CREEPING CRAWLING CINEMA
Copyright © 2015 by Edward Brock
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CREEPING CRAWLING CINEMA—A Prologue
Be they giant spiders, swarms of bees, blood-sucking ticks, slimy worms or intelligent ants, the “Killer Bug” movie has always been a particular favorite of mine. Beginning in the 1950’s and continuing into the new century, the Killer Bug film has faded, only to rise again. Perhaps it’s that inherent phobia of things with 6 legs, 8 legs, 1000 legs, or no legs at all—and our attempt to face those fears—that keeps us coming back for more. Far better to watch them terrorize someone on the big screen, than have to face them in our own bathrooms, bedrooms, backyards, city streets, or under our skin.
Whether it’s Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), Myrmecophobia (fear of ants), Apiphobia (fear of bees), Vermiphobia (fear of parasitic worms), or the all-encompassing Entomophobia (fear of all insects)—most of us have experienced some form of that icky, skin-crawling feeling when a bug lands on you, or you walk into a spider web, or find a bite on you and not know how, or when, it got there. Though most of the time the fear is merely psychological, there are those moments when they are very justified—the Brown Recluse spider, the disease carrying tick, swarms of killer bees, skin-burrowing parasites—well, you get the idea. Now imagine swarms of these crawling on you in an attempt to eat, kill or change you. Or, imagine seeing them become the size of cars, becoming large enough to swallow you whole.
Enter the Hollywood filmmaker.
In the 1950’s, Hollywood was working under the blanket of fear that every American was feeling–fear that the a-bomb would be our destruction. Is it any surprise that many films of the decade were subtle (and not so subtle) commentaries on those fears? It was inevitable that those fears would find themselves on drive-in screens and inside movie theaters—manifesting in the form of giant ants, spiders and other “bugs”. The phobias already existed within us, so why not combine the two, Hollywood thought. Well, they did just that, giving us films that merged our atomic fears with the all too familiar and common bug phobias—and had us watch as those tiny creatures turned into killers. The Killer Bug genre continued to evolve. Those phobias and bugs found new ways to terrify us—nature gone wild, scientific experiments, insect intelligence, infectious diseases, and even bugs from other worlds made their way to the screen. It seems there was no place to hide once these tiny creatures took aim at us.
What I hope to do with this short little book, is familiarize you with this very fun and, sometimes, frightening niche. Starting in 1954 and diving into the B-level offerings, on networks like the SyFy channel, I’ve chosen a selection of movies I believe are essential viewing for anyone interested in experiencing the sheer lunacy, silliness or goose-bumpy happenings in these films. As such, this is not a complete list of the killer bug films, but a sample of some of the best.
Some will make you cringe, some will make you laugh, and some will make you groan. But, it’s still a fun little niche—that I hope never goes away.
“An Endless Terror! A Nameless Horror!”
Director- Gordon Douglas
Writer(s) – Ted Sherdman / Russell S. Hughes (from a story by George Worthing Yates)
Starring – James Whitmore / James Arness / Joan Weldon / Edmund Gwenn
Distributor – Warner Bros.
Released – June 19, 1954
After two New Mexico state troopers (Ben Peterson—portrayed by James Whitmore) and (Ed Blackburn—portrayed by Chris Drake) find a little girl wandering in the desert, they return her home—only to find the mobile home, where her family is staying, is torn apart. Her family is missing and only a single animal track is found.
Soon after, the troopers find a local a store owner dead, outside of his general store—which is also torn apart like the mobile home. Peterson leaves to check on the lost girl. Blackburn remains and soon hears a strange sound which seems to be growing closer. We hear his screams off camera as he becomes another victim.
After sending a plaster cast of the strange footprint to Washington, D.C., an FBI Agent (Robert Graham—portrayed by James Arness) arrives to investigate—because they have no idea what the footprint is. He is accompanied by a doctor (Harold Medford—Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter (Pat Medford—Joan Weldon). After returning to the little girl’s campsite, Pat Medford encounters a giant ant (over eight-feet). Her screams brings the others running and the police fire on it. Dr. Medford yells, “Get the antennae! Get the antennae!” and the police finally kill the giant creature after machine gun fire destroys the antennae. Dr. Medford is convinced that a colony of ants have mutated because of the radiation from the nearby atomic bomb tests before the Second World War.
Eventually, the ant colony is found and poison gas bombs on dropped on them. The ants are killed, but Dr. Bedford believes two queens have escaped. One is found in the cargo hold of a freighter and destroyed—the other has found its way to California.
The final act of the film finds the military and our intrepid heroes battling the giant insects in the drainage system of Los Angeles. During the battle, trooper Peterson is killed, and Graham is trapped in a cave in—but manages to hold of an attack by the giant ants, until he is rescued. The queen and her brood are finally destroyed using flame throwers.
The first film to merge the effects of the atom bomb and one of our tiny little neighbors, Them! was a surprising success. During the film’s early run, many film-goers were unprepared for what they were about to see—as promotional material kept the storyline vague (even releasing poster with nothing but text). They walked into the theater and after watching what seemed to be a crime thriller, were surprised—and thrilled, apparently—when the first giant ant makes an appearance. It worked, as movie fans flocked to it, making it one of the most successful films of the year for Warner Bros.
Like many monster movies, the actual creatures are not even seen until a quarter of the way in. The film was originally planned as a full-color, 3-D film, but numerous equipment malfunctions and budget cuts forced the filmmakers to use black and white (although the opening credit sequence still maintains the bright red title “THEM!”).
As there was no CGI to rely on, the special effects crew (supervised by Ralph Ayers) built full-size props, and combined with some trick photography and miniatures, worked some magic that, although dated, holds up well as a representation of what quality effects could be in the 1950’s. Though, as any special effects unit will tell you, the film was not without its screw-ups. The most blatant being a moment during the final battle where the mechanical innards of one of the ants can be seen (it was “fixed” in the DVD release).
