Tag Insects

Food of the Gods, The (1976)

The Food of the Gods (1976)

One Taste Is All It Takes!

When a mysterious substance starts bubbling up from the ground on a remote island in British Columbia, a local farmer believes it is a gift from God and decides to feed it to his chickens, causing them to grow to enormous size. However, rats, grubs and wasps also feed on the substance and soon the giant monsters infest the island, which causes problems for other civilians who are visiting.


Based on a ‘portion’ of a novel by H.G. Wells (that should read, literally no resemblance to the story whatsoever because a portion could literally be one word!) and brought to the screen by notorious director Bert I. Gordon, of The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth Vs The Spider fame, known for his love of directing movies featuring super-sized creatures, The Food of the Gods is one of the 70s ‘nature runs amok’ movies where Mother Nature had decided to take revenge upon mankind by unleashing a slew of beasts and disasters upon the Earth. It doesn’t bode well and that’s before the review has even properly begun.

The Food of the Gods is an atrociously made low budget film, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its reputation precedes, probably because it’s deadly serious. There’s no messing around here with the way these animals deal with their human lunches, and the cautionary environmental messages are still prevalent today with worries about genetically modified crops and plastic entering the food chain. The Food of the Gods gets straight down to business within the first seven minutes, dispatching a character, showing us the threats and giving us as much story exposition as you’re going to get to explain everything. Don’t even try to think of plausible reasons as to what the substance is or why it exists because you won’t get any. As cheesy and preposterous as things get during the running time, the film itself doesn’t cross over into parody or cheesiness. Everything is played with a straight face and it surprisingly works the better for it.

This stretches to the cast. The characters are dull; the actors behind them aren’t great. The Food of the Gods isn’t exactly your Shakespearean actor type of film, and the limited dialogue the cast have got here doesn’t do much to give them any sort of personality or characteristics. They’re not really fleshed out enough other than to provide names so other characters can lament them when they’re rat chow. In a world where rats and chickens have grown to enormous sizes, the characters do remarkably well to maintain their composure when faced with such absurd sights. A little more hysteria would have added to the film’s drama, with the two younger female characters being the only two to really seem to worry about dying at the hands of these rats.

Gordon’s Beginning of the End back in 1957 featured some truly awful special effects but here we go, nineteen years later, and it seems that the director has remained static in his approach – only this time, he’s not able to mask them as easily with the black and white footage. There’s no stop motion here, no animatronic models or the equivalent – Gordon has the budget of a postage stamp to bring to life these mutated monsters and so a mixture of giant rat and chicken puppet heads for close-ups, real footage of rats rear-projected or shoddy matte work is used to bring these beasties to life. The chicken head provides the film’s most ridiculous scene, when one of the characters strays inside the barn and is attacked by a crew member working the head in front of the camera. The wasps look like brown blobs during their moment in the spotlight. It’s up to the rats to anchor the film and they are the main threat here – a larger variety of animals would have worked better because the rats quickly overstay their welcome. I’m pretty sure there are shots of rats drowning and being shot with a paintball gun – some scenes seem to feature dead rats lying prone whilst their comrades scurry over them – which adds a little sour taste in the mouth. But the effects, for as pathetic as they look, do take a painstaking lot of time to get right and Gordon’s attention to detail has to be commended, even if the final results are laughable.

There is enough shock and gore here to satisfy horror fans though. The kills flow thick and fast and there’s a fair bit of blood splashed around, particularly when the rats get hungry and start nibbling away. I can’t think of too many more squeamish things than seeing rats like this and they will get under your skin, as silly as the blown-up footage looks. The idea that there is some sort of ‘head rat’ – an albino with pink eyes that hangs around in the background whilst the brown rats do all of the dirty work – is laughable but adds for one last jump at the end. The film goes all Night of the Living Dead for the finale, as the survivors barricade themselves in the farmhouse as the rats launch their final onslaught.


The Food of the Gods is rightfully lambasted as a terrible B-movie but it’s not all doom and gloom. Embrace the cheapness of Gordon’s butchered version of an H.G. Wells story and there’s a lot of entertainment to be had. There’s a good reason this has become a cult classic over the years.





Infestation (2009)

Infestation (2009)

Prepare for Global Swarming

Lifelong slacker Cooper is in the process of getting fired from his call centre job when everyone in the office is suddenly blinded by a bright light and falls unconscious. Waking up, Cooper finds himself feeling nauseous and covered in webbing. After breaking free of his cocoon, he is attacked by a huge beetle which he able to fend off. Waking up more of his co-workers without the faintest idea of what happened, Cooper decides to lead his rag-tag group of survivors to his father’s bomb shelter outside the city where they find that giant insects have overrun the entire planet.


