Island Claws

Created in a nuclear laboratory, its force can destroy humanity.

Year of Release: 1980
Also Known As: Night of the Claw
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 90 minutes (1:30)
Director: Hernan Cardenas


Robert Lansing ... Moody
Steve Hanks ... Pete Adams
Jo McDonnell ... Jan Raines
Nita Talbot ... Rosie
Martina Deignan ... Lynn
Barry Nelson ... Dr. McNeal
Tony Rigo ... Joe
John Furey ... Chuck
Raymond Forchion ... Jean


The perpetual sun and cool breezes make this lush island a tropical paradise for vacationers. Marine biologists are also on the island, using it as a base for their studies on global food shortages. But something goes wrong in the lab - chemicals seep into the ocean and cause the unthinkable, the unfathomable to happen. A man-eating creature, beyond all parameters of science and evolution, emerges and terrorizes the island for human prey.

Come vacation with terror... on Island Claws!


Island Claws, remindin' us that the stakes of any man versus monster encounter are always elevated when the loser is gonna get eaten.

And speakin' of quick thinkin' in a pinch, it's been hotter'n the Sphinx's sphincter the last week or so, and ever since I purt'near suffocated myself tryna cool off in my chest freezer I been lookin' for any excuse I could find to get down to the river. Normally, "I'm bringin' the beer" is all ya gotta say to make this happen, but lately it seems like everybody's turned grown up on me.

Admittedly, I knew this'd happen to the ladies Bonebreak after that catfish almost digested their compact canine at the Grime Time last month and, as expected, Sadie's bouncier half has forbidden 'er from goin' anywhere near the water 'cause there might be Ogopogi or slough-garou werewalleyes lurkin' just beneath the surface. 'Course, Cleave Furguson's been busy immortalizin' ole Neidhart for Silas Tankersley after the grumpy ole cuss finally keeled over at age 18 mid-aardvarkus with a wild young thing named Sasha. And Tetnis's had his hands full over at Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop doctorin' up the clientele after Wade Sawyer hired this dancer named Lexxi who's got a set of thighs that can fracture wrists that linger too long after the dollar bill's been attached.

Suffice to say I was happy to volunteer when Billy's mama called to ask if he an I'd hunt 'er up a mess of crawdads, although Billy's attitude proved slightly less enthusiastic.

"Piff off," he replied between bites of his Hungry Man drumstick.

"Dude, it's 106 in the shade and 81 in the fridge - you're really just gonna sit inside all day watchin' the toilet sweat?" I prodded.

"Yup. Befide', fhe've prowy boiwin' 'em fo' HIM," Billy growled.

"Are you really still hacked off that your mama's gettin' 'er tires rotated once in a while? He seemed like a nice enough guy to me. I mean, he was givin' a reach arou--" I was sayin' till I hadda stop to dodge a fork thrown at the speed of sound.

"Alright! Forget I brought it up. But if you won't do it for your mama, do it for Apollo," I urged.

"Wah 'bow 'im?" Billy snarled.

He was obviously still stingin' from the events of Thanksgivin' when we accidentally walked in on his mama gettin' 'er bird stuffed by the old dude from down the hall, so I motioned for 'im to come to the window where Apollo was sprawled out in his empty kiddie pool pantin' like Matt Gaetz durin' the Miss Teen America Pageant.

"An'? Go fill it up for 'im," he shrugged.

"You know damn well that pool ain't been the same since I hadda pour turpentine in there to scrub that 'dust abatement' oil offa Shankles. And I seem to remember SOMEONE got it a teensy bit close to a flamin' hornet's nest after that... remind me again, who was that exactly? Been a while since--"

"Awigh'! I'll go! Buh I aihn cah'in h'ow no crawvav," he declared.

"Come on, buddy! We're goin' swimmin'!" I hollered out the back door, 'causin' Apollo to roll over on the lip of the pool in excitement and tip it over on toppa himself.

Apollo's about the best friend a guy could ask for, but sometimes I think his mama mighta sat on his head and cut off the flow of oxygen to his brain when he was a pup.

Billy chilled out once we found a good spot to flip rocks, or rather, where *I* found a good spot to flip rocks; mostly he just sat on his hinder. I guess I can understand not wantin' to catch crawdads when you've gotta grab 'em precisely behind the head with hands the size of fryin' pans, but I still say he's bein' a baby.