The film was very popular amongst film-goers, which seemed to convince other Distributors to produce their own “big bug” movies. Today, the film is looked upon fondly by monster movies fans and sci-fi fans alike. And because it didn’t play for laughs—as so many big bug films do these days—it is still one of the best representations of the atomic era monster movie. A solid beginning for the “killer bug” genre.
The film was nominated for an Oscar in Special Effects (it lost out to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).
The loud, piercing sound the ants make upon approach is actually the amplified “singing” of tree-frogs.
The famous “Wilhelm Scream” was used during some of the action scenes.
The screenwriter, George Worthing Yates, also wrote several more sci-fi films after Them!–including It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. The Spider and Frankenstein 1970.
Leonard Nimoy has a small role as an Air Force officer.
Actor James Whitmore (5’8”) wore lifts to make up for some of the height difference of the towering James Arness (who is 6’7”).
Edmund Gwenn (who plays Dr. Harold Bedford) also played Santa Claus in the 1934 film, The Miracle on 34th Street.
“Bullets Can’t Stop It! Dynamite Can’t Kill It!”
Director – Jack Arnold
Writer(s) – Robert M. Fresco / Martin Berkeley (from a story by Jack Arnold)
Starring – John Agar / Mara Corday / Leo G. Carroll /
Distributor – Universal Distributors
Released – Dec. 14, 1955
Called in to view a dead body, with a deformed face, found in the desert, Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) can find nothing is his experience to explain it. He soon learns that a local scientist, Dr. Gerald Deemer (Leo. G. Carroll) had signed the death certificate—as the man was a colleague.
He meets the man at his laboratory outside of town and learns that the scientist is attempting to create “super-foods” for the ever-growing human population. He is using an atomic isotope and testing it on various animals and vegetables. Deemer claims that his colleague, Jacobs, had injected himself with the experimental nutrient—which caused his disfigurement and eventual death. He fails to tell Hastings about the other assistant, Lund, who was also injected. After Hastings departs, Lund returns, attacks Deemer and injects the scientist with the nutrient. During the confrontation, some of the cases and cages are damaged and the tarantula—now the size of a dog—escapes.
A new lab assistant, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday) arrives the following day and, through as twist of fate, ends up receiving a ride from Dr, Hastings—who is returning to see Dr. Deemer again. When they arrive, they find the lab destroyed and Deemer tells them all the animals died in the fire (though the audience sees one escape—a dog-sized tarantula). Stephanie stays at Deemer’s home and proves to be a very capable assistant, even though she worries for Deemer’s health—as his face is seems to be melting and his mood has become antagonistic.
In several interludes, we get to see the tarantula—now as big as a house—attacking and eating livestock and people (though we don’t see the actual killing, it is certainly implied). Dr. Hastings tries to figure out what is happening, especially when a large pool of white liquid is found on the farm of the missing farmer and animals. The liquid turns out to be spider venom. He then tries to convince law enforcement involved to find and kill the creature.
That night, the tarantula returns to the Deemer home, and after looking into Stephanie’s window (in a very cool close-up of the spider’s face), the spider destroys the house—killing Dr. Deemer. Stephanie escapes with the help of the newly arrived Hastings.
The next day finds the giant spider heading towards town. Law enforcement tries bullets and dynamite, in an attempt to destroy the creature—but fails. As the tarantula seems unstoppable and appears in the edge of town, several fighter jets arrive, and using napalm, finally destroys it.
This wonderful entry into the “big bug” films is my personal favorite. The effects, using a live tarantula, are impressive for the time. The make-up effects for Dr. Deemer’s transformation (done by Bud Westmore) are superb. Many of the scenes are creepy—especially the nighttime scenes—and are convincing, even with the limitations of matte special effects.
Clint Eastwood has a small, un-credited role as the Air Force squadron leader.
A live tarantula was used for the film. To make it move in the direction they needed, small air jets were used to persuade the spider to do so.
The gigantic 2-eyed tarantula (we all know spiders have 8 eyes, don’t we?) seen on the movie posters, only makes an appearance in the film for extreme close-ups—like outside Mara Corday’s window. It was a beautiful miniature that was to be utilized, before filmmakers decided to go with a live spider.
John Agar is a veteran of film—many of which were classic horror/sci-fi films—having appeared in such films as, The Mole People, Attack of the Puppet People and Invisible Invaders.
Raymond Bailey (who plays Townsend) is most well-known as Mr. Drysdale—on the popular TV series, The Beverly Hillbillies.
Director Jack Arnold claimed that they decided to make the film because people are, generally, afraid of spiders.
Look closely and you’ll a giant tarantula (which many claim is a reference/homage), in one of the containment cubes, in the film The Cabin in the Woods.
The DEADLY MANTIS (1957)
“A Thousand Tons of Horror! From A Million Years Ago…”
Director – Nathan Juran
Writer(s) – Martin Berkeley / William Alland
Starring – Craig Stevens / William Hooper / Alix Talton / Pat Conway
Distributor – Universal Distributors
Released – May, 26, 1957
After a volcano explodes, causing the polar ice caps to shift, a giant praying mantis awakens from his icy cage. Sometime later, a military station (named red Eagle Station) in northern Canada loses contact with one of their outposts. Colonel Joe Parkman (Craig Stevens) heads there to investigate—only to find the men missing and the station destroyed. Radar detects something in the sky and Parkman sends out fighter jets, and one of the jets falls from the sky after it is attacked.
Searching the wreckage, they find a strange object. Parkman takes the object to air command in Colorado, where a professor, Anton Gunther (Florenz Ames) and they determine that it is a leg from a giant praying mantis.
Paleontologist, Ned Jackson (William Hooper) and a female reporter, Marge Blaine (Alix Talton) arrive at Red Eagle One where they are attacked by the giant mantis. Gunfire and flame-throwers have no effect on it. But, when planes arrive, the mantis takes to the air and disappears. Fortunately, Ned and Marge escape, and they soon find out that the mantis has just attacked a boat. Later, it also attacks a train then makes its way to Washington, D.C.—where it is seen onto of the Washington Monument.
