Starring Dan Cortese, Julie Benz, David Keith, Jeff Fahey
Directed by Ian Gilmour
In conjunction with President Bush’s “No Cliché Left Behind” Act of 2001, the United Film Organization and the Sci-Fi Channel proudly present their latest original production, Locusts: The 8th Plague. Let’s run down the checklist of clichés:
Genetically engineered menace: CHECK
Heroic scientists, at least one preferably being an outsider that has trouble convincing authority figures: CHECK
Evil corporate or military villain responsible for the menace attempts to cover his ass rather than help deal with the problem he started: CHECK
Overzealous military wants to use something to stop the menace that’s as destructive as the menace itself: CHECK
Corporate or military bad guy falls victim to his own creation while attempting to flee: CHECK
Explosive that must be manually detonated by someone willing to make a noble sacrifice, preferably the remorseful scientist in some way responsible for the creation of the menace: CHECK
Primary character uttering the line “Is it over?” at the end just before the closing sequence that’s designed to leave things open for a sequel: CHECK
Yep, let there be no doubt about it, Locusts: The 8th Plague follows the UFO Films’ playbook to the letter. I’ve lost count of the number of UFO productions that have featured virtually every single one of these clichés played out in full. Cliché after cliché after cliché on display for all of us to gawk at; this time with a heaping dose of dopiness tossed in to make the experience a bit more palpable. With a few more overly melodramatic subplots and Michael Caine hamming it up in place of Dan Cortese’s ludicrous attempts at giving a sincere performance, Locusts: The 8th Plague could have rivaled the 1977 killer bee bad movie masterpiece The Swarm. Even the ultimate means by which they defeat the swarm is a variation of The Swarm’s climax. Not quite a bad movie classic but completely hating on this film absurdity is like mocking a three-legged dog for tipping over often.
Agricultural sciences corporate conglomerate Silogen has genetically engineered a new strain of locust designed to replace potentially harmful pesticides by feeding on the very bugs that harm crops. But as you and I and everyone that’s ever watched one of these films before knows, the new scientific wunderkind always ends up a deadly monstrosity that get loose and begins wreaking havoc. In this case, rural Idaho (filmed on location in rural Bulgaria) is the feeding ground of choice.
Dan Cortese plays an entomological superhunk named Colt, a former employee of Silogen that left the company after arguing that humans are too puny to be playing around with Mother Nature, namely genetically engineering super locusts that could end up getting loose and eating the good citizens of Idaho. When exactly just that begins happening he turns to his fiancé, USDA super hotty Vicky Snow, played by Whedonverse actress Julie Benz. Together they quickly discover the true nature of this new strain of locusts leading to a confrontation with her father (Jeff Fahey in a role that requires him to do little more than express emotions through the various inflections of his eyebrows) who also just happens to be the Silogen scientist responsible for the creation of the locusts. Papa Fahey regrets the unfortunate turn of events but Silogen honcho David Keith – playing a character virtually identical to the one he played in the UFO/Sci-Fi original Path of Destruction just two months ago – is only concerned with covering up his company’s involvement in the creation and accidental release of the locust swarm.
The locust super swarm proceeds to devour every living thing in its path which in Idaho seems to consist of nothing but cattle and Idaho’s general populace, although they never actually completely devour them, only eating the skin off instead. I guess they understand the same thing that you and I know from eating fried chicken; the skin is the best part. Coincidentally, KFC was one of the sponsor’s for the Sci-Fi Channel premiere of this film. Go figure.
Despite showing countless locusts splattering all over the exteriors of vehicles when swarming, they still possess the ferocity to blast a hole right through a guy’s throat and through one’s face and out the back of their motorcycle helmet whenever the director decides to up the gore factor. They can even smash through windshields whenever it’s convenient for such a thing to happen.
This is another one of those killer insect movies where actors run screaming from large digital blurs in the air composed of smaller digital blurs. On the plus side, the locusts are presented as being so large that the film doesn’t devolve into a constant succession of scenes involving a cloud of black dots enveloping people and things. Still, flying blurry blobs of blackness are the locusts’ primary manifestation when attacking en masse.
