Tag Insects

Monster Island (2004)

Monster Island (2004)

Death Is Their Final Destination.

When he wins an MTV competition that his sister secretly entered him in, Josh is whisked off to a remote jungle island for a special party where he will get to meet Carmen Electra. Unbeknownst to everyone at the party, the island used to be the location of a government atomic test and is now home to giant bugs. During the party, a flying ant swoops down from the sky and carries Carmen off towards the mountain. Josh decides to take a stand and instead of heading for the rescue boat with the others, he and a few of his friends decide to set off through the jungle to rescue her.

 

MTV is hardly going to be the first name on anyone’s lips when you talk about the movies. More famous for their music videos and TV shows, MTV has seemingly decided to branch out a bit more into the world of film. Obviously designed by and for the MTV generation, Monster Island is a throwback or homage to the old 50s sci-fi flicks which were obsessed with throwing all manner of mutated monstrosities at the camera. But given that it was made to show on MTV, you can be rest assured that there’s lots of self-promotion, a distinct lack of budget and a real sense of ‘give me a break’ with how it all pans out.

Don’t try and even take this seriously. From the ridiculous plot about rescuing Carmen Electra (she’s smokin’ hot but if she got carried off by a flying bug, tough luck!) to the atrocious special effects (and ‘special’ is pushing it) to the even more inane dialogue, there’s nothing here that should really click. But funnily enough, it all works because it’s got a silly charm. It doesn’t take too long to get down to it and once the characters set off to rescue Carmen, there are always plenty of shenanigans to fill the time. The film winks at itself numerous times and it clearly knows how flawed it is. The dialogue, as bad as it, works because some of the things said are pretty witty (including the wacky scientist who has plenty of off-beat quotes).

At a running time of around an hour and half, it’s not that much to allow your brain to die and doesn’t overly outstay its welcome. The special effects are terrible though. From a pair of giant preying mantis, one of which is involved in a laughable toy fight with a bulldozer, to a giant-spider-on-string and of course, the ants, there’s not an effect here that you wouldn’t have seen in a kids cartoon. It looks like they hired stop motion artists who do kids shows like Fireman Sam (before CGI got to it) and the results are giant creatures that you want to stand and laugh at, not run away from. The best effect in the film is that of a piranha man – simply a guy in a suit. At least I’ll give some credit for the effects team to use stop motion as opposed to CGI. They could have taken the cheap route out but opted to pay homage a little more with some old school effects. Just next time, hire some better animators.

As for the cast, well the youngsters do their best in their tiresome roles. Daniel Letterle does what he can with the throwaway lead role and has a few moments of inspirational absurdity (like watching him try to rally a posse to rescue Carmen). I completely lost track of his friends though and just referred to them as stoner, nerd, bitch, jock and so on. Chelan Simmons can scream like no other though! As for the more famous people in this flick, Carmen Electra looks amazing as usual but apart from a few minutes sandwiched at the beginning and end, she’s not in the film at all. Adam ‘Batman’ West pops up here as Dr Harryhausen (a pretty lame homage name to the god of stop motion) and he’s funny. He’s kind of an in-joke of himself now and laps up the chance to show what he can do to a younger audience. There’s also a lame cameo from Nick Carter (of Backstreet Boys fame) who arrives in the nick of time to save our friends. Its definitely a bizarre couple of cameos which all work in their own quirky way.

 

Monster Island is a dopey genre flick. Low on budget, skill and all-round talent, it makes up for it in honesty, wit and cheesy charm. It’s clearly targeted at MTV viewers who have no idea what some of the in-jokes and homages to the 50s ‘atomic monster’ films are all about but for those of us who do know, there’s a few smiles to be had. Don’t watch if you’re offended by bad films.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mosquito (1995)

Mosquito (1995)

Blood never tasted better

An alien spaceship crashes into a swamp where a swam of mosquitoes begin to feed on the alien corpses. This causes them to grow to enormous size and the corpses can no longer control their appetites. Thirsty for blood, they set out to find the nearest human population to satisfy their needs.