Sounds original, eh? Another low budget film with ambitions of grandeur? If it’s not the umpteenth ‘zombie apocalypse on a two dollar budget’ cliché then its some ‘killer bugs try to take over the world made for the price of a hot meal and shower’ nonsense.  Most films that try to take on the planet with their overblown ambition end up suffering as a result – they promise ‘end of the world’ scenarios but typically deliver stories with only a handful of survivors in the same dull one-set locations which never give you the sense of apocalyptic scope that bigger budget films can convey. But then every once in a while, a film comes along which doesn’t hit the high vision of the mainstream blockbusters but manages to blow the socks out of its low budget opposition. Say hello to Infestation, a daft low budget movie which is lots of fun and extremely hard not to like.

When a story as tired and well-worn as Infestation sports trudges its way into the spot light, there’s only so much originality that writers can come up with to keep the material fresh. So the focus of the script goes towards keeping the audience entertained even though the clichés roll out thick and fast. Infestation is the perfect example of a film that you’ll have seen before and can predict with great accuracy just where it’s heading at every point. But the pacing is brisk and the initial bug attack happens within the first few minutes to get the ball rolling quickly. The story doesn’t bother with explaining what they are, where they came from or why they’re here – the only thing anyone needs to worry about is the fact that they are here and hungry. The only problem with the whole notion of the bug attack is the sense of scope that the supposedly city-wide (or even nation-wide, we never know) infestation is very limited due to the low budget.

The film isn’t laugh out loud funny but there are enough amusing lines to keep things ticking over smoothly without ever feeling forced. Unfortunately at times the film doesn’t really know whether it wants to play straight or funny, striking an uneasy balance between the two. Case in point is a slightly awkward scene which provides the film’s token nudity as mentally-unhinged weather girl Cindy strips off and tries to seduce Cooper. You’re not sure whether to laugh at what is going on or feel a bit alarmed as the lass is clearly in distress and the situation shouldn’t really be funny. It’s not the only moment where the film isn’t quite comfortable with straight or silly.

The bugs themselves are mainly rendered in CGI and they’re good for what they need to be, not played for laughs but given enough to do to turn them into a very serious threat. The film isn’t very gory in the traditional sense but the make-up artists have a field day with old school 80s gloop and slime, showering the cast in blown-up bug parts whenever possible. The combination of the two styles of effects work well and given that most of the film is shot during the day, the low budget CGI effects work better than they have any right to do.

Though the bugs are the focal point of the film, this is essentially a road movie centred on the character of Cooper and him finally growing up and taking some responsibility for his life. Along the way there is the opportunity for him to mend the broken father-son bond and for him to become a man. Chris Marquette is really good in the lead role. Yes the character is one we’ve seen countless times before but Marquette instils the character with a nice amount of natural charm, rattling off a few dry jokes and using some great mannerisms to get across his character’s reluctance to put himself in any harm.

The romantic subplot between Cooper and the lovely Sara (played by the delectable Brooke Nevin) never seems forced: Cooper continually hitting on her throughout the film eventually wins her over but even then there’s no dramatic kissing or “I love you” moment – just two young people who have bonded in a romantic way. It’s nice to see a romance which doesn’t feel forced down our throats simply because Hollywood narrative cinema dictates that a heterosexual romance is a necessity in every film. Ray Wise steals the show as Cooper’s dad and gets most of the best lines even though he doesn’t show up till about two thirds into the film. But that’s a testament to Wise’s ability as a great character actor.


Infestation is good old fashioned low budget monster movie entertainment. Light-hearted, good-natured and consistently entertaining , it’s the perfect example of how low budget comedy horrors should set about their task. Everyone involved gets right behind the film and its intention right from the start and the final product is a testament to their efforts. I wouldn’t say no to a sequel.





Locusts (2005)

Locusts (2005)

If you can hear the buzz, it’s already too late

Dr Peter Axelrod has been genetically experimenting on locusts in a US research facility. But when Department of Agriculture scientist Maddy Rierdon shuts his project down for fear of what may happen in the locusts get out into the world, her worst fears are confirmed. Some locusts escape captivity and begin breeding in the wild at an alarming speed. Soon becoming a national threat when they start attacking planes, Maddy and her colleagues face a race against time to stop the locusts before it is too late.


I guess because I’d first seen the sequel, Vampire Bats (which is virtually unrelated save for the main character) that I thought Locusts would be the same sort of low budget creature feature nonsense featuring Lucy Lawless. But I was wrong on most grounds and Locusts plays out like a TV movie disaster movie in documentary-style fashion – more like something that you’d see from the 70s. Rife with clichés, cardboard characters and an overriding sense of “why bother?” it’s a wonder this ever made it to television. And if it did, I would bet that it didn’t show any earlier than 2am.