Parkman flies his fighter jet straight into the creature and wounding it—though Parkman safely parachutes out. The mantis topples from the monument, but manages to crawl into the Manhattan Tunnel. The tunnel is sealed off, and Ford—accompanied by a team of soldiers—confront the giant mantis at one entrance, forcing it forward to the other end of the tunnel, where Parkman and a special unit wait for it, armed with guns and chemical bombs. It continues to move forward and after the first two bombs fail to stop it, they begin to wonder if anything can. But, Parkman stands firm, and as the creature nears the tunnel entrance, he throws the final bomb—finally killing the giant mantis.
It ends with a trope that will become an industry standard—the dead creature moves, making them think it still lives. But, fortunately it is merely a reflex.
A competent entry into the atomic big bug films, though it lacks the passion of its predecessors—Them! and Tarantula. Stock footage—the scene showing Eskimos escaping from the mantis is, actually, footage from the film, S.O.S. Eisberg (1933)—diminishes the impact. The mantis is a very cool creature to see—especially when it’s in the tunnel. It is a fun film to watch, and was a huge success for Universal, but does not hold up as well as the previous films in this particular niche, though die-hard “killer bug” enthusiasts (like myself) will still enjoy it.
Director, Nathan Juran, worked on many sci-fi films—including Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and First Men in the Moon (1964). He also directed numerous episodes of such 1960’s sci-fi TV series as—Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space.
William Hooper also appeared in the sci-fi film, 20 Million Miles to Earth (in the same year), but is probably best known as Detective Paul Drake on the long-running TV series—Perry Mason.
The “Manhattan Tunnel”, where the mantis meets his doom, does not exist.
MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL (1957)
“The Mammoth Monster That Terrorized the Earth!”
Director – Kenneth G. Crane
Writer(s) – Endre Bohem / Louis Vittes
Starring – Jim Davis / Barbara Turner / Robert E. Griffin
Distributor – DCA
Released – May 17, 1957
Story: An African expedition encounters giant, irradiated wasps.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)
“New Thrills! New Shocks! New Terror!”
Director – Bert I. Gordon
Writer(s) – Fred Freiberger / Lester Gorn
Starring – Peter Graves / Peggie Castle / Richard Benedict
Distributor – Republic Pictures
Released – June 28, 1957
Story: An agricultural scientist, and a journalist help fight giant grasshoppers.
THE BLACK SCORPION (1957)
“The hideous inhuman being that defied every law of nature. “
Director – Edward Ludwig
Writer(s) – Robert Blees / David Duncan
Starring – Richard Denning / Mara Corday / Carlos Rivas
Distributor – Warner Bros.
Release Date – Oct.11, 1957.
After an earthquake causes a volcano to appear in Mexico, two geologists—Dr. Hank Scott (Richard Dennings) and Dr. Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) travel there to study the extraordinary phenomenon. Before they reach the nearby village, they find a house and police car, both destroyed, as well as a policeman’s dead body and an infant that is still alive. Racing to the village with the infant, where they are met by a priest, Father Delgado (Pedro Galvan), who informs them that there have been many horrific events since the earthquake—missing people, livestock mutilations, damaged homes, and strange sounds in the night. He suggests that leave, but the two geologists forge ahead.
The Mexican Army arrives to aid the village. Meanwhile, Dr. Scott falls a rancher –Teresa Alvarez (Mara Corday)—just before the volcano erupts again, unleashing a next of giant scorpions on the village. The army fires on them, but to no avail, and the creatures return to their lair—which turns out to be home to giant spiders and worms, as well. After calling in an entomologist—Dr. Valasco (Carlos Muzquiz)—they track the creatures back to their lair and seal of the entrance.
Unfortunately, several of the scorpions escape and attack a train, then begin to fight each other. The largest eventually kills the others and makes its way towards Mexico City. Our hero doctors devise plan to lure the creature to a stadium by using a truck full of meat to attract it. Once there, the military hits it with a barrage of weapons—which proves ineffective. Just when it seems that the scorpion is unbeatable, Dr. Scott attaches an electrical cable to a makeshift spear and shoots it down the creature’s throat, eventually electrocuting it to death—and saving the day.
One of the more visually terrifying and convincing of the killer bug films—you get to people getting killed by the creatures—thanks to the quality work of Willis O’Brien and Pete Peterson, who, even though they were working under time constraints and on a limited budget, produced some incredible stop-motion work. A great choice for “big bug” film fans—and connoisseurs of stop-motion creature work—that’s layered with a competent story and some realistic terror.
The scorpion sound is the same tree frog singing we heard in Them!
Willis O’Brien (of King Kong fame) and Pete Peterson did the stop-motion effects.
The brief scene where the trapdoor spider attacks Juanito is the same spider that was deleted from King Kong (1933).
Richard Denning also starred in such sci-fi/horror films as Creature from the Black Lagoon, Creature with the Atom Brain, and Day the World Ended.
Mara Corday also starred in Tarantula and The Giant Claw.
When the scorpion attacks the train, the Lionel Corporation logo can be seen (if you look real close), giving away the fact it was an actual miniature.
(EARTH vs.) THE SPIDER (1958)
“Bullets Won’t Kill It! Flames Can’t Hurt It! Nothing Can Stop It!”
Director – Bert I. Gordon
Writer(s) – Laszlo Gorog / George Worthing Yates / Bert I. Gordon
Starring – Ed Kemmer / June Kenney / Gene Roth / Eugene Persson
Distributor – American International Pictures (AIP)
Release Date – Release Sept. 1, 1958
When her father fails to return home one night, Carol Flynn (June Kenney) and her boyfriend, Mike Simpson (Eugene Persson) go looking for him—and find his crashed truck, but no body. They end up in a cave and fall into a giant spider web. A giant tarantula appears, but the couple manages to escape. They go to Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth), who doesn’t believe a word the young couple is claiming, but does go to the cave—accompanied by science teacher, Mr. Kingman (Ed Kemmer), to investigate—where they find the old man’s body, which has been drained dry. They encounter the spider, and soon return with a massive amount of DDT, which kills the spider—or so they think.
