October 22, 1977: The Giant Claw (1957) / Horror Island (1941)


Synopsis: A team of researchers are working on a Cold War military project in the arctic, and pilot / electrical engineer Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) is doing test flights over the base. Mitch is seen as unnecessarily flippant and smart-alecky by the military brass, but he gets away with it, we’re told, because as a civilian on the project he doesn’t answer to the military chain of command. His antics are particularly annoying to the beautiful Sally Caldwell (Mara Cordray), mathematician and the other civilian on the project.

On one of his test flights Mitch sees something make a very close pass to his aircraft. It appears to him as an indistinct blur, moving at incredible speed. However, he sees just enough to convince him that whatever it was is “as big as a battleship” and he reports it in. Soon aircraft are scrambled to look for it. When Mitch returns to base he is reprimanded for filing a frivolous report: the object Mitch described didn’t appear on radar and wasn’t seen by any of the pilots. However, one pilot lost control of his aircraft and was killed. That in the military’s eyes, makes Mitch’s “prank” all the more egregious.


Stung, Mitch nevertheless insists that he did see what he describes. He and Sally are on a military flight back down to the United States when something strikes their aircraft, incapacitating the pilot. Taking the controls, Mitch manages a crash-landing in Canada and, while waiting for the military to arrange alternate transport, they wind up in the care of French-Canadian rustic Pierre, who entertains them both with his outrageous accent and copious amounts of homebrewed “applejack”.

However, Pierre leaves the house and returns in an apoplectic state, claiming to have seen “la Carcagne” — a flying monster of French-Canadian folklore. 

On the plane ride back to the the U.S., Mitch begins to see a pattern, and after planting a kiss on the (sleeping) Sally he demonstrates to her that the creature– whatever it is — seems to be moving outward in a spiral from the area in which it was first sighted.

With more sightings of the beast, it is revealed to be a gigantic bird of prey that eats both aircraft and the people inside them. All conventional weapons prove useless against the creature. General Considine (Morris Ankrum)  puts Mitch and Sally in charge of gathering what information they can, and they are soon joined by Dr. Karyl Noymann, (Edgar Barrier) who theorizes that the monster is made of antimatter and is the relic of some alien solar system….


Comments: Often derided as a “so-bad-its-good” turkey suitable only for mockery, The Giant Claw is an extremely low-rent Columbia affair from 1957 that isn’t quite as bad as its reputation suggests — though it is certainly lazy and derivative. The ridiculous bird puppet at the heart of the movie has gotten so much attention over the years that no one seems to notice just how much the movie lifts directly from Warner’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms:

  • Both films begin at an arctic research station.
  • In both, the lead character is a scientist who reports seeing a giant monster and is ridiculed for it.
  • The scientist is later vindicated when the creature approaches populated areas and begins wreaking havoc.
  • When the creature proves invulnerable to guns and missiles, the scientist develops an unconventional weapon in order to destroy it.

Of course, Beast came four years earlier and had the better script. In that film, the creature was a dinosaur that had been frozen in ice and released by an atomic explosion. Not the most convincing scenario, but at least there’s a discernible cause and effect: we dropped an atom bomb in the wrong place, and bad things happened as a result.


The Giant Claw doesn’t attempt even that level of plausibility. A giant carnivorous bird “from another galaxy” just shows up in our skies for no particular reason? It’s made out of antimatter and this is why it’s invulnerable to our weapons? This doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sure. You do you, The Giant Claw.

Then, when the plot demands it, we’re told something entirely different. Now it’s a bird made of conventional matter, but protected by an “antimatter screen” which it can lower — somehow — just enough to devour the planes (and people) it needs for sustenance (the antimatter “screen” doesn’t seem to protect the giant egg the monster lays either, as it’s easily destroyed by Sally and Mitch with rifles).

Despite the shopworn story and risible dialogue (“looks like I’m chief cook and bottle-washer in a one-man bird-watching society!” Mitch declares at one point, and the monster is declared “as big as a battleship” an absurd number of times) Morrow, Cordray and Ankrum play it absolutely straight and do as well as any actors could with the material. The Giant Claw would probably be regarded as a standard-issue monster movie of the era had Ray Harryhausen provided the creature effects. Harryhausen had worked for Sam Katzman twice before — on It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) (also directed by Fred F. Sears) But for whatever reason (there are differing accounts) Harryhausen wasn’t available for this picture — and that leads to the most famous deficiency in the film.

The most famous deficiency in the film.