Locusts lacks any form of surprises. Or excitement. Its hackneyed drivel which would fill a late night TV schedule without any question…and any viewers too. You can watch it and as soon as you’ve finished, you’ll never remember anything that happened because it’s all so instantly forgettable. If the script isn’t bogged down enough with all of the over-used clichés (bickering couple as the main characters; scientist trying to right his wrongs; army desperate to blow everything up; etc), then its swamped with some truly pedestrian dialogue which the actors are forced to recite. The usual ‘race against the clock’ plot skims through the customary set pieces with minimal thrills and spills. Sleepwalking isn’t a term I’d used to describe the film but that’s precisely what happens.

The characters are all thinly-written stereotypes who generate no emotional response with the intended audience. I guess it’s because we’ve seen them all before in similar films and we know that a magic ‘reset button’ solution is just around the corner in the script so they’ll never be put in any real danger throughout the duration of the film because everything will turn out rosy in the end. Speaking of which, the eventual resolution to the film involves electrifying barn silos or some rubbish. I’d pretty much tuned out by that point. It’s a real grind to get to the finale  so if you do, congratulations.

Lucy Lawless looks to have fallen upon hard times since her cult status in Xena: Warrior Princess. It’s a shame because not only is she good looking but she’s a decent actress with the right material (anyone who has seen the TV series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena will know what I mean on both counts). Sadly, the right material is not on display here and she is wasted in a thanklessly one-note role which could have been given to any lesser talented actress with the same results. Though perhaps she really needs to give herself a fighting chance – the first time you see her in the film, she’s slumming around on a bed with an open gown. Co-star John Heard will be more recognisable to legions of people across the world as Macaulay Culkin’s dad in Home Alone.

The locusts look alright. I guess. Most of the time they’re just a big black blur in the sky as the swarm moves from town to town but when they do land and there’s an odd close-up, they look like nature documentary material. You never really get the sense that they pose much of a threat to people despite being able to bring down planes.


Locusts looks and feels like an extended episode of The X-Files. It’s a ninety minute late night TV movie which is simply intended to pad out schedules rather than entertain it’s audience. Pointless springs to mind.





Black Swarm (2007)

Black Swarm (2007)

Intelligent. Deadly. And Out To Destroy Us. Meet The Ultimate Buzz-Kill.

Ten years after leaving the small town of Black Stone when her husband died, Jane Kozik returns with her young daughter to take up the role of sheriff. Shortly after returning, a homeless man is found dead with what appears to be a number of wasp stings. An entomologist and the local exterminator, who also happens to be Jane’s ex and the twin brother of her dead husband, are called in to investigate. But these aren’t ordinary stings and the trail leads them to Eli Giles, a scientist who developed a genetically engineered wasp as a weapon for the army but is now on the run.


A bizarre offering from the Sci-Fi Channel as part of their ‘Maneater’ series, Black Swarm meshes the traditional insects run amok in a small town story with some random zombification side-story. Despite the weirdness of the story, Black Swarm still runs very much the same as every other film of its type. Only it’s all very lightweight. There’s just something lack with this film which never gives it any ‘oomph.’ There’s not a massive amount of action (or excitement for that matter) and the horror elements are kept to a bare minimum. Black Swarm isn’t a film which goes through the motions rather it skims over them.

At the bottom line, Black Swarm is dull and that’s probably being generous. There’s just no real tension or visual stimulation to get the audience involved with what is going on. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the editing, which is jerky and disjointed at times and seems to skip whole swathes of plot out from time to time, leading to jumps in continuity. I’m not sure it’s just the fault of the script. Caught between wanting to be a killer insect flick and a zombie flick, Black Swarm doesn’t juggle either element properly. These wasps don’t just kill their victim, they turn them into some sort of zombie-like drones that they can control and then burst out from whenever they need a sneak attack moment. Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it. There are some vague attempts to explain that the wasps use humans as ‘hosts’ to do their bidding but it’s never really given much conviction so you just have to take it for what it’s for – a daft part of the story which no doubt sounded good on paper.

Even in their zombie state, the infected townspeople continue to go about their daily business. Uninfected characters don’t bat even the faintest of eyelids at the likes of the gaunt-faced, boil-ridden priest who grunts and staggers around the church as the mayor attempt to converse with him or a zombified traffic cop being asked questions as if the glazed look on his face was normal. To see these zombies walking around town without anyone questioning them is just crazy writing. Though this writing is more lazy than anything, proven with the sudden aggression and act of murder of the morgue zombie which is totally out of synch with what the rest of the zombies in the town were doing.

