As Ant-Man and his insect pals return to cinema screens this week, let’s do a Roundtable about some of our favorite examples of other famous movie bugs. Would you like to know more?
Snakes? No problem. Rats? Creepy, but fine. But when in the second Indiana Jones film, our hero (and heroine… and sidekick) clambered into a cave to find a ‘Temple of Doom‘, the creepy crawlies littering the place completely freaked the hell out of me as a child. It’s nice how the ‘Raiders’ films find one’s psychological weak spots, throwing a mess of creatures out to see what will give a reaction. The tarantulas in the first were a shock but not a psychic blow like in ‘Temple’, a scene that would haunt my young nightmares like few others and one that still can give some chills whenever I see it.
Yes, I know spiders are not technically insects, but when thinking about creepy-crawly creatures in films, my first thought is of ‘Arachnophobia‘. As a kid, the entire opening of the film really freaked me out. Not only did the spiders in the jungle kill someone, but they hitchhiked a ride back to the States via the coffin. The nerve! It was only upon revisiting the film as an adult that I realized it was actually a horror comedy, and a fine campy one to boot. John Goodman’s performance alone is worth some modern adoration still, even with the hokier elements.
When I was a kid, I watched a creepy movie on TV about giant bugs that would crawl up into people and then burst into flames. I always thought it was a made-for-TV movie, but doing some research, I’ve learned that it was actually a 1975 theatrical film titled (aptly enough) ‘Bug’. No famous actors are in the cast, but I note with some interest that the movie was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, best known to most of our readers as the director of ‘Jaws 2’, but known to me as the director of my all-time favorite film, ‘Somewhere in Time’.
I haven’t seen ‘Bug’ since that experience as a young kid and really have no desire to see it again (my guess is it would seem awful cheesy today), but considering that I still remember it after all these years, I felt it was a great callback for this week’s topic.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I hadn’t yet been born when the first wave of killer bee hysteria struck. Round Two led to what to this day is the longest stretch of persistent, mortal terror I’ve ever experienced in my life. If you tuned into Fox circa 1990, you’ll no doubt have similar memories of seeing maps charting the spread of killer bees across the United States, with the near-entirety of the country destined to be consumed within a few short years. I was so horrified that I remember asking my parents to forget about buying me birthday or Christmas presents; just get me a beekeeper’s suit, which I planned on donning like armor to protect against the relentless waves of killer bee attacks. I never did get that suit, which is just as well considering that I’ve never actually encountered an Africanized honey bee, even all these many decades later.
Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. To better understand my nemesis, Junior High School-aged me continually rewatched NBC’s pair of made-for-TV movies cashing in on the killer bee panic in the mid-’70s: ‘The Savage Bees’ and ‘Terror Out of the Sky’. In case you forget which movie is which, ‘The Savage Bees’ is the one with a VW Bug – swarmed with killer bees! – seeking sanctuary in a super-cooled Superdome. (It also contains the endlessly quotable “Your dog’s stomach is full of bees” line.) ‘Terror Out of the Sky’ ups the stakes by casting TV’s ‘Grizzly Adams’, swarming a schoolbus full of children, and ending with a fiery heroic sacrifice in a missile silo. Despite being a direct sequel, roles are recast and shuffled around, making for mildly confusing back-to-back viewing.
Having access to neither a Superdome nor a missile silo, it’s a good thing I never was pitted against killer bees, as I really would’ve been at a loss what to do.
Bugs are gross. Early on in ‘Starship Troopers‘, director Paul Verhoeven shows a satirical newsreel clip featuring a bunch of laughing children gleefully stomping on bugs on a sidewalk in order to do their part for the war effort. This brief, comical scene speaks to the human race’s inherent revulsion to insects, and the deep feeling of satisfaction we get from killing them. It’s a normal part of human nature to hate bugs, even when, rationally, they’re not doing anything to bother us.
In the movie, humanity is at war with a race of insectoid aliens from planet Klendathu, and the propaganda newsfeed is filled with fearmongering stories about all the terrible atrocities the bugs have inflicted on innocent human colonists. If you read between the lines, however, you may pick up on the fact that the humans instigated this conflict by intruding into the bugs’ home solar system, and the bugs are really just defending their territory. The military invasion of Klendathu is less about protecting the Earth or its people than it is a power play to occupy and settle a new planet. This would explain why the Earth government repeatedly sends ill-equipped ground troops to fight the bugs on their own turf rather than just nuke the entire planet into oblivion, as would undoubtedly be a smarter strategy. Earth doesn’t want to destroy Klendathu, but to exploit it.
The alien bugs themselves are depicted with terrific variety and creativity, from the fearsome Warrior Bugs, to the formidable Tanker Bugs, and eventually the squishy Brain Bugs. They’re all icky as hell. Imagine how much less effective the government’s propaganda machine would be had Klendathu been populated with fluffy and adorable kittens.
What are your favorite movie bugs? Tell us in the Comments.