They take the spider to the high school gymnasium so that Mr. Kingman can study it. Unfortunately, a group of teenagers decide to use the gym to play some rock n’ roll. The spider awakens and the teens escape the gym—the spider following behind them. The creature attacks Kingman’s home (where his wife and infant are), but Kingman rams it was his car. It leaves, but kills a handful of people on its way back to its home in the cave.
The teenage couple (Carol and Mike)—are in the cave looking for her father’s bracelet, when the spider returns—trapping them on a ledge. Kingman and Sheriff Cagle arrive with dynamite—hoping to seal the spider in—but must save the teen couple first. Kingman places some electrodes on the web and when the giant spider crawls on the web—it is electrocuted and falls to its death onto some stalagmites.
The weakest entry of the 50’s “big bug” films, it fails on many levels—special effects that seem lazy and uninspired, film errors (especially some obvious matte shots), acting that seems phoned-in, and a very poor story—makes this film forgettable. Riding the “teenage movie” train that was becoming popular at the time, the film seems more concerned with the teenagers (and their music, cars, romance) than the spider. Watch this one only if you are a die-hard fan. Otherwise, this is one you can avoid without too much sadness.
Bert I. Gordon directed many fun (though not great) Sci-Fi/Horror films with a “giant” theme—The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People, Empire of the Ants, Food of the Gods and Village of the Giants.
The giant spider “web” was made of rope (which was used in the film–even though Tarantulas don’t spin webs). One of its many mistakes.
Producers decided to market the film under the title The Spider after the success of The Fly—which was released earlier in the year. The film, itself, still retains the title Earth vs. The Spider.
THE FLY (1958)
[_ “One it was human—even as you and I!”_]
Director – Kurt Newman
Writer(s) – James Clavell (based on the story by George Langelaan)
Starring – David Hedison / Patricia Owens / Vincent Price
Distributor – 20th Century Fox
Released – Aug. 29, 1958
Unlike most of the other “killer bug” films of the decade, The Fly doesn’t give us the atomic giants of previous films like—Them!, Tarantula and Black Scorpion—but science it still at its core.
Helene Delambre (Patricia Owens) confesses to the murder of her husband—Andre Delambre (David Hedison)—when he is found dead, after being crushed in a hydraulic press. When questioned about the death, we relive her story in a flashback.
Andre is a scientist, working on a transporter device (the disintegrator-integrator). He tests it—first on inanimate objects, then on, living creatures. He then tests it on the family cat and a guinea pig. Confident he has perfected the experiment, he builds a larger device and tests it on himself. Unknown to Andre, a fly has entered the chamber with him, and when he activates the device, his life is changed forever.
When Helene, worried that she has not seen him for several days, goes down to the lab, she finds Andre wearing a black hood on his head–and his left arm is also covered in a large black cloth. Unable to speak, he writes down that he used the transporter on himself—but a fly was in the device and their atoms have mixed. When she removes the hood—seeking proof—she finds his human head is now that of a fly. Naturally, she screams and we get to see her through his eyes–the eyes of a fly.
He informs her that he must find the fly—that now has a tiny human head and arm—and they must re-renter the transporter and hope to reverses the mistake, because his mind and will are becoming less human, and more like a fly. She frantically searches for the fly, but without success. With what little will still remained in him, he destroys his lab, burns his notes and convinces Helene to stop him. Setting the hydraulic press, he has Helene push the button—which she does twice—once for the head, once for the arm.
The police, of course, think she is insane and are convinced she is guilty of Andre’s murder. Just as she is about to be taken to jail, her son, Phillippe (Charles Herbert) tells his uncle, Francois (Vincent Price) that he has found a strange-looking fly in a spider web. Francois convinces Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) to come see the fly for himself. As they watch the creature—a fly with a human head and arm—struggle in the web, crying out “Help me, help me” as the spider draws closer, the Inspector–now shocked and disgusted–picks up a rock and smashes the tiny creatures.
Francois wonders if the Inspector could now be guilty of murder—for killing a fly with human body parts. Knowing that no one will believe the truth, the Inspector lies about what actually happened, and Helene is free from guilt. The family is allowed to go back to their lives.
One of the best “killer bug” films, The Fly succeeds on many levels. The actors are superb (even though Price and Herbert struggled to keep a straight face for the fly/human stuck in the web scene—where an animatronic figure is used). Hedison is wonderful as the scientist Delambre, his mannerism and actions while in the Fly makeup is satisfyingly realized. Patricia Owens projects a convincing image of the concerned, yet frightened and determined wife. The Fly makeup, created by Ben Nye, is still one of the best facial makeup creatures in Horror/Monster cinema. The story is very satisfyingly original and executed (even though the ending was changed so as to more upbeat).
Though some of the effects don’t hold up after all these years, the film is still one of high quality and, rightfully, considered a classic in the genre. Every monster, or “killer bug” film fan should have this in their library.
David Hedison is truly the man beneath the Fly makeup. No stuntman or stand-in was used—which happens all too often, because the actors want their face on-screen.
The original story (written by George Langelaan), was first published in Playboy—in their June, 1957 issue.
The Distributor changed the ending of the film from the short story—to give it a happy ending (Helene commits suicide in the short story).
James Clavell (who adapted Langelaan’s story), went on to become a highly successful novelist—with such bestsellers as, Shogun, Taipan and Noble House.
Makeup man, Ben Nye, has a long and successful career. His works can be found in such diverse films as Gone with the Wind, Dr. Doolittle, and Planet of the Apes.
Patricia Owens—who has a genuine fear of insects—didn’t get to see the Fly makeup until Hedison appeared in it. Her on-screen reaction is laced with some actual fear.
Sadly, Director Kurt Newman died just a month after the premiere of the film—so he never got to see it become the most successful film of his career.
There were two sequels—Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965)—neither of which captured the heart of success of the original. But, they are worth a viewing.
ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959)
“Crawling Horror…Rising From The Depths Of Hell…To Kill And Conquer!”
Director – Bernard L. Kowalski
Writer(s) – Leo Gordon
Starring – Ken Clark / Yvette Vickers / Jan Shepard
Studio – A.I.P.