The quality of the film’s computer animation ranges from surprisingly impressive to flash animation you and I could create on our laptops. This is especially true during the film’s climax that features a computer generated sequence I instantly dubbed “Sky Captain & the Swarm of Tomorrow.” You’ll know exactly what I mean if when you see it.
The body count begins mounting, including the picnicking parents of a young boy, who watched his mom and dad get devoured from the safe confines of an SUV. A bit later, a cop finds the boy alive inside the vehicle but in a state of shock. The expression on the kid’s face looks less like frozen terror and more like he went catatonic after experiencing the greatest orgasm ever. We should all be so lucky.
The film’s highlight is a bloody assault that the locusts’ stage on the unsuspecting patrons of an amusement park. It’s a short scene but quite entertaining. Unlike CBS’s own locusts run amok flick from earlier this year, this film promises you killer locusts and delivers just that quite frequently and quite bloody too.
Communications in this film also prove quite mind-boggling. One scene has Dan Cortese pulling over to use a call box on the side of the road to place a crucial call yet moments later he’s using his cellular phone to call someone. Later, he discovers an important fact about the locusts that could make them more dangerous if the military goes through with a plan they have in motion. Instead of immediately picking up a phone and calling Julie Benz, he hops in his truck, drives several miles, and then attempts to call her with his cell phone. Moments later, the military commander is unable to abort the plan because the swarm is so massive its interfering with the signal from his walkie talkie to the military chopper hovering above the swarm. Can a giant swarm of insects really interfere with radio signals?
Speaking of scientific things I didn’t know, did you know that the USDA have at their disposal a high tech MRI-like scanner than can scan the contents of a dead locust’s stomach and tell you what it had for dinner? Nor did I. Isn’t science cool?
Well, sometimes science isn’t cool. Take for example when you genetically engineer a strain of flesh-eating killer locusts that gets loose and leaves behind a trail of carnage but you’re sure the carnage will be short-lived because you inserted a genetic failsafe that causes the locusts to die after only 48 hours but then that failsafe doesn’t work and the locusts begin breeding uncontrollably, multiplying in numbers seemingly at will. Man, science can really suck.
Upon realizing the severity of the locust threat, Dan Cortese sits by a lake clad in his undershirt and gives Julie Benz an impassioned speech about the dangers of man tampering with nature, how if they had only listened to him then none of this would have happened, and, somewhere along the way, he manages to work in some tripe about the threat of global warning and the general idiocy of the world’s treatment of the environment. This speech is as overwrought as the movie is half-baked.
The “8th Plague” portion of the movie’s title is a biblical reference, the meaning of which is only hinted at onscreen by a lone street preacher who constantly proselytizes the Book of Revelations even as he’s being eaten alive by locusts. That’s as religious as the film gets in spite of the title. No time for God when you have to work in scenes of David Keith shredding documents and Dan Cortese dissecting dead bugs.
The government responds to the locust menace by having our photogenic agricultural super couple lead a squad of commandos armed with pesticide guns and flame throwers, but mostly machine guns, which seems to me as being rather impractical when dealing with insects, although not nearly as impractical as seeking out the nest of a dangerous swarm of insects without bothering to wear any sort of head-covering protection.
Pesticide doesn’t work, flamethrowers only agitate them, yet the government wants to use a military grade pesticide that is also highly dangerous to people and once you spray it things don’t grow back for ten years. Our hero argues that it won’t work because the locusts are resistant to pesticide, even drawn to it. Here’s an idea: They have some locusts they’ve captured to perform tests on so why not test this military pesticide on them to see if it affects them at all before insisting on using it on the countryside? Why don’t they do that, you ask? That’s right; because to do so would uncomplicate the plot and we can’t have that.
Then comes some nonsense about using organic pesticides instead of chemical ones and a ham-fisted theory about Colt and Julie not getting attacked by the locusts in an earlier scene because the two only eat organic foods, meaning they don’t have any toxic chemicals in their system to entice the locusts. So there you go, folks. If you want to prevent having your skin eaten off by mutant insects, only eat an organic diet and say no to chemically treated fruits and vegetables.
I know this movie is supposed to be set in Idaho but it might as well have been Wisconsin because every single scene of Locusts: The 8th Plague is loaded with cheese. If you’re lactose intolerant, avoid this film like the plague.
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