 

When I first saw Mosquito a couple of years ago, I wasn’t impressed. It reeked of clichés, seemed too cheesy and I generally hated it. However once I’d started to look back over some of my earlier reviews, I’ve had a burning desire to re-watch some of the films I’d hammered to pieces. Mosquito was one of the first flicks I watched again and my opinion of it has drastically altered. It’s actually rather entertaining in hindsight. Maybe my critical skills have been devalued so much by the constant slew of awful Sci-Fi Channel originals that something as poor as this gets a high mark simply because it’s not as bad as them. Or maybe it’s because it’s just dumb fun where the script is light-hearted, the tone is rather cheesy and the mosquitoes actually look convincing as a threat. Don’t worry I’m not going soft on you, it’s just that Mosquito isn’t as bad as I remembered it to be.

Think of it as a modern throwback to the old science fiction films of the 50s where radiation and atomic testing mutated all manner of creatures from wasps to ants. Drain the colour from it, get rid of a few of the pop culture references and add in some more nonsense science and Mosquito could easily have emerged from this era. At least there’s no pretentious preaching about atomic testing in this one. The mosquitoes are created by good old alien blood. Any modern monster film which doesn’t resort to genetic-engineering-gone-wrong is alright by my book.

Monster movies are only as good as their monsters though and thankfully, the visual effects in Mosquito are relatively strong overall. The mosquitoes themselves are a product of a by-gone era – big prosthetic puppets which have little movement save for their wings and in which characters have to hold them to their chests to make it look like they’re interacting with it. Some old school stop motion is used in the flying scenes but for the close-ups, it’s all real and helps the film’s cheesy tone because of it. When they are blown up, they explode in a shower of gooey effects. We also get a lot of mosquito P.O.V. shots as they home in on their victims. There’s also some really cool make-up effects used on the victims of the mosquitoes. With bulbous eyes and dried, rubbery skin, the decomposing bodies look suitably devoid of any blood.

Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) stars but his performance is pretty awful. He’s a writer by trade, not an actor and it shows. However his inclusion does lead the film to its greatest moment. Faced with the mosquito hordes trying to break into the boarded up house the survivors are trapped inside, Hansen’s character picks up a chainsaw and shrugs, saying that “I haven’t handled one of these things in twenty years….feels good.” He then proceeds to use the chainsaw on the mosquitoes with knowing winks to his genre past. At least he’s game for a laugh.

The rest of the cast are the same. They’re pretty diabolical but at least they’re out to have a good time. The attempts at humour in the script fail at almost every opportunity and some characters, including the park ranger, are so annoying that it’s impossible to root for them. The script hardly gives us time to root for anyone and most of the characters disappear for massive stretches of the film. It’s only in the final third when the survivors band together in the house that matters take a turn for the better and more in line with Night of the Living Dead….only with mosquitoes obviously. Throughout the film, the tone is light hearted and it wears its camp on its sleeve like a badge of honour. There’s a big body count, lots of attack scenes, nudity, gore and plenty of explosions.

 

Mosquito is a highly entertaining giant insect film which delivers what you’d expect from such a genre flick. These mosquitoes don’t suck! You can tell that the director has a love for the old 50s films and sends them up in gooey 90s style.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deadly Swarm (2003)

Deadly Swarm (2003)

In Guatemala, a team lead by disgraced scientist Dr Schroeder uses force on the local natives to learn the whereabouts of a rare breed of deadly wasp located in the dense jungle. They arrange for a drug dealer to transport the wasps in a container to Mexico but there is an accident along the way and the wasps escape. American entomologist Daniel Lang is down there studying the local mosquitoes when people in the nearby town start to turn up dead, victims of the deadly stings. However the town has an upcoming festival and the mayor refuses to believe him until it is too late. Along for the ride is a snoopy American journalist down in Mexico following a drug trafficking ring and Dr Schroeder himself, who has a keen interest in what happens to the town.

 

I nearly cried whilst writing that outline. Not because the film sounds bad (which it does) but because it features THE single most over-used plot in monster films ever – that of the unseen menace terrorizing a town with a some kind of festival approaching and the local authority figure refusing to believe that there is a problem because he wants to make plenty of cash. Jaws has a lot to answer for. I’ve never been a big fan of ‘insects attack’ creature features either. I much prefer larger, single creatures doing the killing than a whole nest or swarm of insects. There’s nothing I find really scary about that. I’d much rather watch a big lizard that can bite me in half as opposed to a load of flying critters that I can swat out of the air or stand on.

