Director & Screenwriter: Pierce Berolzheimer
Time: 80 minutes
By Mike Szymanski
Lately — well at least for the past two years — it is very rare that I laugh out loud over a movie, and this one had me doing it from the first scene. So thank you “Crabs!” for getting me to giggle in this strange and unfunny times.
Horror movie spoofs can be done very well, or very poorly, especially when the filmmakers are obviously trying too hard or setting up the laughs too apparently. Independent horror-comedies are priceless if they’re done well (and well with a low budget) and when they still have heart and a little bit of danger, too.
I’m a big fan of Roger Corman-esque horror films, and love to find gems that harken back to the days of the 1950’s small towns that get taken over by monsters that seem impossible to fight. The 1957 film “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (starring Russell Johnson who played The Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”) is obviously one of the oldies but goodies that this movie is paying homage to, and in a loving way.
And, I love horror-comedies with heart. In 2001, “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” became a family favorite with its take on black-and-white 1950s over-the-top creature features. Then, a decade later, “Chillerama” was a laugh-out-loud horror-comedy anthology that attained cult status.
Now, a decade later again there is another great and underrated horror-comedy “Crabs!” People should enjoy it for what it is: a light-hearted fright film with goofy monsters, sex-crazed youth, and lots of heart.
Dylan Riley Snyder stars as Philip, a kid in a wheelchair who has turned a barn into his mad scientist quarters. His best friend is a high-school girl genius like him, Allie (played by Maddy Menrath.) They don’t know it yet, but they really like each other, as she pushes him around in a wheelchair even though he keeps pointing out that he could easily control himself.
Both of these teens are working on trying to get Philip to walk again. They are doing that by creating a robotic exo-skeleton that is generated by a shiny blue substance called Imorium Clustergram that can easily bore holes through walls when it’s not used carefully.
Philip is in danger of losing his ramshackle science lab because his parents are dead, and his older brother, Hunter, is a deputy sheriff who can’t afford to keep their land, where they each live in campers. Philip takes down the “For Sale” sign on the property, much to his older brother’s consternation.
Hunter is played by Bryce Durfee, a handsome stud much in the vein of a Troy Donahue or Tab Hunter. He is attracted to the mother of his brother’s pal Allie who is a school teacher named Annalise played by Jessica Morris. She is like the Doris Day or Sandra Dee of the film, and a long-simmering romance between the older brother and the science teacher finally bubbles to the surface after they havebeen attracted to each other since they were in high school.
The leads are as charming as the Hunter’s old Mustang that he drives around as a squad car for his boss Sheriff Flannigan (played by character actor Robert Craighead). The sheriff is a pothead who sings about growing his own stash and then smoking it, which he does a lot, even as they find a giant beached whale with a stomach eaten out, and body parts strewn on the beach.
As squeaky clean as the leads are, they are not out of danger. In fact, the first scene has a naked couple bumping and grinding on the beach when a crab squiggles up next to them, and the guy says it’s OK for it to watch them. Pretty soon, the seemingly cute crab shoots off the ground and eats the guy’s face off, and then chases the girl.
No one is safe. Signs for “Lost Children” are on the streets of this small coastal town, and even when the crabs invade the high school prom, there is a lot of bloodshed. When the crabs do a “Carrie” number on the prom, it’s not only faces, but crotches that the crabs attack in vast numbers to kill their victims.
The crab are not really crabs, they’re horseshoe crabs, which are frightening to look at but rather harmless in real life. They have never had the horror movie they deserve, and this may be it. I’ve remembered seeing these horseshoe crabs were common in the Gulf of Mexico on beaches around Florida and the South.
There’s a scroll at the end of the movie explaining how they are completely harmless and that no horseshoe crabs were hurt in the making of the film. They are interestingly more related to spiders and the arachnid family than they are to lobsters or crabs. And, the cute science teacher tells us that.
Larger versions of these attacking and murderous crabs are unlike any creature you’ve seen, and they get bigger and bigger and bigger and scarier. That’s what makes the movie more and more fun, and absurd, as they become ever-growing like The Blob.
Just like Godzilla and those other mega-monsters, these crabs were mutated by some sort of nuclear waste. And, the Godzilla references are perfect because there’s a great homage to the fighting creatures of those films, too.
The character that is the most irritating, and then the most endearing, and is in danger of stealing the movie, is Radu. He is an odd-ball foreign exchange student that no one really likes, or listens to at all. So, it’s small wonder that when Radu sees two of his stoner friends massacred by the crabs that no one believes this foreigner who is crying wolf (or “Crab!” if you will).
Radu is cleverly played by comedian and musician Chase Padgett, and I’ve become an immediate fan of this geeky-looking guy with an I-T face but a brilliant comic presence. I can imagine it wasn’t easy to not burst out laughing every time this actor came into a scene with his ridiculous accent and mangled English. He progressively gets more and more absurd as the fighting against the crabs gets more fierce.
Wait until the end credits and you will hear Radu singing the closing song, which is equally hysterical as his performance. There is a lot of other original music in the movie, with titles such as “Roger Corman Can’t Help You” and other great tunes are sprinkled throughout the movie.
The brilliance behind “Crabs!” is the director, writer, editor, and producer Piece Berolzheimer. His personal motivation for the film is another reason why this makes such a fun movie.
From the very beginning, the director said he wanted it to be something his 15-year-old self would have been thrilled to find in his local video store. He did exactly that, and that’s why it’s such a perfect movie for this genre.
“The lead character, Philip McCalister, is based on my uncle, who sadly passed away from Muscular Dystrophy before I was born,” says Berolzheimer. “He used to sketchgiant robot battles and various monsters in his notebooks and I always felt like we were kindred spirits.”
Berolzheimer used to make stop-motion animation as a kid filmmaker and that’s why he doesn’t depend on computer-generated images for this film, and instead prefers to use actual tactile monsters.
The inside of the big robot that Philip creates at the end to combat the giant crabs was actually made from parts and pieces found on site where they were filming, according to the director.
You can tell that the cast had a lot of fun while filming, and that they included a lot of spontaneity and ad-libbing by the cast. All of that together makes this an enjoyable film.
And of course, every film has its world of challenges in even getting the film made, but in this case, the crew lost all of the filming location sites a week before filming. So, the movie had to be rewritten right away to satisfy the locations.
“Crabs!” won Best Comedy at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival and Best Film at the Terror Molins Film Festival as well as Best Screenplay and Best Costumes at the Nevermore Film Festival. If there is an award for best-horror-comedy-music it should win for that too!
This is a case where getting a dose of “Crabs!” is really a good thing, and you won’t mind it.