Released – Oct. 1959
Story: After being exposed to atomic radiation, leeches become giant killers.
HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND (1960)
“Transformed into The World’s Most Hideous Monster”
Director – Jaimie Nolan (Fritz Bottger)
Writer(s) – Fritz Bottger / Eldon Howard / Albert G. Miller
Starring – Harald Maresch / Helga Franck / Alexander D’Arcy
Distributor – Neu Filmverleih / Pacemaker Pictures
Released – Apr. 16, 1960 (Germany) / March 1962 (USA)
Story: Survivors of a plane crash battle spiders—whose bite turns people into spiders.
“Mightiest Monster in All Creation. Ravishing A Universe for Love.”
Director – Ishiro Honda
Writer – Shinichi Tanaka
Starring – Frankie Sakai / Kyoko Kagawa / Hiroshi Koizumi / Robert Dunham
Distributor – Toho Distributors (Japan) / Columbia (USA)
Released – July 30, 1961 (Japan) / May 10, 1962 (USA)
A ship runs aground on Infant Island—where, in years past, it was used for atomic tests. When a rescue party arrives, they find four survivors safe and sound—seemingly healthy from drinking a special juice provided by the islanders. Until then, the island was thought to be uninhabited. This incident attracts a reporter named Zenichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and photographer Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa), who
The news forced the Rolisician Embassy (who were responsible for the previous atomic tests) to work with the Japanese government to explore the island. A group of individuals from various areas of expertise are gathered to undertake an expedition—led by entrepreneur Clark Nelson (Jerry Itou).
While at the island, they discover two women, (both 12-inches tall,), who want nothing more than to have their island be free of further atomic tests. The team promises them there will be no more tests and leave the island in peace.
But, Nelson returns with his own group and abducts the tiny women. He brings them to Tokyo and uses them as a sideshow attraction. Our intrepid reporters accuse Nelson of keeping the women against their will—and a legal battle ensues.
Meanwhile, back on Infant Island, the natives are praying to a giant egg. Eventually the egg hatches, and giant caterpillar appears and heads across the sea towards Tokyo. It cocoons against a tower, then transforms into the giant moth we know as Mothra—where it battles the Japanese army, all while laying waste to the city. The reporters manage to rescue the women and deliver them to Mothra, where they are carried back to Infant Island.
Mothra would go on to become one of the most popular kaiju characters to come out of Toho Distributors (second only to Godzilla). She would appear with Godzilla in 7 films and get her own trilogy in the 1990s.
The U.S. version has a long list of credits—which doesn’t include the top 3 stars. And the villain of the film (Jerry Ito) is listed as Jelly Ito. The film was released in the U.S. as part of a double bill. The other film—The Three Stooges In Orbit.
The U.S. version is 10 minutes shorter than the Japanese version.
The island that Mothra is from is called Infant Island, but in the U.S. version, it’s called Beiru. It is later changed back to Infant Island in Mothra’s other film appearances.
An origin story for Mothra and the fairies was proposed, but was scrapped because of its length.
Director, Ishiro Honda, directed many of Toho’s Daikaiju films—the original Godzilla film, as well as, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, War of the Gargantuas, and Terror of Mechagodzilla.
The fairies—twins, Emi & Yumi Ito—were a successful music duo, often covering European hits for the Japanese audience.
The film is based on a serialized novel titled—The Luminous Fairies and Mothra—that appeared in Weekly Asahi.
THE DEADLY BEES (1967)
“Hives of Horror!”
Director – Freddie Francis
Writer(s) – Robert Bloch / Anthony Marriot / based on the novel by Gerald Heard
Distributor – Amicus Productions / Paramount Pictures
Released – 1966 (UK) / May 19, 1967 (USA)
Story: A singer takes a break from her career, and visits a small island resort to relax. Soon, she, and other residents, must fight for their lives when they are attacked by a swarm of deadly bees.
THE KILLER BEES (1974)
“She controls the bees. They’ll kill for her—and die for her.”
Director – Curtis Harrington
Writer(s) – John William Corrington / Joyce Hooper Corrington
Starring – Kate Jackson / Edward Albert / Gloria Swanson
Distributor – ABC
Released – Feb. 26, 1974
Story: A woman runs a successful wine business—and also controls a swarm of killer bees through the power of her mind.
PHASE IV (1974)
“Adapt or Die”
Director – Saul Bass
Written – Mayo Simon
Starring – Michael Murphy / Nigel Davenport / Lynne Frederick
Distributor – Paramount Pictures
Released – September 1974
After an unknown cosmic event—ants have evolved and have begun doing “things that ants don’t do”, says James Lesko (Michael Murphy)—who narrates portions of the opening. Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) had already been studying the phenomenon, even when the rest of the world had already forgotten about the event. We see several minutes of the ants acting as a hive mind and building things with geometrical shapes—as well as killing and consuming a spider.
Hubbs invites Lesko to join him in his studies—and in the Arizona desert, they investigate a series of strange towers and geometric crop circles. The local residents are asked to evacuate – leaving only one family. The scientists are pressured to speed things up by the government—who is funding the project—so they blow up the towers in hopes of getting a reaction. That night the ants attack the remaining family’s farm—killing their horse and destroying their home. They head for the lab, but crash the truck after ants attack them. Climbing from the truck, they continue to walk to the lab. Unaware of what’s going on outside, Hubbs and Lesko, who are studying the signals and believe the insects are sending out commands, hear an explosion outside—which turns out to be their own vehicle. Hubbs sprays chemicals to teach the ants a lesson. They go out the next morning to find the family is dead, from the chemical spray—except for the daughter, Kendra (Lynne Frederick), who was hiding in the cellar.
Later that night, Kendra, in a fit of anger, destroys some lab equipment, which allows the ants to escape. Hubbs is bitten, but the trio escape the room and fumigate it—killing the specimens. The scene switches to show us the ants dragging a piece of the chemical through one of their tunnels. It dies, but another ants comes along and continues to drag it forward—followed by another, then another, until the chemical finally makes its way to the queen, who ingests it.