As the story goes, Sam Katzman contracted with some outfit in Mexico to produce the “antimatter bird” for the film, and when the thing was delivered, it turned out to be the most laughable movie monster ever produced. In a number of interviews star Jeff Morrow has talked about going to the premiere and being aghast when, instead of the sleek, hawklike bird of prey described in the script, a goofy-looking buzzard puppet showed up instead. Embarrassed by the gales of laughter from the audience, Morrow sneaked out of the theater.

It seems a little hard to believe that a producer would outsource work of this kind without so much as a concept drawing, but maybe the thing looked better on paper than it did “in the flesh”. Or maybe Katzman had been spoiled by Harryhausen, who could take an idea from script to screen and make it brilliant with little or no supervision.

One interesting note about the movie is the presence of Dr. Karyl Noymann. The character of Dr. Noymann would later appear in another film penned by Samuel Newman, Invisible Invaders (1959), suggesting a shared universe between the two movies. After helping rid the world of a giant antimatter bird from another galaxy, Noymann gets killed and possessed by invisible aliens bent on world domination.  All seems a bit unlikely, doesn’t it? The character was played by Edgar Barrier in The Giant Claw, and John Carradine in Invisible Invaders.

Horror Island

Synopsis: Bill Martin (Dick Foran) is a happy-go-lucky entrepreneur with a losing streak a mile long. To date all of his money-making schemes have gone bust, and he is months behind on the rent on his crummy office down on the waterfront. He and his sidekick Stuff Oliver (Fuzzy Knight) are approached by a peg-legged sailor called “The Captain” (Leo Carrillo) who is in possession of half a treasure map. The Captain says that the treasure is located in a castle located on an island that Martin has recently inherited, and that if they join forces they might be able to claim the treasure.

Bill is visited by his scheming brother, who offers to buy the island from him for $20,000. This sudden interest only makes Bill suspicious that something of value is hidden there. They visit an expert in ancient maps, who assures them that the map is a forgery. Nevertheless, Martin sees this as another money-making opportunity: he takes out a newspaper ad promising an exciting treasure hunt that participants can buy their way into for $50.

After a standard-issue meet-cute with a wealthy young Wendy Creighton (Peggy Moran) Martin, Stuff, Wendy and the half-dozen tourists he’s assembled head out to the island. But someone clearly doesn’t want them to make the trip: a package delivered to the crew explodes after it’s accidentally dropped off the side of the boat, the compass has been tinkered with and the ship goes far off course before the sabotage is discovered.

On the island, the group settles in for the night at the old castle, and Stuff tries to give them their money’s worth by delivering ghostly laughter into a PA system they’ve set up. But a creeping entity called the Phantom has also gained access to the microphone, imploring the visitors to “Leave the castle!”

Soon the treasure seekers start being murdered one by one — and a mysterious body count appears scrawled on the wall in chalk. Who is the mysterious Phantom, and how can he be stopped?

Comments: The best thing you can say about Horror Island is that is was directed by The Wolf Man helmer George Waggner. The worst thing you can say about it is that it was produced by Ben Pivar, the guy responsible for such dreck as The Brute Man and She-Wolf of London. This movie is every bit as cheap as it looks: in fact, the production schedule was so rushed that the time elapsed between the first day of shooting and the theatrical release was less than a month.

The plot is so half-baked that to chronicle all its inconsistencies and idiocies would take longer than the movie’s entire running time. But the most egregious plot holes reach out and sock you between the eyes. Bill Martin is presented to us as a failed entrepreneur who is behind on his rent and constantly dodging his creditors, yet he happens to own an island with a castle on it?

None of Martin’s past business ventures (rhumba lessons, a Depression-era male escort service) attempt to make use of this resource, and when we finally reach the island, the castle (well, it looks like a medieval castle on the outside, Universal’s familiar mansion set on the inside) seems ready to receive visitors, with fresh linens and a stocked larder. Aside from a minimal amount of dust and cobwebs it’s in pretty good shape, and the place certainly seems worth a lot more than the $20,000 (slightly more than $250,000 in today’s money) that Bill was offered for it.

The treasure-map device is threadbare and dreary, the motivations of the treasure-seekers are perfunctory and the supporting characters are so hurriedly sketched that we care nothing about them; in fact we’ve barely met them before they start getting murdered. As to the standard romantic subplot between Bill Martin and Wendy Creighton, it hardly exists at all — which is a relief, because the less time we spend on it, the better.

But as thinly-written as their parts are, the lead actors are at least familiar: Dick Foran and Peggy Moran had previously appeared together in The Mummy’s Hand, and both actors are likable enough, though no one will confuse them with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

Horror Island is probably best remembered for an egregiously obvious stagehand who is clearly visible in one scene of the movie:

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