Starship Troopers

Weekend Roundtable: Buggin’ Out

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?

Jason Gorber

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.

Deirdre Crimmins

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.

Shannon Nutt

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.

Josh Zyber

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.

Your Turn

What are your favorite movie bugs? Tell us in the Comments.

18 comments

  1. photogdave

    The cockroaches from the final segment of Creepshow.
    That was one of the scariest and grossest things I saw as a kid!

    Runner up to the beetles in The Mummy (1999).

    • Nestor

      Yes, that cockroach scene was just creepy! My vote, however, goes to the leech scene on Stand By Me. Seeing Gordie pull out that bloody leech from his underpants was simply horrifying.

  2. Bolo

    Mothra lays some serious beats down on Godzilla, so I’ve got to give her props. She gets underestimated because she’s got that soothing theme song and looks like a bunch of pipecleaners, but she packs a punch.

    I also remember a film called ‘Joe’s Apartment’ about a loveable loser who rents a flat that is infested with roaches, but they are brought to life through stop motion and can all speak and dance, so the roaches become his mates. I saw it when it came out when I was a teenager and remember finding it charming. I doubt it would hold up too well today. If the movie had an overall plot, I forget what it was. I think was a rom-com type thing where the roaches helped Joe get ready for dates or something. Anyway, if somebody remade it, I might actually be interested in watching that.

  3. Alex Bledsoe

    I recently picked up “Bug” on DVD based solely on my memory of the TV commercials when I was a kid. It’s campy, yes, but it’s played dead straight and goes somewhere REALLY weird toward the end. I’d also recommend “Phase IV,” about ants who become sentient; it’s the only feature directed by Saul Bass, who did the credits for so many 60s and 70s movies.

  4. Erik in Wisconsin

    The first thing that came to my mind is the portion of King Kong (Jack Black edition) where everyone fell into the deep chasm and started to get stung and eaten by all manner of giant insects and other disgusting life forms. (And you think regular mosquitos are annoying!) Another short scene is from a movie that has nothing to do with insects, except that the opening shots of The Wild Bunch show a bunch of Mexican kids watching a fight to the death between a scorpion and a swarm of red ants. Mesmerizingly uncomfortable.

  5. Csm101

    Since a lot of my favorites have been mentioned, I’ll go with the scarabs from The Mummy. They eat everything in their path and get under your skin. Literally.

  6. SerenityValley

    Certainly one of the original bug movies was the 50’s classic “Them!”, with radiation-caused giant ants, which started in the desert southwest, but (when the queen ant flew away) ended up in LA, with giant ants crawling around in the drainage system. I still get a chill when I recount the creepy screeching noise that they made.

    OK… and technically not a movie bug, but deserving of an honorable mention, is the X-Files episode (in which bugs already played a part) where, during a standard scene, where other (normal) things are happening, they F/X’d in a cockroach so that it appears to literally be walking up the front of your TV screen. A LOT of folks went nuts over that, before they finally realized that they’d basically been “punked”, by the showrunners.

  7. Slayer117x

    There are alot of good mentions here, for a while “Arachnophobia” would have been been mine, but at some point in middle school I watched “Kingdom of the Spiders” and I have never seen anything scarier.

    • C.C.

      I remember distinctly, when that came out – that I was disappointed that it ws just a lot of small spiders.
      (Especially when the spider that started it all in the beginning was a HUGE bird eating spider.)
      I wanted big spiders.

    • Jason Dominguez

      I am so glad you mentioned Kingdom of the Spiders!!! I love the fact that they used real tarantulas. The panic scene in the town is the huge highlight of the film.

  8. EM

    I was all set to sound like a terrified little girl:

    “THEM!”

    …but since SerenityValley beat me to the picnic, I’ll cite an honorable mention instead. One of the (many) reasons we shudder at the xenomorphs in the Alien franchise is that they’re somewhat cockroach-like. The scene in Aliens where the humans look above the ceiling and find a swarm of xenos approaching is akin to finding an infestation in one’s own attic. Yecchh!!!

  9. C.C.

    I second BUG…Caught that on tv in the 1980’s and it just freaked me out!
    Giant Cockroaches that burn you! Yikes! It was very effective.

  10. One of my favorites was the ant in Honey I Shrunk The Kids. The bee was great too, but that ant…

    I remember when I saw the movie, how awesome everything looked. Then I saw the Making Of, and remember being a bit disappointed. No, I knew it wasn’t real, even at that age (I guess I was about 10 at the time), but I was amazed how bad the things looked on the sound stage. It was editing and coloring that really made the things look good in the movie. I think what really disappointed me is I was one of those people who wanted to make my own movies, and building giant sets and animatronics was out of the question for me

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