The next morning, the trio wakes to find there are new towers surrounded them—they are smaller and have been built-in a perfect circle around the dome. When the sun hits the top of the towers, is heats up the dome—nearly baking our trio inside. They use sound to destroy the new towers. Meanwhile, ants have gotten into the computers and begin chewing on the wires—where a praying mantis is waiting. But, a newer generation of ants—now immune to the chemicals, kills the mantis. The ants short out the computers.
Then we get to see the ants carrying their dead underground and laying them side by side, in rows—like humans would do after a tragic event. Lesko begins to see more and more messages—mathematical ones—from the ants, then begins to send them messages in an attempt to communicate. The next morning, new towers have been built and Hubbs, in his delirium from the bite, believes that Kendra is somehow responsible for the ants knowing what they are doing. When Lesko receives a message, indicating that they ants want something (or someone) in the lab, Kendra, thinking she may be the reason—because she killed the specimens—leaves the safety of the lab and walks out into the night.
Hubbs and Lesko continue to butt heads, because Hubbs now wants to destroy the ants, while Lesko wants to communicate with them—as they are proving to be more intelligent as the days pass. Hubbs goes outside, determined to destroy the colony. Instead, he falls into a deep, square pit. Before Lesko can rescue Hubbs, ants pour out of tunnels in the pit and begin to consume him. Lesko then realizes that the ants intend to spread out—where they will eventually become unstoppable.
In a last-ditch effort, Lesko (who narrates the final moments) takes a canister of poison, sprays the area on his way to the hive. Once there, he slides down a hole, where he finds Kendra, who rises from the sand. The two embrace and Lesko learns that the ants do not want to destroy humanity, but merge with them—and create a new, superior species. They now wait for further instructions.
Focusing more on questions of evolution, intelligence and the mind, the film moved away from the typical creature features of the past—who were usually accidents of science, and who sought our destruction. It has some of that great psychedelic music and sounds effects—as well as great photographic work with the ants in their underground chambers. Though very outdated, it is a nostalgic representation of early 1970’s computer technology. It was a very under-appreciated and intelligent thriller that has become a cult classic over the years—even though it was a box-office failure during its original release. One of my favorite entries in the “killer bug” genre.
The film was the only feature-length film directed by Saul Bass, who claims the Distributor messed with the film after he finished production.
Bass was a well-known graphic designer who designed many movie posters and title sequences. He also created several popular logos—the Bell System (1969), United Airlines tulip (1974) and the AT&T globe (1983).
Nigel Davenport started in many horror/thriller/sci-fi films over his long career—Peeping Tom (1960), The Picture of Dorian Grey (1973), Dracula (1973) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977).
Michael Murphy is one of those actors that make you say, “I know that guy”. A character actor, he has appeared in dozens and TV shows (usually as a villain). His roles include—Shocker (1989), Batman Returns (1992) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).
Lynne Frederick—who tragically died at age 39—also appeared the classic Hammer film, Vampire Circus (1972), as well as Schizo (1976) and Voyage of the Damned (1976).
The actual title of the film does not appear until closer to the end, as it goes through the first 3 Phases throughout.
It is the first film to feature a geometric crop circle (2 years before modern reports started appearing in the U.K.). The crop circle in the film is a creation of the ants.
Wildlife photographer, Ken Middleham, shot the insect sequences—and was also the photographer for the Hellstrom Chronicle documentary.
The ant-queens seen in the film are actually a species of wasp.
Barry N. Malzberg (a popular science fiction writer) wrote the novelization.
It is available on DVD, but lacks any special features, which is disappointing, as the trailer for the film actually shows the ending scene that was removed from the final cut.
“Out of the Worst Nightmare!”
Director – Jeannot Szwarc
Writer(s) – Thomas Page / William Castle / based on the novel The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page
Starring Bradford Dillman / Joanna Miles / Richard Gilliland / Alan Fudge
Distributor – Paramount Pictures
Released – June 17, 1975
The film begins with an earthquake that shakes up the audience in a church. As a young couple is looking at a large hole that has opened in the ground, a truck is arriving, but suddenly bursts into flames—killing the driver and his son. We are then introduced to the film’s villains, cockroaches. It seems they are responsible for the truck fire. Later that night, the husband hears strange noises outside and investigates. Finding one of the roaches, he picks it up and it burns him—then he sees a cat burned by the bugs, as well as various areas of the yard being ignited by the bugs.
He brings one of the roaches to science teacher, James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman), who goes to the home to find more of the bugs, and soon discovers the roaches can start fires, and even eat the ash. Meanwhile strange fires are breaking out all over town. Parmiter tries to warn officials that the fires are being started by the bugs.
After his wife is killed—burned alive by the bugs—Parmiter becomes obsessed with the roaches and begins experimenting with them at the home where the hole originated. He discovers they can be killed using high atmospheric pressure, and has a fellow Professor—Metbaum (Richard Gilliand)—create a portable pressure chamber. Parmiter does more extensive tests. He starts by introducing a common male cockroach to one of the sexless “firebugs”. Surprisingly, the two roaches do mate. The resulting egg case grows even larger than the firebug itself. When it hatches, Parmiter even names the news species after himself (and the Greek God of fire)—Hephaetus parmitera.
As the days pass, his obsession grows. He places the “mother” is with the new species, and the young ones kill her. One evening, while Parmiter is preparing his dinner, several of the roaches escape and begin consuming a raw steak—but only as a combined unit. They escape again and climb onto Parmiter while he is sleeping—and begin draining his blood. They seem to prefer raw meat and fresh blood, as well as begin to form patterns—as if they are trying to communicate. When he awakes one night, he finds they have spelled out his name “Parmiter” on the wall. They even spell out letters he asks them to. But, when they spell “We Live”, Parmiter feels they must destroyed—perhaps feeling he has moved them too far on the evolutionary ladder—and rushes out of the house to get another pressure chamber.
