Locked in a prison of ice millions of years ago, a giant praying mantis is set free to terrorize America! And that’s all you really need to know. The Deadly Mantis is a delicious slice of 1950’s kiddie horror that was probably shown on a Saturday afternoon. In spite of it’s overly serious tone in the beginning of the film, it’s actually a lot of fun.
The trio at the heart of this story is Margie Blaine, the editor of a Natural History Magazine; Dr. Ned Jackson, an authority on the evolution of animals; and Col. Joe Parkman, who invited the other two to join him at an Army base near the Arctic Circle where our adventure starts. Alix Talton [The Man Who Knew Too Much] is great as Margie, who is a bit more useful than your typical 1950’s hysterically screaming movie female. William Hopper [The Bad Seed] makes a convincing scientist does a great job at making the storyline seem believable. Finally Craig Stevens [Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde] confidently commands the troops into battle and wins the girl in the end. [Naturally!] These three, along with the rest of the cast, do a great job of making the story come alive.
Now, how about the monster? Well, the results are uneven. When the Mantis is on the ground, it looks pretty good. When it takes off in flight, it looks ridiculous. Fred Knoth, who did the god-awful special effects in The Land Unknown (1957), has a more money to work with here and shows he can come up with some decent effects by 1950’s standards. The best the creature looks is when it’s trapped in the Lincoln Tunnels in NYC. The fog and subtle lighting help to make it look more menacing and powerful. I made a n emotional connection with the Mantis in this scene and actually felt sorry for the big guy when he met his demise.
Kudos to director Nathan Juran [Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman] and Producer William Alland [Creature from the Black Lagoon] for making this film work as well as it does. It definitely has its weak spots [use of stock footage as well as a few bad shots where the camera tricks are way too obvious] but the film itself manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not the best monster movie out there, but it’s definitely a campy and enjoyable film.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.