Horror legend Robert Englund gets the token ‘mad scientist’ role though his eventual character arc is somewhat different to what one would expect from the man behind Freddy Kruger and many other just as detestable horror characters. Sarah Allen makes for a likeable and attractive lead as Sheriff Kozik and equally as appealing is her on-screen daughter Kelsey played by Rebecca Windheim. Normally I’m the first to complain at the inclusion of a child as one of the main characters but little Miss Windheim is as sweet as they come. Some of the scenes she shares with Englund have a nice warm feeling to them. In fact all of the main characters are decent enough, from the twin brother exterminator to the blind babysitter and everyone in the roles makes the characters nice and friendly enough to want to see survive. This doesn’t happen all of the time so I’ve got to take some small mercies from Black Swarm!

The awkward love story that develops between the sheriff and her ex-flame and previously-deceased husband’s twin brother is as contrived as it comes. Everything falls together just the way you’d expect it to, though the inevitable scene in which the two characters declare their feelings for each other and reveal some home truths about the past could not have been timed any worse. Even Englund’s character uncomfortably looks on as the two love birds kiss and make up and generally spend ages doing it whilst they should have been doing something life-saving like getting out of the warehouse in which the wasps have nested. The wasps are all CGI – understandable given our inability to control real life wasps – but you rarely see a close-up of one, save for a few shots inside the secret lab. The rest of the time, the wasps are just shown in their swarm form. They don’t really do that much during the course of the film.


Black Swarm makes an effort to develop characters in the beginning of the film so it’s interesting to note that this is the only part of the film worth highlighting. They’re likeable enough to make you care for them but it’s a pity that they don’t have much to work with or go up against. Half-assed zombies and cameo-role wasps aren’t exactly riveting to watch.


Beginning of the End (1957)

Beginning of the End (1957)

Filmed in New Horrorscope!

As the remains of a crushed car are found with no sign of the occupants, the police also receive a report that the nearby town of Ludlow has been completely destroyed. Reporter Audrey Ames is driving through that part of the country when she reaches an army road block which prevents her from going to Ludlow, or where she thinks it still is. Sensing a big story, she decides to investigate further and finds out that radioactive material at a nearby government testing station has caused vegetables to grow to enormous proportions – and the local locust population has been feasting upon it, in turn making them grow to gigantic proportions.


Bert I. Gordon, famous for some atrocious (some would consider cult) sci-fi films he made in the 50s (The Amazing Colossal Man and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast, Earth Vs The Spider) and then later in the 70s (Empire of the Ants, The Food of the Gods), is the man at the helm of this one, a late and wholly feeble entry into the 50s ‘atomic monster’ movies. They were all the rage back in the decade, as fears of atomic testing and what damage radiation could do to our planet were the talking point on everyone’s lips.

After the success of Them! in 1954 with it’s giant ants, everyone quickly tried to find the next best thing: scorpions (The Black Scorpion), spiders (Tarantula, Earth Vs The Spider), praying mantis (erm, The Preying Mantis), molluscs (The Monster That Challenged the World) and wasps (Monster from Green Hell). Yeah granted molluscs was pushing it a bit, though to be fair the film did a reasonable job of turning them into a threat. Perhaps the least frightening of the lot is the sound of a horde of giant grasshoppers which, let’s face it, sound about as scary as a giant mushroom.

Gordon does little to convince the audience that these grasshoppers exist in the same universe as everyone else, let alone turn them into some sort of threat. His notoriously appalling special effects are in abundance here (he does them himself) and the sad thing is that over the years with his later films, they never really got better either. The grasshoppers consist of a copious amount of magnified stock footage clips and some lousy low-budget rear projection. This is all fine and good when the stock footage army is trying to destroy them in the middle part of the film (even this gets boring because there’s no interaction between either humans or bugs at any point). But when the grasshoppers finally get stuck into Chicago, the special effects consist of little more than real grasshoppers crawling over photos of the Windy City! You heard that right – photos! The effect is as terrible as it sounds. Gordon couldn’t even be bothered to make a model of anything to allow his grasshoppers to crawl over.

Having said all of this, dialogue is the most devastating weapon that Beginning of the End has in its arsenal. Instead of showing things like the destruction of Ludlow for instance, the film resorts to dialogue and the shocked reactions of the actors to convey what it is happening. At first, you think that the whole film could end up going this direction and not show anything at all but thankfully (or maybe not considering the quality of the special effects) the grasshoppers do eventually show up and at least the pace is picked up after a dreadful opening. Beginning of the End fails to grab hold of your attention at any point, monotonously trotting out the usual array of scientific jargon, forced love interests between hero and heroine and lots of military guys running around telling people what to do.