While he is gone, a friend visits, but is killed by the roaches, while the other roaches remove the newest egg sacks and take them down the hole in the ground from whence they came. When Parmiter finally discovers the body—then hears strange, loud noises coming from the hole—and sees the firebugs have now developed the ability to fly. They begin attacking Parmiter, who flees out the door—in flames—and falls into the hole. The roaches follow after him and the hole collapses behind them.
Were the firebugs creatures from Hell? Were they seeking to merge with mankind and become a new species? Were they our punishment for trying to play God? Were they a lost species that Parmiter (perhaps becoming a mad scientist in the film) turns into a blight on mankind—his own Frankenstein monster? Were they punishment for our arrogance? You decide.
Either way, the film is a creepy little addition to the killer bug genre. There are some truly terrifying moments—hair being ignited, flesh being burnt, etc.—especially if you hate cockroaches. As is usually the case, I recommend reading the novel, if you want a more detailed and expanded story. A must-see for killer bug fans.
Sadly, this was the last film William Castle worked on (as producer/writer) before his death in 1977. His is best known, to Horror fans, as director of such classics as—House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), and Mr. Sardonicus (1961). He was also producer on Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Castle liked to use a “gimmick” for some of his films, by adding things to some theaters. In this particular case, he had brushes installed near the theater seats, which would rub against people’s legs—making them think bugs were crawling on them.
Director, Jeannot Szwarc also directed many other films and TV shows, such as—Jaws 2 (1978), Supergirl (1984), and Santa Claus: The Movie (1985). His TV work includes—The Devil’s Daughter (1973), 19 episodes of Night Gallery, 14 episodes of Smallville, and 3 episodes of Supernatural.
Bradford Dillman has appeared in such genre films as—Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971), Piranha (1978), and Lords of the Deep (1989).
Madgascar hissing cockroaches—which were used in the film—are one of the most popular bugs to be used in film/TV, mainly because of their size.
Some of the cockroaches, used for special scenes, were the creation of Karoly Forgassy (a technical illustrator at University of California at Riverside). The live insect sequences was the work of Ken Middleham—who was also responsible for the ant sequences in Phase IV (1974).
The Parmiter home, though altered for the film, was the same set that was used for the interior of The Brady Bunch home.
The GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975)
Director – Bill Rebane
Writer(s) – Robert Easton / Richard L. Huff
Starring – Steve Brodie / Robert Easton / Alan Hale Jr. / Barbara Hale
Distributor – Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.
Released – Oct. 24, 1975
Story – After meteors fall to the earth, spiders escaped from inside them—some of which grow to gigantic proportions—and are unleashed upon the local populace.
KISS OF THE TARANTULA (1976)
“So silent. So deadly. So final.”
Director – Chris Munger
Writer(s) – Daniel Cady / Warren Hamilton Jr.
Starring – Suzanna Ling / Eric Mason / Herman Wallner
Distributor – Cinema-Vu
Released – May, 1976
Story: A teenage girl uses her pet tarantula to exact revenge on her tormenting classmates.
“This was the night of the Crawling Terror!”
Director – Jeff Lieberman
Writer(s) – Jeff Lieberman
Starring – Don Scardino / Patricia Pearcy / Jean Sullivan
Distributor – A.I.P.
Released – July 30, 1976
Story: Residents of a small town battle flesh-eating worms.
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
“For They Shall Inherit the Earth—Sooner Than You Think!”
Director – Bert I. Gordon
Writer(s) – Bert I. Gordon / Jack Turley
Starring – Joan Collins / Robert Lansing / John Carson
Distributor – A.I.P.
Released – July 29, 1977
Story: A group of land buyers get trapped on an island—with giant, killer ants.
KINGOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977)
“A Living, Crawling Hell on Earth.”
Director – John” Bud” Cardos
Writer(s) – Alan Caillou / Richard Robinson / Jeffrey M. Sneller / Stephen Lodge
Starring – William Shatner / Tiffany Bolling / Woody Strode / Lieux Dressler
Distributor – Dimension Pictures
Released – Nov. 23, 1977
Rack Hansen (William Shatner) answers a call from a farmer—Walter Colby (Woody Strode). Colby’s prize calf is sick, but after an examination that offers no explanation, the calf ends up dying. Rack sends some blood samples to a university for study.
Several days later, an arachnologist—Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling)—arrives with news. She tells Hansen that the calf died from spider venom. He doesn’t believe her at first, but when Colby’s dog dies, Ashley does an on-the-spot test and finds it also died of spider venom. Colby takes them to a large spider mound on his farm. Ashley says the spiders are definitely responsible, explaining that overuse of pesticides have killed off the spider’s food source. While the trio is still at the farm, a bull comes rushing out of the barn, covered by spiders. Colby throws gasoline on the bull—burning it and the spiders. It seems that Ashley is correct, and the attack on the bull is just one step closer to the spiders attacking people.
The following day, Colby is driving in his truck, when is attacked by spiders that pour over him inside the cab. He attempts to fight them off, which causes him to crash—killing him. Hansen happens upon the wreck, and finds Colby’s dead body encased in a cocoon. Meanwhile, Ashley receives a call from her university colleagues. They have determined that the spider venom is five times more toxic than a normal spider. Then Hansen then finds more spider mounds have sprung up on Colby’s farm.
The sheriff, and mayor, decide to have the entire farm and surrounding area saturated with pesticide—even though Ashley warns them that the pesticide is the reason for the spider’s aggression to being with. She suggests using birds and rats to take care of the spiders, but hey ignore her, not wanting to disrupt the upcoming county fair. When a pilot flies up to disperse the pesticide, he is also attacked by the spiders, and crashes the plane.
The spiders soon begin swarming over the town, killing and causing accidents all over town. Hansen goes to his sister-in-law’s house to find her dead—and covered in spiders. But, he does manage to rescue her daughter, Linda. He, Ashley and Linda make their way to a campground—where they hide, with several others, in the lodge. But, they are soon surrounded by thousands of spiders.
In town, the assault continues. People are running everywhere, trying to escape the spiders—many die in the attempt. Even the sheriff, finally realizing that he has made a mistake, is killed after he crashes into a water tower—which falls on his vehicle, crushing him.