Deadly Swarm does nothing to change that either. It limps along in a linear path, going through the usual motions of trying to entertain you with some poor set pieces and laughable attempts at tension. Calling it a ‘horror’ would do classics of the genre an injustice. It’s more like a sci-fi thriller only without anything remotely thrilling (and without any real science it has to be said!). The wasps just show up every now and then to sting some stock characters and then in the meantime we just have the characters talking about the wasps. There was something in there early on about the wasps laying eggs inside people and then hatching out of their stomachs. But the CGI in this scene is so poor that the film forgets it ever happened and moves on never to comment on it again.

Instead of attempting to do something a bit more out-of-the-box like this, Deadly Swarm is content enough to play out the well worn ‘monster-on-the-loose’ card where a town is getting menaced by some unknown force in the run up to a special festival or event. It’s the Jaws formula down to a tee but if I begun ranting on that, I’d never stop. Safe to say I wish films would take a few liberties now and then and try something new instead of rehashing the same plot that must have been used a thousand times over since 1975.

Casting in these films is always tricky. Do casting directors intentionally pick the most clichéd looking actors to fill their roles? Or do they actually see something in these people that the audience doesn’t? Shane Brolly is very bland in the lead role – a few expressions wouldn’t hurt would it? I’m guessing because he looks young and rugged that he got the role. It would have worked better with an older man in the entomologist role. But then we wouldn’t have a romance subplot would we? Kaarina Aufranc adds a bit of zest to her reporter role but again, was she cast because she’s a cute little number or because she can act? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that as soon as we find out both leads are single, that their paths will cross during the film and they will fall in love. Would it hurt anyone to pull a swerve and not have them fall in love?

Filling out the other roles, we have Pepe Serna and he impresses as the kindly local sheriff – his most infamous cinematic moment probably being sliced up by a chainsaw as Al Pacino watched on in Scarface. J. Patrick McCormack hams it up unbelievably as the scientist, Dr Schroeder. This guy has ‘boo me’ written all over from the first moment you see him. He always looks like he’s going to crack a smile and burst into tears of laughter through the film. When he explains all in the finale, I was laughing at him. Speaking of which, the way in which the killer wasps are finally overcome is one of the most cop-out endings I’ve ever seen. Bit of credit due for not having them blow the nest up but come on, this ending?

 

Deadly Swarm is competently made for a TV movie but that’s about all I can say positive about it. Desperate or easily pleased bug fans check in here. The rest of you just get out the Raid spray to keep this swarm from infiltrating your TV set.

 

Bugs (2003)

Bugs (2003)

When Giant Insects Swarm In The City’s Subways, Humanity Lands On The Fast Track To Extinction!

A new subway tunnel is being built which goes deeper underground than any other in the world and will provide the fastest way possible to travel. However the construction work has awoken a nest of giant prehistoric insects which proceed to break free and begin to kill anyone who goes down there. An FBI officer and a SWAT unit is sent down there to stop the bugs from escaping into the city.

 

Talk about taking one for the team. Bugs is one of those films where you can see where it is heading without even slapping it into your DVD player – no plot, little concern for characters and eager to splash out on some very cheap CGI creatures just for the hell of it. So derivative and devoid of originality yet you have to watch simply because it’s a film about killer insects! Just like driving past a car accident, you can’t help but stop to see what’s going on even though you know you shouldn’t because what awaits you won’t be pretty at all. Watching these films is like an unhealthy addiction. I’m not the only one who does it. Why the hell do you think studios keep making these films? Because schmucks like me keep watching them. No matter how awful, identical or cheap, I know that I can’t avoid the temptation. Sometimes you may stumble upon a hidden gem – a film which does everything by the book but has that little extra in it to make it stand out from the crowd. Does Bugs have this extra to make it stand out? You bet it doesn’t!