Peter Graves, who would later go on to find fame in the TV series of Mission: Impossible and even greater fame as Captain Oveur in Airplane!, plays it deadly serious as the scientist. In fact Graves’ stern delivery makes everything else seem all the more silly. He’s not alone in this respect. Try and keep a straight face when regular rent-a-general Morris Ankrum suggests that the only solution to the crisis is to drop an atomic bomb onto Chicago. Talk about over-reacting!


I shouldn’t feel aggrieved about watching a film with giant grasshoppers that features special effects as bad as this – some would say I get what I deserve and that is correct. Beginning of the End is a low budget Z-film which clearly and ineptly cashes in on the atomic monster craze of the 50s. Maybe if you have a grasshopper fetish or want to see how not to create special effects, there might be something of interest here otherwise you’re better off sticking with the more famous 50s monster movies.





Bug Buster (1998)

Bug Buster (1998)

There’s something creepy in the neighbourhood…

A small lakeside community is plagued by killer cockroaches which can grow up to ten feet long. So the townspeople call in an over-the-top exterminator from TV to try and solve their bug problem.


If you ever wondered how badly George Takei and James Doohan needed work after their Star Trek films dried up then look no further than Bug Buster, a dopey ‘monsters on the loose in a small town’ flick which desperately tries to sell itself as the next big cult B-movie but fails in almost every aspect. Takei and Doohan are slumming badly in this hokey effort that assumes that being inept and goofy every two minutes is the key to becoming a funny horror parody.

There’s nothing to distinguish Bug Buster from the dozens of other creature feature films released in the 90s, save for the two Star Trek alumni present. It sticks rigidly to the traditional templates that these films follow and there’s little deviation from the well-walked path. Shady business dealings that need to go through regardless of the presence of the monster. Corrupt local authority figures desperately ignoring the threat of the menace. Townspeople that no one will believe until it’s too late. And you can keep going. Unfortunately whilst treading this path, the pace of the film is hellish slow. It takes ages to get into gear but stops and starts too many times.

When a film seems more concerned with referencing other films instead of getting its own house in order first, you know that there’s a definite sense of missed priorities. We know that the writers have seen Jaws because the film follows the typical monster-on-the-loose tropes but just to be on the safe side, it actually has the sheriff mention the film in speaking. There are also references to Outbreak, A Nightmare on Elm Street and strangely enough, The Wizard of Oz. It all adds up to make a mockery of the script, which flits between the moronic and the monotonous. You get the constant sense that Bug Buster is trying too hard to be liked.

How do the Star Trek alumni fare? Not great it has to be said. Takei is too eccentric and stereotypical as the slightly off-beat Japanese scientist and never actually shares a scene with anyone else in the film. He’s off in some lab somewhere and is being contacted by one of his students for help. Doohan, well, he’s even worse as the town sheriff. The Scooby-Doo style revelation at the end of the film is so badly under-acted and was begging for someone to do a moustache-twirling villain-like explain all diatribe. Doohan just isn’t comfortable trying to be an asshole and it shows with his weak delivery. I don’t think he was comfortable ‘interacting’ with the CGI bugs either, flailing his arms pathetically as a CGI bug attacks him late on. But hey, at eighty year old when he filmed this, I can’t knock him too much as he is given one of the bigger roles. But I think name value was more important when he was cast and the fact they could slap another Star Trek name on the cover was obviously higher on the attributes list than acting talent.

Topping off the scales of the bizarre casting is Randy Quaid. He’s clearly been at the coffee again and brings his usual brash, loudmouth, in your face attributes to the role of General George, the bug exterminator, and clearly some sort of poor man’s imitation of John Goodman’s character from Arachnophobia. At least Quaid is consistent in his performances so you know what you’re going to get. Quaid pops up quite often in the commercials on TV but doesn’t get to battle the bugs until the very end which is a bit of a shame. As manic and annoying as he can get, at least Quaid knows what he’s starring in and attempts to inject a bit of life. A young Katherine Heigl also stars.

The bugs themselves don’t get a lot of screen time, a mixture of CGI monstrosities and real-live bugs. There are a couple of scenes involving the real bugs which will have you squirming in your seat but all of the CGI moments are too badly rendered. Take for instance the giant ‘mother roach’ which attacks Doohan’s sheriff character late in the film and never once looks like it’s doing anything to him. There is plenty of and blood and goo but it’s more icky than outright horrible.


Bug Buster is simply bottom rung drivel. The cast is poor, the special effects are beyond awful and the film fails to provide any degree of entertainment save for the laughable sight of Takei and Doohan really badly needing a better paid gig.