Apollo, meanwhile, was happier'n a masochist in a cactus patch, and he spent the afternoon chasin' down the sticks he'd badger Billy into throwin' for 'im, which's one of his favorite things to do in or outta the water since Billy can launch one of those suckers clear to the next county if he wants to.

We were all havin' a real nice time until Apollo started to poop out after retrievin' a stick from somewhere in Southwestern Montana and decided to flop down on the old concrete highway barrier where I'd left my bucket, 'cause instead of just drinkin' the water runnin' around 'im on all sides of his little island paradise he dunked his head in with the crawdads.

The sound that followed was similar to an IROC layin' down an inch of tread on a cookie sheet, and when he pulled his face outta the bucket he had hangers-on attached to both lips, his left ear, and most unfortunately - his tongue. He managed to sling the two lip nippers off with a standard shake and crush the one stuck to his ear by rollin' around in the grass, but the P.O.'d tongue depressor wasn't so easily loosed.

Billy and me tried gettin' outta the water and up onto the bank to help 'im, but by then he'd gone apeshit and dashed into town. We tore off after 'im in the Topaz, followin' the tracks and body prints where he'd rolled on the sidewalk until the trail went dry. Fortunately, we got a tip from Asa Morton who'd seen 'im stop in front of Hammer Time Hardware to try pullin' his tongue free while he stood on the critter's tail, but that just made it clamp down even harder and produced a sound not unlike Tiny Tim gettin' a bikini wax.

We eventually caught sight of 'im headin' for Bunker Street where the fire department was preparin' to flush out the hydrant, and Apollo managed to get his face into the stream just as the initial blast shot out. The force of the hydrant was enough to blow the crawdad off his tongue, but because of the angle he'd charged in from, the mean little booger came loose and flew into the oncoming windshield of Arvin Spickle's Packard.

If it'd been anybody else I'da probably gone down to the police station and validated his story about the attack of the airborne crustacean vanguard from the Andromeda system, but that guy's gotten away with drivin' drunk so many times that I really didn't wanna validate that kinda behavior even if he was technically only one and a half sheets to the wind at the time.

Once we'd dropped off the crawdads with Myrtle I took Apollo home and split a Rocket Pop with 'im to bring the swelling down on his tongue and he's mostly feelin' better now, but that whole deal got me to thinkin' about this flick called Island Claws, about radioactive super crabs that march outta the ocean and do the Bossa Nova all over Robert Lansing's house for boilin' generations of their kin at his crab shack.

You're probably not gonna believe this, but it's even better than Roger Corman's giant crab epic despite the glaring absence of the Professor from Gilligan's Island. I didn't believe it at first either, so I understand if you're skeptical. Matter of fact, I was bankin' on you bein' the kinda stubborn ass that refuses to listen to reason even in the face of overwhelmin' evidence, and that's why I've laid out a trail of crustaceanic crumbs with which to lead you onto the path to acceptance and somethin' resemblin' enlightenment. First, if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime - but try stealin' your teacher's fish and you'll eat lead. Second, unattached single women are 500% more likely to suffer crab-related discomfort than those involved in monogamous relationships. And third, there was a time when fleeing Haiti for the sandy shores of Florida could actually improve your quality of life.

The movie begins in a research lab where the beaker tinkers're tryna solve world hunger and boost the sagging ratings of Deadliest Catch by introducing a growth hormone into the local crab population, when in walks a fresh-faced journalist (Jan) who's either there to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the potential impact the lab's research may have on the global food market, or conduct covert opposition research for Long John Silver's. Whatever the case, the head nerd (Dr. McNeal) gives 'er unrestricted access to the facility and its staff (Pete and Lynn) but before her tour gets started a few million gallons of radioactive waste water leak into the ocean from the nearby Glowing Reviews Nuclear Power Plant and forces the manager to get his teeth bleached the color of Elmer's glue so that when he goes on TV nobody'll notice all the words passin' through 'em contain more bullstuff per square inch than a fertilizer factory. Then Pete takes lunch and pedals over to the bar where the live entertainment (Ames and Moody) breaks into a rousing chorus of Oh, Susannah that's so cornball it sends Florida's entire crab population scuttling for the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The debt incurred by this affront to good taste won't be easily repaid, and as soon as it gets good'n dark out the crabs lay siege to Ames' retrofitted school bus and start pinchin' 'im like sadist 2nd graders on Saint Patrick's Day until he gets so frazzled that he knocks over a kerosene lantern and burns the place to the ground.

