'Dukes' actor reprises cult-horror role 50 years later
05:00 AM, Jan 22, 2014
Most people know him as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane from the 1980s TV series Dukes of Hazzard.
At 87, actor James Best still knows how to have fun. His sense of humor, in addition to a restless spirit of adventure, appear to be key ingredients in keeping him youthful. He has acted in several Hallmark movies of late, and as an artist he continues daily to paint rural landscape scenes that he sells online and at art shows.
Best also travels the country appearing at gatherings of Dukes of Hazzard aficionados, where thousands of fans stand in lines for hours to greet cast members from the show, which ran seven seasons from 1979 to 1985. Best concedes he grows weary of the marathon autograph sessions, however, and is considering scaling down his schedule.
The actor’s latest project, though, might be one for the record books.
In a just-released DVD, Best stars in a sequel to a 1959 film called The Killer Shrews — playing the same character as when he starred in the original movie 54 years ago. Producers of Return of the Killer Shrews are talking to staff at the Guinness World Records organization, Best said, to see whether his feat qualifies for mention in the iconic Guinness listings.
Best, who grew up in Corydon, Ind., never thought he would get involved in a sequel to a movie he considered mostly forgettable after it came out in 1959.
“It was a fluke,” Best said, speaking from his home in Hickory, N.C.“I did the original Killer Shrews as a favor.”
Besides agreeing to get involved because he was friends with a producer of the sci-fi project, Best said he also became interested when he learned leading actress Ingrid Goude was a former Miss Universe.
“I said, ‘Where do I sign the contract?’ ” Best said.
The plot of the original film involved a mad scientist bent on reducing the size of human beings so they would consume less of the world’s food resources, thereby alleviating world hunger. Experimenting on a remote island on ways to change species’ size, the scientist inadvertently created a breed of giant shrews intent on killing and eating anything that moved.
Best plays Thorne Sherman, captain of a boat that carries supplies to the island. He eventually is among a group of people trying to survive long enough to evade the shrews and make it off the island alive.
To create the monster shrews, the crew of the low-budget film just used costumed dogs, Best said.
“It was so bad,” Best said. “It was voted the worst picture of the year.”
Still, audiences found entertainment value in the movie’s corniness to such an extent that it gained a cult following.
Best never planned to capitalize on his involvement with the old movie. He credits filmmaker friend Steve Latshaw with proposing the idea of a modern sequel.
Best recalled his reaction to the suggestion.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? That piece of garbage?’ ” he said.
But then Best and Latshaw began emailing ideas and back and forth for about 10 years, as Latshaw recalled.
“About 2009 we started seriously working on it pretty hard,” Latshaw said. “We completed a script in 2010 and set about putting financing together.”
The movie was shot over a 10-day period in June of 2011.
In the modern movie, a TV reality show crew goes to the island without any idea it once was inhabited by killer shrews. Knowing Thorne Sherman’s familiarity with the area, the crew enlists the boat captain’s help in ferrying them to the island. Once the crew begins filming, however, several members of the entourage encounter the shrews, and Sherman realizes the creatures have survived over the decades.
Dukes of Hazzard fans will recognize a few other familiar faces besides Best. He recruited co-stars John Schneider (Bo Duke) and Rick Hurst (Cletus Hogg) to be part of the film.
“Of all the films I’ve directed, this is probably the most fun I’ve had on the set,” said Latshaw, who has directed seven films and written more than 35.
Best is the reason for Latshaw’s enthsusiasm.
“I always wanted to do a sequel of this film, but I wanted him to star in it and play the same part he played in the original,” Latshaw said. “I didn’t really feel like there was any point in doing the film if that wasn’t the template.”
The budget was so minuscule on the original Killer Shrews that Best helped paint the set, he said.
He hopes the sequel will find a following, too.
“It’s just a fun spoof movie,” he said.