Them! (1954)

Them! (1954)


Atomic testing in New Mexico causes normal ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters. Tracking the queens, a team of scientists discover that the ants are nesting in the sewer system of Los Angeles and with the way they are multiplying in number, could threaten the world within weeks.


One of the earliest of the 50s ‘atomic monster’ movies, Them! was the first one to feature mutated insects as its main threat which would become the genre norm in the years following (with the world having survived the onslaught of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 and Godzilla in 1954).Spiders, a giant mantis, locusts and giant antimatter space buzzards would all start to terrorise the world throughout the rest of the decade but it is with Them! that the roots of the genre are sown. The first one is also the best one by a country mile.

Them! is rightfully heralded as a sci-fi classic and it’s easy to see why. Director Gordon Douglas creates a suspenseful film in which its success is based upon how well you stomach the notion of giant mutated ants running amok in the desert. Thankfully the first-rate script does a fantastic job of building everything up nicely throughout the opening half: the appearance of the traumatised girl, a local store found destroyed, giant footprints in the sand, a state trooper goes missing off-screen. It all gives credible evidence to a serious threat and the ants are nowhere to be seen – but at least heard. The ants are given an effectively eerie high pitch shrieking noise which indicates their presence even if they aren’t sighted. And that they won’t be for a good portion of the film. This can get dialogue-heavy at times but that doesn’t detract from the quality on show.

It is the film’s cast of characters that have to keep driving the film forward and with the strong cast, they do just that. James Whitmore and James Arness make for likeable leads with Edmund Gwenn providing the scientific jargon with his elderly scientist. Gwenn steals the show with some seriously downbeat lines but he’s also there to throw in some minor comic relief from time to time. Watching him boss about the two younger men during action sequences is quite funny with the doddery old Gwenn leaving the physical side of the film to his co-stars. Also of note is Joan Wheldon who plays what would be considered the female love interest although the film is less concerned with providing a soppy romantic sub-plot than it is having Wheldon’s character at least attempt to portray some intelligence and self-control.

Finally when the ants do appear, all of the talk, the jargon and the plot hints have been building up nicely so that their impact is immediate. The ants are brought to life through the use of giant mechanical creations and although they may look a little dated nowadays, they still cause quite a stir whenever they’re on screen because at least there’s a physical presence for the actors to interact with, fending off mandibles and claws in desperation. Even then, Douglas tries to mask the failings of the ants, hiding them in the dark for the finale or battering the camera with sandstorms in a bid to cover everything up.

The final climax in the storm sewers of Los Angeles is a barnstorming way to end the film. Using the cramped and dark location to good advantage, the cinematographer creates an ominous setting where it is literally a struggle for survival between the army and the ants. Whilst other films were content to show famous landmarks being destroyed above ground, Them! proves that it could portray such an out-of-sight struggle and still be as effective in delivering an exciting spectacle. This finale in particular seems to be a prototype for any number of modern classics where people go looking for monsters in dark, labyrinthian settings.


Them! is classic 50s sci-fi at its most thought-provoking and entertainingly ludicrous. Why settle for second best with The Giant Mantis or Tarantula?  Watch Them!, the pinnacle of 50s atomic monster movies and a real gem of a long-lost genre of cinema. Giant bug flicks should never be as good as this.





Skeeter (1993)

Skeeter (1993)

Earth is the final breeding ground.

As the result of a local businessman illegally dumping toxic waste, the residents of a small desert town find themselves under attack by a swarm of giant mutated mosquitoes.


Though massive in the 50s, films about giant insects have never really made it back into the spotlight despite odd threats of resurgence every now and then. But in the glory days of the straight-to-video B movie market of the late 80s and early 90s, low budget creature feature films were all the rage. Be they Alien-style sci-fi horrors in outer space, post-apocalyptic creatures in futuristic landscapes or mutated monsters on the loose in small towns, it was a glory time for the video rental market. So in the early 90s, a handful of low budget giant insects films emerged and instantly reminded everyone of why there hadn’t been many of them made.

Skeeter is a pre-Sy Fy Channel flick before the company gained the monopoly on such rubbish monster movies. You know the score: small town, corrupt businessmen/scientists, monsters on the loose and any number of clichés regurgitated. Not only content with providing the heroes of the piece with a monster menace to face off against, these films also conjure up some human villains to bite into screen time and keep the plot focus firmly away from showing the monsters. In this case it’s a businessman and a corrupt sheriff but it could have been a mad scientist and mayor, a gangster and a doctor or any number of characters that crop up in these films. The bottom line is that providing a human villain allows the film to pad itself out greatly. He/she becomes the main focus and the monsters become almost secondary. That’s the case here as the mosquitoes get very little to do and it’s almost thirty minutes between the first attack and the next attack. There are a few numerous sub-plots (including the stereotypical big company trying to buy everyone out and cover it all up) and a lame romantic side story, which adds absolutely nothing to the film, except a non-graphic sex scene.