The next mornin', Pete asks Jan out on a date and the two of 'em grin at each other like a coupla sociopaths plannin' to taxidermy each other into pieces of southern gothic artwork, but when Jan rides off through the woods on 'er Schwinn she runs into a crustacean security checkpoint that's got more crabs than the V.I.P. lounge at a Ramones set and she hasta turn tail before she's swarmed under by semi-aquatic nipple clamps. She finds Pete and brings 'im back to the site where they unearth a molted shell the size of a backhoe tire and drop it off with McNeal so he can run a comparison against previously catalogued oceanic horrors from the fossil record to find out whether it's a survivor of a prehistoric age that can be defeated with conventional weapons, or whether they're gonna hafta call Japan and put in a request to borrow Godzilla. Then Pete and Jan double date with Lynn and her boyfriend (Chuck) and Chuck mistakenly assumes that since Lynn let 'im give 'er a pearl necklace once that she might also like a diamond engagement ring. 'Course, because societal etiquette dictates a guy drop two months' salary on a knuckle ornament, Chuck's understandably upset when he realizes he's gonna hafta pump 3700 Slurpees to recoup the loss, so Lynn hasta explain that she likes 'im a lot but that he just can't give 'er the sense of fulfillment she gets from scoopin' crabbie patties outta the laboratory's aquarium filters, and once he understands that it ain't personal he feels a whole lot better about their future and agrees to drive back to the party alone while she collects 'er thought.

Unfortunately, while she's walkin' back to town she gets ambushed and dragged through the underbrush by a more aggressive suitor, and by the time the gang hear 'er screamin' and find 'er layin' face-down in a skunk burrow her right arm's been purt'near snapped off at the elbow in a manner consistent with the claws of an enormous robber crab, or alternatively - debt-collecting raccoon goons acting on behalf of Ranger Rick. Elsewhere, some illegal Haitian mariners fleein' religious persecution by tyrannical voodoo witchdoctors make landfall near the bar and head out into the woods to found a colony where they can settle into the American way of life and worship Farrah Fawcett in peace, 'cept then Moody's dog shows up to play fetch with the kids, and when it runs into the brush after a stick, Mandible Lecter catches 'im unawares and punctures his pancreas. The dog manages to limp home but goes to the big Petco in the sky before anything can be done for 'im and by this point a paranoid little paisano (Joe) from Staten Island's gotten wind about the Haitians and come to the conclusion that when Haiti sends refugees they're not sendin' their best, so he organizes an unruly mob to find 'em and send 'em back where they came from before they mutilate any more dogs or locate the white women. Meanwhile, Pete and Jan become convinced of the Crustacean Colossus's existence after gettin' the cliff's notes version of what happened in the I.C.U. when the nursin' staff brought Lynn the crab salad special, so they get McNeal to brew up a fresh batch of seahorse tranquilizer and hope they can get to Exoskeletor before society ends up on the half shell.

Trouble is, the tranquilizer *rifle* has been on loan to Moody ever since one of the bar patrons got stinko on Captain Morgan's and tried tappin' a cask of Pale Ale with his mast, and once Pete and Jan make their way to Moody's place and gain entry the roof gives way beneath the weight of the forty-ton fiddler. Then the Haitians hafta ask Moody for help 'cause Decapod Crane's gone and put the squeeze on one of the children, and when Moody tries to take 'em back to his pad and sees what happened he can't help but kick 'imself for cheapin' out on the extended home owner's insurance that woulda covered acts of cod and related marine life. Moody and the Haitians're able to pull Pete and Jan from the rubble and the group starts back for town, only by the time they get there the mob shows up and it's lookin' like race relations're about to take a turn for Alabama until the Dungeness of Doom comes outta nowhere and starts avengin' his digested brethren. Pete attaches a winch cable to one of its legs and Joe tries tugboatin' it out to sea but all the cylinders on his Evinrude blow out like a set of eardrums at a Motorhead concert, and next thing ya know everyone's gettin' mashed into crab cakes while McNeal races toward the scene with the tranquilizer, a drum of lemon juice, and a casket-sized slab of margarine. Think I'm gonna cut this one off right here and go grab some lunch, but I'll be back to expound this sucker into dust in a jiffy.