The film opens in the usual manner: the first victim unknowingly walking to their deaths after hearing strange noises in a dark place. Usually it’s a hobo but sometimes it’s someone more important, in this case a cop. Cue a few minutes of the film giving us some background to the setting. Here it’s a subway tunnel which goes deeper underground than any other in the world. Why is it the deepest? Well they wouldn’t uncover secret nests of 65 million year old insects if they built a normal tunnel would they? Cue another few minutes of the film giving us the most basic character development for the main characters which pretty much involves their names being introduced (characters include the detective hunting a serial killer and, my favourite, the slimy corporate type who tries to cover up the attack because it will harm his business!) and you’re set.

At a slim running time of eighty-two minutes including credits, the film has to get down to business quickly and dispenses with most of the usual banter. We’re thrown into the fire-fights and mass-slaying of characters pretty early on until we get down to the small bunch of survivors trying to make it out alive. Think Aliens without pretty much any of the decent stuff in it and you’re almost there with Bugs. Compare the two: a squad of armed people being taken out by the creatures of the title, the creatures showing their intelligence by hunting the survivors down and probing for weaknesses and a finale in which one of the main characters fights the queen with a big piece of machinery. Bugs is pretty much that film without all of the non-action bits in it.

Antonio Sabato Jr. was once a promising TV star in one of those cheesy American soaps but has since been relegated to scores of really crap low budget films, usually action films. Here he has branched out into more sci-fi territory but with similarly dire consequences. He’s not exactly a big draw so I don’t see the need for the cover boxes to include his name on the front. He has about as much screen presence as a rotten cabbage. His co-stars do no better, perhaps a little exception being the clichéd corporate slime ball who chews the scenery up just like any suit who wants to protect his business in these monster flicks. That is such a clichéd character that I actually raise a little cheer every time it pops up in a film. Jaws has a lot to be thankful for.

Oh, I guess you want to know what the bugs are like. Well you should know by now that these low rent films employ low rent CGI to produce their monsters. Bugs is no exception to that rule and gives us plenty of bugs which look totally out of place with their surroundings. Some scenes including the train massacre seem to have forgotten to include the bugs when characters are falling down dead as if they ran out of money to put them in there. There are a few minor make-up effects for the bugs but they are few and far between.

 

Dire. Simply dire. I can’t really sum up the film any other way. Get out the Raid because these Bugs are going to suck the life out of you in more ways than one.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Empire of the Ants (1977)

Empire of the Ants (1977)

For they shall inherit the earth… sooner than you think!

A sleazy scam artist tries to sell fake real estate-deals on a small island in the Florida Everglades. But no one realises that the island is populated by giant ants which have grown to enormous size thanks to illegally-dumped radioactive waste.

 

From the man who brought us such genre tragedies as The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth Vs The Spider comes this possibly even worse piece of bottom-of-the-bin rubbish. Bert I. Gordon made a name for himself in the 50s with a couple of terrible sci-fi flicks which have gone on to become cult classics and popular source of mockery on things like Mystery Science Theater 3000. Even in the 50s, his films were laughable, filled with ‘special’ effects which have become renowned for their dreadfulness. But the guy was back in the 70s to make the same sort of films, using the same sort of effects techniques and in full colour this time around. As well as The Food of the Gods released in the previous year, Gordon brought to life Empire of the Ants, apparently based on short story written by H.G. Wells (I use the term loosely as there’s no doubt he simply borrowed the title and junked the rest). When you think of Wells, you immediately think of classic cinematic adaptations like The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, and rightly so. To even consider Empire of the Ants in the same light as such classics would have the writer turning over in his grave.

Empire of the Ants takes the concept of the old 50s films and tries to just rehash the same formula. But there’s a reason that they fell out of fashion and this film does nothing to address any of the inherent weaknesses or just lack of interest that such a genre film would have twenty years down the line. Genuinely inept in just about everything it does, Empire of the Ants is the ultimate trash flick. Perhaps if Gordon had decided to poke a bit of fun at the genre and include a few laughs and knowing winks then the film might have been entertaining. But unfortunately he plays it totally straight, keeping everything deadly serious even in the most ridiculous moments of disbelief. I guess most of the preposterous goings-on are made more hilarious by the fact that everyone is so straight-laced and deadpan about it.