Though to say that there are big gaps between attacks, Skeeter seems to even make this time seem like an eternity with a pedestrian pace which just hinders any attempts to get any momentum injected into proceedings when the mosquitoes do attack. That said, when they do appear they look poor. Dragged along by invisible string, they are a far cry from the huge mosquito as pictured on the front cover and there aren’t that many of them. They’ve also got thermal vision (think Predator) which leads to a couple of POV attacks. A necessary ingredient of big bug flicks is to have plenty of goo and gunge when the bugs are destroyed and expect to see a decent amount of make-up effects as slime and all sorts of nasty fluids are dripped and splashed across the screen. It’s not an all-out gunk fest but does the job it needs to do.

Skeeter has little else going for it except Charles Napier who (surprise, surprise) plays the bad ass local sheriff. Napier can play these authority figures in his sleep and he’s on cruise control here. It’s a clichéd role but the rest of the parts are too. They’re so clichéd that the clichéd character is in danger of being a cliché itself! George ‘Buck’ Flower and Michael J. Pollard also appear in small roles, peppering the town with its customary collection of bums and weirdos to feed to the mosquitoes. I think back to the similarly-themed Mosquito which featured a throwaway but decent part for Gunnar Hansen (of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame) and played up the laughs and cheese a bit more and was infinitely more entertaining. Skeeter’s best hope would have been to turn itself into a light-hearted, self-aware romp instead of trying, and failing, to go down the serious route.


Never mind the giant mosquitoes – Skeeter alone will suck the life out of you. I don’t think it deserves the place it used to hold in IMDB’s Bottom 100 (it was there at time of original writing a few years ago) but it’s still pretty awful from the off.





Return of the Fly (1959)

Return of the Fly (1959)

Blood-curdling giant fly creature runs amuck!!!

Fifteen years after his father conducted a disastrous matter transportation experiment, Philippe Delambre attempts to create a similar device with the help of his assistant Alan Hinds. Alan has other motives and wants to sell the plans to the highest bidder. When Philippe finds out, Alan throws him into the device along with a fly, one of Philippe’s biggest fears after what happened to his father. Philippe rematerializes with the head and claw of a fly whilst the fly comes out with his head and hand. This time the creature has revenge on its mind.


Filmed in black and white as opposed to the lavish colour of the original, Return of the Fly is a far cry from the classic science fiction story that came before it. Now a watered-down cheap schlocky B-movie, Return of the Fly attempts more of the same with lesser production values and thus lesser results. We know where the film is heading and we know what is going to happen when human and fly are melded into one so any element of surprise is lost from the onset.

Return of the Fly leaves behind all of the ‘man losing his humanity’ character development of the original. Instead of being character-driven, this sequel opts for the more gratuitous monster-on-the-loose route, utilizing a series of then-grisly moments to lure the audience in and leaning towards cheap thrills instead of intelligent sci-fi.

I suppose you can’t be too hard on something like this. It’s old school. It’s rushed. It’s low budget. It’s the sort of throwaway sequel that the likes of The Sci-Fi Channel make nowadays so nothing much changes over the years. Return of the Fly contains little to get excited about, especially if you’ve seen the original. If you can buy the notion that Philippe shares the same fate as his father, then you’re off to a winner. Let’s face it, it’s a million-to-one accident which happens to the same family within the space of fifteen years – did they not think about making the machine fly-proof? Or did the writers not think about potentially changing the insect to a spider or something? Something to add a bit of originality to the story was needed but the film just rehashes more-or-less the same story as the original without the intelligence and without the drama and human connection. On the positive side, at least sets from the original were re-used and it adds a nice touch of continuity to proceedings. But after the brief nostalgia trip wears thin, the film ups the cheap thrills to compensate. Worst of all is when the police inspector is trapped in the machine with a guinea pig which ends in similar results to that of the fly. The little guinea pig is then squished underneath a big boot with a sickening squelching noise. This also means that the fly is shown a lot more than before, as the rule of sequels dictates.

In a silly move, the film dramatically increases the size of the fly’s head to ludicrous proportions. Explained in the film as a side effect of ‘gigantisim’ the head looks ridiculously over-sized and will cause spontaneous bouts of laughter as opposed to the desired shock-and-horror. The actor inside struggles to remain upright as the weight of the head would topple him if he made any sudden movement. He virtually walks around holding onto this papier-mâché head and desperately tries to act intimidating when there’s no doubt he can’t see what the hell is going on around him!