Alrighty, well, it was bound to happen - after decades of skanky, beer swillin' spring breakers cuttin' loose in the Florida Keys, finally, the tables've been turned, and the crabs caught us. Oddly enough, Island Claws never saw a theatrical release despite an alleged four million bucks goin' into its production, and it sat on the shelf until 1984 when it was sold for television distribution. It's mind-boggling to think that after all the schlock Florida churned out in the '70s, including Sting of Death, Death Curse of Tartu, Stanley, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Empire of the Ants, and Zaat, that a flick that'd been given an actual budget, with semi-name actors, didn't even make it onto the drive-in circuit. Eight years earlier theaters were handing out novelty rabbits' feet for the premiere of Night of the Lepus, but by 1980 nobody wants to handle a monster movie with a creature that, at least on paper, sounds formidable? Maybe theater owners thought the nature-run-amok cycle had run its course; maybe they figured the giant monster movie was old hat; or maybe Red Lobster had a lot more political stroke than anybody realized, but whatever the reason, the American movie-going public was deprived of its first opportunity to witness colossal crabs since Roger Corman made Attack of the Crab Monsters in 1957 and it kinda makes ya sick. I ain't countin' Mysterious Island from 1961 either since the crab was only in it for two minutes. Those guys obviously didn't have what it took to really COMMIT to the giant crab motif and that's alright 'cause not everyone can do giant crabs, but I'm not about to give 'em equal credit for a giant crab cameo. Don't get me wrong, I'm not sayin' the flick is a "forgotten gem." Alls I'm sayin' is '50s nostalgia was about to explode nationwide, and whoever decided there was no audience for radioactive monstrosities in the theater greatly underestimated the public's desire to temporarily recapture its lost youth for a couple hours before returning to its regularly scheduled business dinners at Howard Johnson's - still fries my balogna every time I think about it.

In any event, let's crack open this carapace and see how many years all that radioactive meat's gonna take offa our lives. The plot is either internally confused or deliberately unclear, 'cause the catalyst behind the mutation is initially thought to be leaked radiation from a nearby nuclear plant until the film switches gears and reveals that the lab has been conducting growth hormone experiments. Some people have interpreted this as an inconsistency, and while I won't argue that offering multiple explanations is convoluted, a charitable reviewer might assert that the writers deliberately chose to leave the cause for the viewer to decide. Why they would do this for such a straightforward concept I have no idea, but it is possible. It could also be suggested that the alternative explanation was later introduced to take some heat off of the nuclear power industry after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, but it's entirely possible that the script was written before that even occurred, and furthermore, Ricou Browning (the co-writer) has said that no revisions were made to the script, so that hypothesis doesn't hold water. The thing I find somewhat tedious about the script is the amount of time it dedicates to the backstory of Pete's parents (they died in a car accident caused by Jan's father who was drunk behind the wheel), as it never pays off and has literally zero impact on the story. Generous people might call this world-building, but if it doesn't serve the bigger picture it's ultimately just fluff when we're all here to see giant crabs pinch the necks offa hairy sea dogs. These aren't big problems, but the story could have been tightened up had those issues been addressed.

The acting is solid, with good performances by Robert Lansing as the world-weary proprietor of the local watering hole, Nita Talbot as the good-natured barmaid, and Jo McDonnell as the journalist who gets a much bigger story than she'd bargained for. Steve Hanks is a little shaky as Pete, and his character is further encumbered by what is easily the stiffest dialogue in the flick, but he does alright given how far up the billing he is in his first acting gig. That said, the best performance comes from Tony Rigo, who transitions from a happy-go-lucky fisherman early on to a bigoted, paranoid semi-antagonist in the later stages after deciding Haitian voodoo is to blame for the bus fire that claimed the life of the bar's resident musician. He plays the only two-dimensional character in the flick, and his performance is a bit prescient given that most of us know someone who's made a similar, unfortunate metamorphosis. It's a shame he didn't go on to do much acting after Island Claws 'cause I think he coulda built a pretty strong resume as a character actor if given the chance. Most importantly - everyone takes their role seriously and there's none of that "wink wink, nudge nudge" bet-hedging bullstuff so many productions indulge in to save face.