There’s also a distinct lack of pacing and energy throughout the film. It takes way too long to get going and even when the ants do start picking off the characters, there’s no real sense of urgency about proceedings. What is really laughable about Empire of the Ants is that it starts off being a silly little ‘giant monsters on the loose’ flick reminiscent of the cheap 50s sci-fi flicks but then towards the end it turns into some ridiculous ‘ants out for world domination’ flick as the queen sprays victims with pheromones in a glass booth which turns them into zombie-like slaves who toil in the ants’ sugar mines. It’s a nice twist to the story but it just tacks on another twenty minutes or so when the film could quite easily have ended around the hour mark. And the eventual execution of such a twist is pathetic at best.

Empire of the Ants is most notorious for some of the most embarrassing special effects you’re ever going to see. Photographically-enlarged ants are superimposed in front of the actors in some scenes. In others it seems that they just consist of matte shots of real ants scurrying over photographs of the sets. Oh and not forgetting the stupid-looking puppets used in close-ups and attack scenes which look to have been lifted from the rubbish dump. The special effects never mesh well with each other. At times, it’s as if the screen is seemingly split into two – one half is footage of the actors and the other half is the photograph with the ants crawling over it. The clear distinction between the two with varying colours and saturation obviously wasn’t noticed or no one in post-production believed that anyone would notice. It sticks out like a sore thumb!

The first time that the ants attack looks laughable and is good for a chuckle but Gordon just repeats the same process for each successive encounter. So by the time the ants are on to their seventh victim, you’ll know exactly what to expect. But the victims won’t die quick enough for your liking, no matter how dull the process is.

That’s because it’s such a lifeless cast, full of cardboard cut-out characters. Joan Collins has said that this was the worst film she ever made and there wouldn’t be too many people arguing that. Collins is terrible as the slimy realtor but her performance is matched by the equally-as-abysmal supporting cast. I bet it was a relief to everyone when principal photography finished!

 

Empire of the Ants is unintentionally lame, extremely laughable and downright terrible. It would have looked out of place in the 50s but it stands out a mile in the late-70s when the likes of Star Wars and Jaws were hitting the big screens. They don’t make them like this anymore….in fact it’s hard to say whether they ever did in the first place!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster from Green Hell (1957)

Monster from Green Hell (1957)

Atomic mutations with an appetite for flesh!

When a US experimental rocket stays in space longer than it should do, the test wasps aboard are exposed to unhealthy levels cosmic radiation. The rocket crash lands in Africa and soon there are strange reports of monsters from a region known by the natives as “Green Hell.” The scientific team responsible for the testing go to Africa to find out the truth.

 

One of the last of the giant radiation-mutated monster flicks to come out of America in the 50s, Monster from Green Hell is one of the worst and lesser known efforts. This sci-fi genre was on the slide and it’s embarrassing to think that this was released in the same year as Hammer was revolutionizing the horror with The Curse of Frankenstein in all of its glorious Gothic colour.

It’s not really the fault of the monsters that the film is rubbish – the giant wasps don’t look that bad. It’s just the film is so talky and you hardly get to see them. A good half of Monster from Green Hell is spent with the science expedition trekking across Africa, stumbling across hostile tribes and poisonous rivers, losing porters and dying of thirst. You’d have thought the fact they had to travel on foot for 27 days to reach their destination would have spurred some editing and maybe some sort of ‘travel montage’ of the actors in various poses and scenes to show us in brief that they were walking. I would have bought it. That would have freed up plenty more screen time for the monsters. But instead of just skimming it over and making the audience believe they’ve travelled that far, we actually have to sit through it and watch every painful footstep.

In reality this is just a cheap ploy to cram as much stock footage in here from other films to save the cost and pad the running time. There’s plenty of shots of elephants stampeding, footage culled from Stanley and Livingstone of the hostile tribe chasing the expedition (the characters in this one even dress the same so that it looks like the footage is freshly shot) and they even throw in some vultures for good measure with a pointless poison river which isn’t explained nor mentioned for the rest of the film.

