It’s understandable for at least one monster movie to be lost within the massive Universal Studios library. While The Deadly Mantis is heavily flawed, when it’s in full gear, this is a classic giant monster fest. The ending ranks amongst the best from 1950s creature cycle.
At a brisk 87 minutes, Deadly Mantis should be far better paced. As it is, it’s loaded with talk, mostly of the generic scientific kind that never makes any real sense. The giant predator largely remains off screen, or is simply shown flying over a location as newspaper headlines translucently pan over it letting the audience know how “deadly” this beast is.
Mantis also falls prey (no pun intended) to the typical set of ‘50s cliches. A lead scientist, the female love interest, and the military colonel all do their best to track down a 50-foot insect that is apparently hard to find. Stock footage pads the running time, leading to a cheaper feel than the film should carry with it.
When the moment finally comes for this one to hit high gear, director Nathan Juran (20 Million Miles to Earth) understands how to create tension. Anytime the mantis is on screen, an effective miniature prop works well to scale. "Creepy" can only describe when the insect slowly moves towards a military installation, seen through a window in multiple cuts as the cast walks idly by. It’s a technique borrowed Jack Arnold and his 1955 giant spider movie Tarantula.
The few action scenes scattered throughout cannot match the finale, set inside a closed off tunnel in New York. Here the oversized critter knocks over cars in a battle to survive against a crew tossing poison gas in its direction. The atmosphere here is flawless, with smoke from destroyed cars clouding the vision of the heroic crew. The mantis appears, only identified by its eyes, from behind a pillar of smoke in a (backed by an unforgettable four note theme). It's a classic example of what makes ‘50s sci-fi memorable.
Shoddy and cheap qualities aside, Deadly Mantis is sadly often overlooked. It’s not the best creature feature you’ll lay eyes on, but it’s great fun and solid effects when the film has a chance to pick up its pace.
While dirty and grainy, this first ever DVD release presents the film with a solid print. Damage is sparse aside from the stock footage. It’s a sharp transfer, and though sometimes obscured by dirt, details are noticeable. You can appreciate the amount of time spent detailing the mantis for close ups.
The Deadly Mantis is available at Best Buy in an exclusive five-movie set. The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volume 2 houses Universal classics in a sharp fold out case. While none of the films have any notable extras, the presentations are wonderful.