The short running time also means that the pace is a little too quick and events seem to be rushed and forced through. It’s eager to get to the transformation scenes and neglects to build its players up so that they can be knocked down. There’s little time for character development, a real pity considering Philippe is supposed to be the main focus of the film. How are the audience supposed to care for the character when he is transformed into the fly when we know as much about him as we do Alan and his cronies? Thankfully the thinly-written role suits Brett Halsey well. The hero of the piece can’t really handle the role so adding more depth and character to the part would have made things worse.

Vincent Price has more of a part to play here. No longer a supporting character like he was in the original, his role is fleshed out a little more, no doubt to give the film some credibility on the acting front since Price’s stock was rising considerably at the time. He didn’t do an awful lot in the first one except mope around with his raspy voice and unfortunately he does little more here. It’s hardly a challenging role and there’s no wonder Price was unhappy with the final script. It even lacks a decent finale although it would be near-impossible to top the original’s “help meeeee!” moment, surely one of the most iconic and memorable finales in history.


Return of the Fly has it’s moments but they’re too few and far between. Without the heart and soul of the original, this just becomes a generic 50s sci-fi flick with tacky special effects, weak characters and a criminal misuse of Vincent Price. Get out the fly spray because this is one insect you’ll want to eradicate before it has chance to ruin your day.





Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror (2006)

Caved-In: Prehistoric Terror (2006)

The ultimate threat. The gravest danger. Hidden in the earth.

Disguised as extreme adventurers, a group of thieves hire a caving expert to take them into an old mine in Switzerland which was shut down years earlier after a mysterious cave in. The thieves are looking for a hidden cavern full of emeralds but what they find there is a horde of hungry giant beetles.


Another Sci-Fi Channel production which has a kick ass DVD cover and sounds like a bit of fun, Caved In: Prehistoric Terror turns out to be more painful than having a tooth removed. I know recycling is good for the environment but someone needs to tell filmmakers that recycling films will not help the ozone layer any time soon. Caved In: Prehistoric Terror comes off as a really bad cross between The Descent and Starship Troopers….and a really bad one at that.

Things don’t look promising from the start when you’re given the back story to the mine and some not-very-good actors get sliced and diced by some even worse-looking beetles. Note to the director: If you’re going to kick things off by showing how bad your monsters are, then there’s no hope for the rest of the film. The miners could have easily been killed without revealing the beetles so early on and so the film wastes it trump card within the first five minutes. By now, you’re already too depressed knowing that you’ve got to suffer through another eighty minutes and worry that things won’t get any better. Believe me, they get somehow worse.

We’re introduced to the team of thieves. We know they’re bad guys because they’re foreign and one of them is bald with a goatee. They’ve got to be evil. We then move to the caving expert and his family, one of the least believable families I’ve seen for a long time, helmed by Christopher Atkins who seems to have a life sentence with the Sci-Fi Channel. Needless to say that putting all of these combustible characters together doesn’t make for pretty viewing, especially when none of them do anything straightforward. The main villain, Marcel, continues to make ridiculous mistakes which only hamper their efforts to get out alive. He only too willingly kills his men for dramatic effect when he should realise that seven people versus a horde of giant bugs is better than four. All the characters seem to do is run, shoot the bugs and run a bit more. Repeat this for about sixty minutes and you have the bulk of the film.

The bugs look bad, as I’ve already mentioned. How, why and what they are doing isn’t really important in a film like this – the fact that they are here is what matters. Arguably the worst-looking effects are the sets. We find out that, in a convenient state of affairs, the power to the mine still works so everything is lit up. However the sets are too well lit and it’s like walking in the daylight sun at times. Whatever happened to underground caves being pitch black? You never get the feeling they’re trapped underground – simply trapped in a second-rate set. Hell even The Cave managed to create some decent tension with its dark sets. If you’re going to have your film set in an old mine, at least make it look and sound like an old mine. There are a few rickety wooden boards but this looks like it was only closed yesterday, not fifty years or whatever it’s supposed to be.

On the positive side, the film does get quite gruesome at times. There are characters that get sliced in two and having their insides ripped out. And quite what Colm Meaney is doing here is anyone’s guess. The man is a decent actor who built himself a name on Star Trek and has found solid supporting work for a long time in lots of British and Irish films. The bad guys all snarl and blur into one caricature, with David Palffy being the worst of the bunch with his ‘Bad Guys for Dummies’ impression.


The commercial asks “What’s the only thing worse than being trapped inside a cave with huge bugs?” My answer: watching Caved In: Prehistoric Terror. I think someone was warning us ahead of time.