Finally the expedition get to the village but then it’s another ten minutes before they set off to ‘Green Hell’ meaning there’s a gap of at least forty minutes before monster sightings. Then there’s a random stop motion wasp fighting a stop motion snake scene (if the characters were worried about the giant wasps, then why the hell aren’t they worried about the giant snake which is just as big and deadly?). I get the idea that the plot was driven by the type of stock footage that they had to use and so the characters do things accordingly.

Eventually they find the wasps’ nest and you’d think this would lead to some big wasps versus humans finale in which two of the minor characters would be killed and the two heroes survive and get the girl. But you’re completely wrong and the group find themselves trapped inside a cave away from the wasps. Cue another ten minutes of fumbling in the dark trying to find a way out. And as soon as they do, the volcano erupts and kills off the wasps. This ‘finale’ simply involves all of the preceding shots of the wasps being double exposed into the picture and it looks ridiculous. One of these double exposures is jet black and moves only vertically, sticking it out of the screen like a sore thumb. It’s such a cop out ending and a complete kick in the ribs to anyone who has suffered the indignity of watching the rest of the film. The monsters are probably on screen for a total of five minutes and simply consist of a really static giant head model which is rolled out onto the set from the background props. At least they’ve got some original sounds and the buzzing that they make is memorable, even if you never see much of them.

 

Monster from Green Hell is a bog standard monster movie which offers little excitement and monsters and lots of boredom and stock footage. Some examples of this genre manage to pull it off quite well (Them! for instance) but this doesn’t.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Deadly Mantis, The (1957)

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

This Was the Day That Engulfed the World in Terror!

A volcanic eruption in the South Seas causes polar icebergs to shift, releasing a giant prehistoric praying mantis from its centuries-old icy confines. It slowly begins to work its way south from the North Pole towards New York, killing and destroying everything in its path.

 

A classic dose of 50s sci-fi rubbish, The Deadly Mantis is your traditional giant bug flick in which all manner of wooden actors get flustered when a flying fiend terrorizes America. Making a minor change of plot by not having the monster created by an atomic blast, the film shares many characteristics with the earlier Them!, a much better take on the 50s giant monster genre. Directed by Nathan Juran, the man responsible for my favourite film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Deadly Mantis is sluggish and I use that term mildly.

It takes an eternity to get going, opting to act as some form of pro-defence propaganda reel of America’s post-war capabilities. Much emphasis is placed upon the copious use of military stock footage, no doubt giving the running time a helping push in the right direction. Seriousness is the aim of the game in these 50s sci-fi flicks and The Deadly Mantis is no exception. Military characters bark out orders. Villagers flee in panic. Scientists argue like it’s the end of mankind. Even the guy doing the voiceover explaining the invention of radar at the beginning does so in a deadpan manner. I suppose there wouldn’t be any narrative if the characters all just stood and laughed at the creature. But at least they’d be doing something worthwhile instead of going through the motions. The human characters are dull and bland and there’s your generic forced romance between the male and female lead actors. However at few points during the film do they ever suggest anything worthwhile of a romance yet seem to pander to type by the end of the film by sharing a moment of intimacy after the creature has been slain.

The mantis makes its first cameo appearance at around the thirty-three minute mark. The creature looks no better or worse than you’d expect from a 50s science fiction flick. It’s not stop motion but a giant puppet which menaces a lot of cheap-looking miniature sets. The mantis looks creepy enough and has enough spark about it to actually look terrifying in a few scenes. Nathan Juran’s best shots of the creature are when it emerges from the fog-drenched tunnel right at the finale. Unfortunately for the majority of the film, the creature is nowhere to be seen and rarely do you see it doing any damage. Whenever it attacks someone or something, the film conveniently fades out to another scene, only hinting at what happened to the bus, the sailors on the boat or any number of other victims. We don’t actually see it eat anyone so maybe the scientists just got it wrong? Innocent until proven guilty I say.

 

The Deadly Mantis is one of the last of the 50s sci-fi flicks with giant monsters on the loose and it shows. Devoid of anything fresh, featuring a tired storyline, an over-use of stock footage and peppered with lifeless characters, it’s no surprise to see this drop off the radar whilst true classics likes Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms reign supreme.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