"EVERY HOUR HE GETS SMALLER …SMALLer …smaller"
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) May 30, 2020
For as long as I can remember, I’ve known about The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). I remember seeing pictures in books and magazines, like Famous Monsters, when I was a kid. I also remember seeing clips from the movie on TV programmes about the history of horror, or monster movies, or something like that. There were certain movies that seemed to get featured a lot, and this was one of them. I’m not sure when exactly I saw the entire movie for the first time, but I would have been young. It seems quite possible that I would have seen it for a second time on that legendary show of my youth, Not Quite Classic Theatre. I certainly saw other films by the same director, Jack Arnold, like Monster on the Campus (1958) and probably Tarantula (1955), And it seems like most of the movies I remember from the show were made and/or released by Universal Pictures. This suggests to me that the TV station bought a package of films to show on Not Quite Classic Theatre, and it would make sense for The Incredible Shrinking Man to have been among them, as it was made by Universal in the same era as all of the others.
Regardless, I definitely saw The Incredible Shrinking Man several times over the years. The last time I recall seeing it, prior to last Friday, was in an actual movie theatre. Back in the 1990s, it was shown as a midnight movie (I think) at my local Cinematheque. I recall going with a friend or two from University, and that it was great to see it on a big (ish) screen.
Watching The Incredible Shrinking Man now, for the first time in years, it struck me that it is a thinking person’s Science Fiction film. Yes, it features suspenseful scenes of a man being menaced by “giant” creatures, such as a cat and a spider, and in that way it is similar to other 1950s monster movies like Tarantula and The Deadly Mantis (1957). However, The Incredible Shrinking Man is really a very different kind of movie. It’s much more serious minded and philosophical than many of the others – and for what it’s worth, it gets a higher rating on the IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Much of the credit for this can go to the intelligent script by Richard Matheson, which was based on his own novel. I would also say that The Incredible Shrinking Man is a tad darker than most of the other films. It deals with the psychological horror of its character’s predicament, and does not offer any false happy endings.
Apparently, the studio wanted a happier ending, but both Jack Arnold and Richard Matheson disagreed. They did a test screening, and although many of the audience members were unhappy with the somewhat downbeat (and perhaps ambiguous) ending of the film, The Incredible Shrinking Man was released with its original ending intact. This may be one reason why its reputation has only improved over the years.
As a child, I loved the action sequences and the visual delights of a tiny man fighting to survive in a giant world. As an adult, I appreciate the darker, and more psychological aspects of the film. It’s closer to a certified classic than many examples of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, and by all accounts, it’s a great movie. But in all honesty, it’s probably less fun than movies like Tarantula and The Deadly Mantis. So if you’re looking for a good time, filled with laughs and light-hearted chills, you might want to give one of those other monsters a call…
But when you’re in the mood to confront the existential angst lurking in the dark corners of your soul, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) may just be the perfect companion for a pensive and rewarding #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.