have zero extras. On the other hand, we finally have one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever on DVD. And to be honest, while I love extras, they’re nothing compared to the film itself. So I think I know what to do.