Killer bug and insect invasion films are some of the most challenging to really nail in a memorable manner. I honestly believe that’s why so few directors and production companies will even entertain the idea of approaching the critters.
They’re typically goofy flicks, and most who would consider themselves “serious” filmmakers (whatever that is) probably wouldn’t waste a scoff at the thought of creating one. But every once in a while something special arrives and leaves its mark on our psyche.
Perhaps it’s an over-the-top exploitation piece that happens to piece the puzzle together properly. Maybe it’s a film so astonishingly complex and multi-layered that one cannot avoid the intrigue of a grand mind fuck. It doesn’t matter why bug flicks work or how bug flicks work. What matters is that when the truly innovative minds out there set out to make a film of this nature, they manage to make it work.
Here are five (with a few bonus recommendations for good measure) movies all about the creepy crawlies that make our flesh tingle and sprout goosebumps. Purchase a can of insecticide before you read this one if you’re squeamish or suffer from entomophobia. Just a heads up.
Spiders scare the shit out of me. I mean petrified, cannot run, cannot move, cannot think straight in the presence of an eight-legged monstrosity. “Daddy Longlegs’” strike fear in my heart. Babies send me into hysterics. And if I spot an egg sack, oh good night… I’m done. Haul me away and beat the shit out of me with the pansy stick. That’s why I can’t watch Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia. It’s also why I respect and love it so much. For someone like me it’s about as close to the perfect horror presentation as you can get. It genuinely terrifies me to the point I’m able to experience that special feeling that we become so desensitized to at a very early age. I honestly can’t watch the film. It’s a tremendously successful production, illustrating very real personalities, delivering jaw-dropping, truly jarring visuals (due in large part to pure realism), and combining humor and scares like few pics ever manage. But you’ll have to bribe me to sit through it… without shielding my eyes with my sweaty palms. If you’re not particularly frightened by spiders, this one won’t climb under your skin in quite the same fashion, but it’s still an entertaining and well shot pic. You can’t lose when John Goodman steps into the shoes of a mouthy and overtly cocky exterminator.
Mimic doesn’t seem to be recognized as a “bug flick” often. Perhaps that’s due to the overall intensity of the film, or even the technical mastery that Guillermo del Toro thrusts – quite unexpectedly – in our faces. Regardless of reasoning, Mimic is a big buggy bastard of a flick that defied the neglect it did and still does receive thanks to a functional drive to succeed on all fronts. Succeed it does. The story is mesmerizing, the onscreen performances can be considered nothing short of the product of elite thespians, and visually it’s absolutely genius; you cannot take your eyes off of this movie. While giant ants may not be a paralyzing idea by today’s standards, giant cockroaches capable of actually mimicking the physical appearance of man – whom they target and dispose of – most certainly is. Guillermo del Toro has gone on to make some amazing features. I don’t care what anyone says, Blade II was a fantastic example of horror and action combined to produce pure entertainment, the Hellboy flicks are a blast, and Pan’s Labyrinth has such an astounding ethereal quality that it’s hard for me to even express my feelings about the movie. Cronos came first, but Mimic was an amazing follow-up for del Toro.
Now here’s an interesting selection. Technically William Friedkin’s Bug is a psychological affair rather than a tangible insect-attacks-the-populace form of feature. But that doesn’t steal away from the fact that Bug is disgustingly unnerving. Stupid creepy. We’re talking pick at your skin for no good reason, disturbing. The degree of paranoia boiling over on the set feels so overwhelmingly organic that a brief mental hiatus from the insanity unraveling before our eyes feels utterly unmanageable. The fact that hordes of vicious insects never even need to really swarm the screen doesn’t change the fact that Bug is one of the most overlooked pictures to hit the market in the last decade. It also holds the rare distinction of being a film that sucks you in while you’re begging, but incapable of escaping. Bug is the equivalent of the proverbial car crash on the side of the road, and it’ll leave you feeling just about as distressed as the nastier collisions we inevitably stumble upon at least once in life. It’s just a… fucked up and savage film.
Eight Legged Freaks:
There’s a certain charm that comes in watching vintage ‘50s and ‘60s giant insect films. The vast majority of those old clunkers are just that, clunkers. They’re not typically well-assembled slices of cinema, but cheap hokey laugh-fests designed to produce brainless entertainment for roughly 70 minutes. And there’s something quite special about those films, as terrible as they may be. When they work their way into your heart, they stay there. Up until 2002, I wasn’t convinced I’d ever see a modern motion picture capable of replicating that goofy, must-have sensation that was alive and well on screens in 1960. Then along came Ellory Elkayem’s Eight Legged Freaks, and as is the norm in my life, my beliefs were proven wrong. Elkayem nails the golly gee do-gooder appeal of yesteryear’s cult favorites with a piece that functions as an obvious homage to grand camp and big bugs. David Arquette feels as though he was teleported here directly from Awshucksville, 1960, and it’s hard to refute the lighthearted appeal of it all. One of the few freaky bug flicks that actually totes serious replay value and comedy tame enough to appeal to the whole family without feeling entirely watered down.
Speaking of throwback insect invasions, what kind of list would this be without the oddly addictive and massive cult fave Them!? A masterful performance from James Whitmore transforms another preposterous product into a vehicle of joyful entertainment. There isn’t anything about the idea of the tale itself that stands out as distinctive, but the dialogue is generally engaging and there’s a fluidity to the storyline that captivates. My daughter gets a kick out of poking fun at me whenever I watch this one, but what’s interesting is, she never seems too eager to get away from the flat screen while the flick unfolds. And that’s what a prodigious picture will do: win the hearts of all viewers, regardless of age or genre preference. In 2014 giant ants aren’t even remotely near frightening, and yes, I again fully acknowledge that. No one’s tuning in to a film like Them! and struggling with nightmares for weeks on end. But they are tuning in and walking away with a fuzzy little feeling inside that comes when art impacts life for one reason or another.
Starship Troopers isn’t universally adored. I personally find it quite enjoyable. Massive alien bugs, loads of severed limbs and exploding heads and impaled torsos… it’s good fun, in a sadistic way. Paul Verhoeven creates an interesting visual experience that proves worthy of pursuing.
Infested (AKA Ticks):
Infested wasn’t a fantastic movie, but it was a picture that made an attempt at being memorable during a time in which the market had slumped into a virtual black hole and memorable genre works were thinning out at a staggering rate. Infested gave the chills a go, putting ticks at the forefront of danger. It’s worth a look.
So. Bad. It’s. Good.
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