Here's who matters and why: Robert Lansing (The Nest 1988, Empire of the Ants, The 4D Man), Steve Hanks (Listening, Evil Nanny, Echoes, Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, Encounters), Nita Talbot (Amityville: It's About Time, Frightmare 1983, Puppet Master II), Barry Nelson (The Shining 1980), Raymond Forchion (Mac and Me, The Funhouse), Dick Callinan (The Exorcist), Frank Schuller (Ghost Warrior, The Funhouse), Mal Jones (Coccoon 2, Primal Rage, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Deathdream), John Furey (Friday the 13th Part 2, Scarlet Moon, Alien Tracker, Mutant on the Bounty), Richard O'Barry (Mako: The Jaws of Death), Will Knickerbocker (Popcorn, Jaws III, Barracuda), Dan Chandler (Mutant Species), Dee Dee Deering (Scared Stiff 1987), Dan Fitzgerald (Mako: The Jaws of Death, Nightmare Beach, Eyes of a Stranger, Barracuda), William Fuller (Blood Rage 1987), Ralph Morino (The Funhouse), Tommy Lane (Ganja & Hess).

Mainstream credits are as follows: Robert Lansing (Paul Blaisdell on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Control on The Equalizer), Nita Talbot (Marya on Hogan's Heroes), Martina Deignan (Jackie Parks on Santa Barbara), Barry Nelson (George Cooper on My Favorite Husband, Jonathan Banner on Hudson's Bay).

The special effects are pretty sparse up to the film's climax and are limited to a few smears of Heinz-adjacent blood on victims of crustacean rampages. Things improve when the giant claw comes crashing through the roof of Robert Lansing's house a la Giant Spider Invasion, and the full-sized crab is fairly impressive for a movie of this budget... until they try to make it move. Like just about every scale model monster ever put to the screen, the crab was supposed to have a much greater range of motion, but mechanical problems resulted in a disappointing result. Personally, I think that despite its limitations they were too conservative with their use of the creature, and while I don't necessarily think they were trying to hide it due to embarrassment (as there seems to be a deliberate effort to build to the reveal), I feel it was a mistake to use it so sparingly. It's been reported that of the film's supposed four million dollar budget, a quarter was spent building the crab, and it just seems like a waste to invest all that money and only show the monster, in its entirety, in the last five minutes of the movie. I understand that the logistics were undoubtedly a nightmare, but when you promise a giant crab, ya gotta deliver the crab, and the audience kinda gets hosed in that regard.

The shooting locations are superb and run the gamut from a pristine beach to the ultra-modest, unpaved Main Street of a tiny fishing village on its last leg. The village was actually constructed for use in one of Ricou Browning's earlier films (1973's Salty), and upon completion, the city opted to leave the structures intact where they remained until Browning suggested the location to the producers of Island Claws. Money isn't always the most important thing on a production, but when you've got it you can afford to rent spaces like the research laboratory, with its rows and rows of specimen jars that lend the film credibility, as well as create little tucked away places that most people never get the chance, or have a desire to visit, and they prove so authentic that the sets help boost the plausibility of an otherwise absurd plotline. The exteriors do the heavy lifting, but the nautically themed Half Shell (the local watering hole) and retro-fitted bus draw an important contrast between the town's blue-collar citizenry and the nearby pristine beaches that might draw in well-to-do tourists were they not, ya know, located right down the block from a nuclear power plant. The production design and cinematography are exceptional, and it's not surprising that the DP, James Pergola, would later go on to lens both the Thunder in Paradise and Baywatch TV series. Top-notch stuff here.

The soundtrack has a strong '70s made-for-TV vibe that starts off mellow with a smooth jazz sound, but manages to create significant tension later on with its melodic piano/string pieces as the crabs move onto land. It's not a unique score, but the composer, Bill Justis, utilizes a lot of strings and brass to great effect and manages to produce pieces that gel with the action in a way that builds a genuine sense of menace. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind that we're talking about a flick whose first two acts feature normal sized crabs as its primary source of peril.

Overall, Island Claws deserves more attention than it gets and had it gotten a theatrical run at the time of its completion I suspect it would have garnered not only a lot more air time on cable, but also a reputation akin to its nature-run-amok contemporaries - Grizzly, Day of the Animals, Piranha, and Alligator. It's definitely worth checking out if you can track down a copy, as it's essentially a long-lost cousin of many of your late-night TV favorites.

Rating: 64%