DirectorNathan H. Juran
Release Date(s)1957 (March 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal-International/Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: D-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
Coming at the tail end of the atomic monster movie cycle of the 1950s, The Deadly Mantis was released on a double bill with The Girl in the Kremlin (an altogether poor fit for a double feature if you ask me). In the film, a giant praying mantis that predates man is unfrozen from the Antarctic and begins attacking local military outposts. It’s up to a group of scientists, a reporter, various armed forces, and world officials to come together and figure how to eliminate it.
Despite its frequent appearances on late night TV over the many years since its original release, The Deadly Mantis is one of the dullest monster movies of its this era. There are sporadic moments of interest, primarily the attack scenes – and the mantis puppet, though limited in mobility, is at least shot well; but outside of that, the story is almost exclusively nothing but exposition and poorly presented stock footage. It’s a fairly sleep-inducing film, to be sure.
However, over the years, cult movie fans have given The Deadly Mantis their seal of approval, despite an otherwise universally-panned response from critics and audiences. It’s clearly the shoddiest of the Universal monster movies from that era, even more so than its predecessor The Mole People, which I would argue had a bit more going for it in terms of story and creativity. Next to it, The Deadly Mantis feels like a tedious afterthought. The abundant use of stock footage, the dry performances from all involved, and the typical-of-the-era sexism, completely overrides the fun notion of having a giant praying mantis on the screen attacking random people.
Scream Factory brings The Deadly Mantis to Blu-ray with a presentation sourced from a new “2K scan of original film elements” – what those elements are is unclear. However, the ends justify the means as this the clearest, cleanest, and most precise presentation of the film thus far. It obviously has its weak points, mostly stemming from the stock footage which has a baked-in softness and is littered with damage, but everything surrounding it is nicely-rendered. Grain levels appear even from scene to scene and detail is high. Delineation is good as well, with decent distinction between grays, whites, and blacks. It’s also a stable transfer with good contrast and no apparent digital enhancements.
The audio is presented as an English 2.0 mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a softer and less precise track than I was expecting, but dialogue is discernable with no real issues. Score and sound effects, including those from the praying mantis itself, are mixed in well without any heavy distortion. The track is also clean with a lack of overt hiss or crackle, but I did notice a minor dropout around the 00:38:58 mark that lasted for no more than a millisecond or two.
The extras for this release include a new audio commentary with author Tom Weaver and occasional comments by music historian David Schecter, which provides a wealth of information from Tom, who admits that even he feels some of the burden of having to talk about this film in detail. Also included is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film; an animated still gallery featuring 83 images of on-set photography, publicity photos, posters, lobby cards, a Showman’s Manual booklet, and poster designs; and the original theatrical trailer.
Your enjoyment of The Deadly Mantis is likely to depend upon how old you were when you saw it for the first time or your tolerance for scientists spending scene after scene trying to figure out what we already know in an elongated and uninteresting fashion. It’s certainly not one I enjoy all that much sans the MST3K treatment that it eventually received, but I’m happy for long-time monster movie fans who finally have it available to them in high definition.
– Tim Salmons