While I may try to come off sounding like a “high class” film fan at times, there’s no denying I like my fair share of really bad, really lame films. The kind that are so bad they become a supernova of pure awesome. There were many films from the 50’s that fit into this category, and many of them were of the sci-fi ilk (just look at the list of films lampooned by MST3K). But I honestly can’t think of one in the same class as The Giant Claw. Take Fred F. Sears, director of such respected B movie fare as Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and The Werewolf, genre actors Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us) and Mara Corday (Tarantula), and spectacularly bad SFX, and you get a film that is a true classic among bad films.
There’s not much to say about the plot here…what is initially thought to be a UFO attacking military planes turns out to be a giant turkey vulture (!) from space. It’s on a collision course with Earth, and anything in its path will be laid to waste. But Godzilla this isn’t. See, the giant buzzard, being from space and all, is protected by a force field of antimatter, and it can’t be penetrated or harmed by Earth’s weapons! What?! Remember, this is a low-budget sci-fi flick from the 1950’s, so it doesn’t NEED to make sense. The rest of the film is made up of the scientists and all involved trying to figure out how to save the world from this monstrosity, and it all makes about as much sense as one could expect. You have to love the "science" aspect of these films.
You may be saying to yourself that this doesn’t sound THAT much different than all of the other genre films from this period. But let me just say that seeing is believing! While many films from this time tried to compensate for low-budgets by having things lurking in the shadows, super-imposing a creature on-top of film to give an impression of it being giant, or making models that at least tried to emulate the evil our heroes are terrified of, The Giant Claw had bigger ideas. Well they did, but they ran out of money. Apparently, this film was to use stop-motion effects for the creature, a la Ray Harryhausen. But when the cash dried up, they turned to a puppet. That actually doesn’t sound bad in theory. It’s been done before effectively; just look at Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s Labyrinth. Unfortunately for all involved, there’s no one near the caliber of those two to pull off anything respectable in The Giant Claw.
The creature looks like the product of a retarded turkey raping a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. It looks hilariously fake, and every time it rears its head on screen, I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off. It doesn’t only look lame, but the puppeteer sucks too, as it moves with less fluidity than Haruo Nakajima lumbering around in a 200-pound Godzilla suit. It doesn’t help matters that the puppets strings are unashamedly visible either.
A crappy monster in a monster movie is a hell of a hurdle to overcome, but in some films, there are other elements where it succeeds. The Giant Claw is not one of them. Not only are the creature FX dire, but so are all the other effects in the film as well. You can see the zip-lines the planes are moving on to simulate flying. Half of the planes are blown up multiple times due to a lack of different models. Who knows why, considering they look as if they came out of a $10 model set from the local drug store. While there are some nice effects near the end when the bird decides to destroy New York City, it’s actually reused stock footage from Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers! And even when there are some nicely done practical effects, something is always awry. In one scene, a plane explodes near Morrow’s character Mitch MacAfee, and some off-screen prop guy actually hits Morrow with a flaming piece of debris, which Morrow doesn’t cover up looking quite pissed about. Yes, this film is a disaster of the most glorious order.
But what makes it all work, and makes it even more hilarious, is the phenomenally serious tone of the acting. See, the actors were told this film had a budget. They were told it would have great effects, and that the bird would be suitably frightening. So they act with some sincere conviction. The juxtaposition from seeing the actors look completely terrified and then seeing the bird looming over is pure comedy. Jeff Morrow said none of them ever saw the bird until the premiere, and the entire theatre shrieked with laughter each time the bird was shown, so he slinked out of the theatre mid-way through, completely embarrassed.
If Mr. Morrow were still alive and I ever met him, I’d tell him he should have held his head high, because he just headlined one of the finest examples of a film so disasterously bad it becomes fascinatingly enjoyable. No bad film collection is complete without this. The Giant Claw is a turkey of a film that’s tastier than any Thanksgiving dinner you’ve ever had.
“You keep your shirt on, and I’ll go get my pants on.” – Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow)
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