Island Claws (1980): Or, Crabs Get Fisherman in a Pinch

With summer and beaches on the mind, my stomach sometimes turns to thoughts of sea food in the warm months. While I like salmon and shrimp as much as the next fellow who doesn’t have allergies, crab, particularly in a cake or deviled form, is one of my favorite things to order. The only problem with crabs is that I could eat so many, and crab legs are always so much work compared to the reward. Sure it’s buttery and incredible, but so fleeting. Plus, let’s face it, I’m lazy. What they need to come up with is a bigger crab, and, coincidentally, the heroes of today’s film have the same aspiration. Today’s film, Island Claws, is a rare case if I’ve ever seen one. By a one time director, featuring a cast of genre bit players, and detailing what should be a ludicrous attempt at a giant monster feature, Island Claws is actually way better than it has any right to be. So break out the melted butter and grab you best claw cracker, because we’re going to need them on this trip.

Our destination is Virginia Island, confusingly located off the coast of Florida. There a city has grown up around fishing, the nuclear power plant, and research at the marine biology center. Dr. McNeal, played by television stalwart Barry Nelson, is working on research centered on growing sea creatures, mostly crabs, to enormous size and hence end world hunger. Photojournalist Jan Raines (Jo Mc Donnell, The Octagon, Munster’s Revenge) shows up to do a story on the study, but she also falls for the Doctor’s assistant Pete (Steve Hanks). He’s a local boy, raised by his Uncle Moody (Robert Lansing) after his parents were tragically killed in a drunken driving accident caused by, you guessed it, Jan’s dad. Speaking of Jan’s dad, Frank (Dick Callinan, The Exorcist, Bananas), he’s the head honcho at the nuclear plant which just happens to have a leak in their water containment system. Naturally they assure the public that things are okay, and the populous spends the night in Moody’s bar blissfully unaware that they are now under attack by a phalanx of crabs….and one really, really big one.

So what cause the crab revolt on Virginia Island? What information can we take away as a cautionary tale so we don’t have people mercilessly killed by crustacean ever again? That’s really hard to say. While the crabs come without remorse in both the normal size and massive hundred scale size, the cause could have been the scientists, the nukes, the appearance of Haitian refugees on the island spinning some voodoo, or the crabs could have just been tired of human beings doing all the killing and eating. While I think Island Claws leads the audience a bit toward the nuclear terror, in no way do they make it clear. It really doesn’t matter that much because with the cause by the wayside, and sub-plots like the fallout between Frank Raines and Moody, and even the romance taking little time, it leaves plenty of footage for what we all want, crabs killing people. Some of the early murders show off a kind of “smart animal” such as what is on display in Frogs, but the climax leads to a giant puppet crab. While it might seem silly by today’s standards, I loved it, and thankfully it wasn’t overused throughout the film so there wasn’t much occasion to see its flaws.

While the crabs deal out some shockingly violent revenge for creatures usually found on the other side of the menu, the real attraction in Island Claws is the acting. I have to single out Robert Lansing first off. Lansing, another television veteran, genre fans might recognize from Empire of the Ants or his long running 80’s television stint as Control on The Equalizer. I mentioned that the drama from Lansing’s character doesn’t go anywhere, and that is true for the most part. However, the actor wrenches every last moment from his scenes. Island Claws brought most of its focus on Moody’s nephew Pete, Steve Hanks. While he cast a clean cut look and seemed energetic if not skilled, he really suffered onscreen when paired with Lansing. Speaking of pairings, Hanks would go on to be paired with another incredible actor, Asher Bruner a.k.a Dom from Switchblade Sisters, in the TV cop show B.A.D. Cats with a young Michelle Pfeiffer. Nita Talbot makes an impression as Moody’s girlfriend/bar maid Rosie, but I have to give the scene stealer award to Tony Rigo, an actor with only a single other TV credit to his name, a the fisherman named Joe. Like some kind of bastard child of Bobby Slattery and Harry Dean Stanton, he totally dominated every scene in which he appeared.

Island Claws is one of those films I could go on about. I haven't even touched on the banjo music Barry Nelson's hair, but I simply suggest that everyone try to dig around and find a copy to watch (one easy place to dig would be below where it appears in its entirety on YouTube). Certainly it is a low budget film, and director Herman Carenas, who I could find out nothing about, did a bang up job writing and directing Island Claws. My expectations were bottom of the barrel going in, but when I pressed stop, I really felt like I had uncovered a classic that deserves to be seen. With a light touch in the creature department and enough human drama to keep the story interesting, Carenas kept Island Claws interesting and provided enough bloody kills to make this a great double feature with something like Humanoids from a Deep, another fishing community in peril. I hope this review has made you hunger to see Island Claws, I know it made me want to see it again. It also made me hungry. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to go protect myself against crabs the old fashioned way….. By sticking them in my face!

Bugg Rating


  1. I've never even heard of this flick, but I'd watch it! And yes, crabs are yummy! I'm sure you had a Maryland crab cake or two while you were here, right? If not, you missed out!

  2. I did indeed miss out, but it'll be something to look forward to next time.


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