They’re so tiny. So easy to squish under foot without a second thought. But there are so many of them. Millions. Trillions. Quintllions. What would happen if they ever decided to turn against us? What would happen if insects decided to rid the world of humans and take their rightful place as kings and queens of the empire?
Such has been the premise of many great, and not so great, movies for decades. Many of said movies are so bad that they are almost unwatchable. However, there a few which stand out among the dreck. This is especially true if you’re not particularly strict with what constitutes an “insect movie.”
The films written about here are not the height of cinema in the classic sense. Yet they each offer something. A creative slant on a classic horror movie idea or a movie so of its sub-genre it practically defines it.
The best of these films provide a few thrills, some nice visuals and even a little bit to think about. The worst, probably a nice trip down memory lane and a few laughs.
They are the pick of a very large selection.
Among the others to chose from was a plethora of worthy contenders. Let me just name a few: TARANTULA, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, KILLER BEES, SAVAGE BEES, THE NEST, BUG, SQUIRM and so many, many more.
But I have my standards.
Before I present my list of stand-out insect movies, I wanted to say one more thing. Quintillion is a real number. There are approximately ten quintillion insects currently in the world. That’s this many: 10,000,000,000.000,000,000. And that’s a fact.
So, maybe the next time you have a creepy-crawler in your apartment and you’re thinking of sending him to the Great Bug Beyond, remember….he has a whole lot of friends.
And now, on to our list…
H-Bombs, Auschwitz, infidelity, espionage and insects. How could those elements not lead to a unique, in some ways, brilliant, take on the insect movie?
GENOCIDE is a Japanese film that came out in 1968. This is the movie that inspired this article. It was made by Shochiku, a studio known for its art films, period dramas and its house of highly regarded directors such as Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi.
In the late 60’s the studio started to have serious financial difficulties. In desperation, they thought they would foray into the youth driven, sci-fi market. The results were pretty unusual. Among these experiments are GOKE, BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL, GENOCIDE and THE X FROM OUTERSPACE.
GENOCIDE is the best of them. It deals with big themes, is visually interesting and is just plain weird in a great way. This is the basic plot….
An insect stings an American Air Force crew member who is already suffering from PTSD. The crew member goes nuts. Between that and a swarm of insects that flies into the plane’s engine, the plane crashes and both the crew and the H-Bombs the plane was carrying disappear on a remote Japanese island.
The island is already the home of many an interesting character including a man cheating on the woman he just married and a woman who endured unspeakable horrors at Auschwitz who now despises all humanity. Later, it is also populated by several very arrogant Americans attempting to recover the bomb and the foreign spies determined to reach it first.
And I haven’t even gotten to the part where the insects decide as a collective group that all humans must be exterminated before they can destroy the earth.
It all comes to a very bleak ending with a very memorable final scene.
Love it or hate it, GENOCIDE shows how far the insect horror genre can be stretched. If you can find it somewhere, watch it. There’s nothing quite like it.
This was a feature film directed by Saul Bass. The same Saul Bass internationally known as a graphic designer and the man behind the famous title sequences for such films as: VERTIGO, PSYCHO, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, ANATOMY OF A MURDER and SPARTACUS.
Disappointingly, PHASE IV is pretty conventional, visually. There are some moments, here and there, where you feel the genius of Bass. But they are few and far between. Most of this film is actually shot in a very standard way.
Overall, the movie has a very restrained vibe to it. And I do mean “restrained.” PHASE IV is not a high-energy film exploding with back to back action. Far from it. It is more of a slow burn. Something which reminds me more of Robert Wise’s ANDROMEDA STRAIN than a traditional sci-fi/horror movie.
The story is about an event which has made ants of different species cooperate with one another as part of a collective hive-mind. The tiny little ants invade a research facility in the middle of the desert and use their collective smarts to do a lot of damage to the poor humans that encounter them.
It’s good stuff. Not GENOCIDE level good stuff. That would be asking for too much. But for a carefully paced, smart movie that won’t insult your intelligence, it’s definitely worth watching.
KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS
Now, if you’re looking to insult your intelligence, I have just the thing for you. KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS is a low-budget film by a no-name director staring none other than William Shatner.
I actually remember watching this on TV as a kid. I couldn’t tell you much about it other than Shatner was in it and it featured a whole lot of spiders. Real, live spiders. According to FANGORA MAGAZINE, 5,000 of them. All Tarantulas.
Creepy at its most basic level.
The plot had something to do with cows and pesticides and hungry spiders. A lot of hungry spiders. All of which decide for unexplained reasons to work together to defeat, and consume, the local populace.
It actually makes this list, in part, because it is a classic of a certain type of film. Before cable, made-for-tv movies and low budget films on tv were a programming staple. They made hundreds of them. Thousands. Quick, bland, cheap. Just enough to keep bored eyes on one channel instead of the other two.
Yep, three main channels. And a few UHF stations if you could get them in. Jesus, sometimes I wonder how I survived as a kid watching such paltry entertainment. It was tough being me, I tell ya’.
But at least we had KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. You had Shatner and you had lots and lots and lots of actual, live Tarantulas crawling around.
It could have been a lot worse.
The Wasp Woman
Alright, this is a stretch, I admit it. THE WASP WOMAN isn’t really an insect movie in the way the others are. It’s about a woman who becomes half-insect through her own vanity and insecurity. Nobody told her to inject herself with wasp jelly, now, did they?
The reason it’s here is because where I got Shatner and Tarantulas, earlier generations got this. A movie at drive ins and local cinemas featuring a killer half-wasp/half-woman creatures buzzing happily as she murdered those around her.
It was produced and directed by Roger Corman in 1958. Corman would go on to be the major force behind many similarly ridiculous but highly entertaining films. He directed 55 of them and produced 385 of them.
Between the number of films he made and the number of future films stars and directors he gave their first shot to, he is admired by many, including Godard and the French New Wave. He even received an honorary Academy Award.
THE WASP WOMAN is a silly movie. But in the best of ways. Its innocence and sense of fun still shine through today. Not to mention, the poster created for it is a classic in its own right.
There are two other films I think are worth mentioning before I leave you to your creepy-crawler thrill fest.
One is called THEM from 1954. In it, giant ants use the sewer system to attack Los Angeles. It is one of the best Kaiju movies without Godzilla in it ever made.
OK, so, it’s not exactly an insect-horror movie the way most people think of them. Whatever. Go watch it again anyway. Especially if you live in Los Angeles.
The second film I want to mention is actually not very good. At all. But it has its moments and is kind of a must see for fans of a certain director. I’m talking about 1997’s MIMIC, directed by Guillermo del Toro.
That’s the same del Toro who directed PAN’S LABYRINTH, CRONOS, HELLBOY and THE SHAPE OF WATER. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. But there can be no arguing that del Toro has a very unique vision. His monsters tend to be super-cool as well.
Unfortunately, MIMIC is far from his best. But it was about giant, mutated cockroaches running wild in the New York City subways. So, I guess it was worth mentioning.
In any case, I think the point has been….wait….there’s also another one I should bring up. God damn it. So, many insect movies…
Like a quintillion of them.