At the lodge, the small group begins boarding up the windows and doors. But, when the power goes out, Hansen goes into the basement to and restores power. While there, a mass of tarantulas spill into the window, landing on him. He manages to make it upstairs, where he is rescued by Ashley.
He survives the night, and when he awakes, the light from outside is bright. Thinking it is all over; they peel back a board and look outside. The camera slowly pans out, revealing that the entire town has been cocooned by the spider’s webbing.
This is my favorite of the “killer bug/rampaging nature” films. The acting is average, but the terror caused by so many spiders can be very frightening to the audience. There’s just something about thousands of tarantulas trying to eat you that just creeps you out. I’d rather have a giant spider after me. The spider scenes were every convincing, and make up for any of the film’s failures. The final scene—which is a matte painting, is still pretty damn creepy. If you like—or are scared by—killer spiders, this is a must see film.
The film was nominated for best picture from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films (it lost to The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane). Shatner performed a spoken-word rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” at the ceremony—and, yes, you can find it on YouTube.
The budget was a mere $500,000.
Director, John Cardos, was also an actor, having appeared in such films as Nightmare in Wax (1969), Satan’s Sadists (1969), and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).
William Shatner is (of course) best known as Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek TV series/films. Plus numerous other projects.
Tiffany Bolling was cast, primarily, because she was not afraid of spiders. She has appeared in many TV shows, such as Charlie’s Angels, Night Gallery, The Mod Squad and The New People. Her mother, Bettie Bolling was also in the film—as Mildred, the telephone operator.
Prior to the film, Leiux Dressler appeared in many 1970’s TV series, such as Gunsmoke, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Police Woman, Baretta, and The Rockford Files.
Natasha Ryan, who plays the daughter, Linda, is probably best known for her short, but occurring role on the soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and on the series, Ladies’ Man.
Many of the actors/extras suffered bouts of itching/redness—due to the spider’s bristles. It is a method that tarantulas use to fend of predators. They shake loose some of their tiny hairs, which irritate skin and can complicate breathing. Unless you are allergic to it, tarantula venom is no more harmful than a bee sting.
Most of the music was culled from episodes of The Twilight Zone.
A sequel was scheduled, with Shatner returning and directing, but (thankfully?) was never produced.
5,000 tarantulas were used in the film. Handlers were paid $10 per spider—10% of the films entire budget.
Bo Svenson (of Walking Tall fame) turned down the role.
Sadly, many spiders were, unintentionally, killed during filming (The film would have to use different methods today to avoid such cruelty).
IT HAPPENED AT LAKEWOOD MANOR (1977)
“The Picnic Is Ruined”
Director – Robert Scheerer
Writer(s) – Guerdon Trueblood
Starring – Robert Foxworth / Suzanne Somers / Bernie Casey
Distributor – ABC
Released – Dec. 2, 1977
Story – Individuals, at a hotel, battle an army of deadly ants.
TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO (1977)
“Terror and death sweep through a defenseless town!”
Director – Stuart Hagmann
Writer(s) – John Groves / Guerdon Trueblood
Starring – Claude Akins / Deborah Winters / Charles Frank
Distributor – CBS
Released – Dec. 28, 1977
Story: A deadly group of tarantulas stowaway in bags of coffee beans—then break out, after arriving in a small American town, where they begin terrorizing the populace.
THE SWARM (1978)
“It’s more than a speculation—it’s a prediction!”
Director – Irwin Allen
Writer(s) – Stirling Silliphant / based on the novel by Arthur Herzog
Starring – Michael Caine / Richard Chamberlain / Katherine Ross / Lee Grant
Distributor – Warner Bros.
Released – July 14 1978
Story: Killer bees attack the city of Houston, Texas. Another entry in the highly successful disaster films of the 70s—courtesy of the king of disaster films, Irwin Allen.
THE BEES (1978)
“They prey on Human Flesh!”
Director – Alfredo Zacarias
Writer(s) – Alfredo Zacarias / Jack Hill
Distributor – New World Pictures
Released – Nov. 1978
Story: South American killer bees terrorize in the U.S.
THE FLY (1986)
“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.”
Director – David Cronenberg
Writer(s) – Charles Edward Pogue / David Cronenberg / based on the story by George Langelaan
Starring – Jeff Goldblum / Geena Davis / John Getz
Distributor – 20th Century Fox
Released – Aug. 15, 1986
Scientist, Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), convinces journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) to come see a project, which he claims will change the world. We they arrive at his warehouse, Quaife finds that Brundle has created “telepods”, which allows him to transport an object from one pod to another. Intrigued, Quaife agrees to document Brundle’s experiments. They also develop a romantic relationship.
One experiment involves transporting a baboon—which ends badly, as the baboon is killed. A second attempt is successful, and Brundle is ecstatic. But, when Quaife suddenly leaves, Brundle suspects she is trying to rekindle her relationship with her magazine editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz).
Angry, and drunk, Brundle climbs into the telepod, and transports himself—successfully. But, unknown to Brundle, a fly was in the telepod with him. He begins to exhibit extraordinary abilities, and when Quaife returns, Brundle wants her to teleport as well. Though she wants to be with him, she is afraid to attempt the teleportation. Brundle kicks her out, telling her she is weak. While Quaife is gone, Brundle picks up a prostitute. Quaife catches the two together, and sees that Brundle is looking sick. She convinces the prostitute to leave, then Brundle kicks Quaife out as well.
Brundle continues to change—his fingernails and teeth are falling out, his skin looks cancerous, and his appetite increases, though he must vomit on his food, to dissolve it, before consumption. Brundle realizes that the computer, finding two separate entities in the pod, did not know how to keep them separate—and decided to fuse Brundle with the fly, which created Brundle-Fly.
Quaife returns to inform Brundle that she is pregnant with his child. After a dream—where she give birth to a maggot—she is confused and afraid. Brundle tries to convince her that the only way to help him, is to have her in the telepod with him—mixing their DNA. Borans, who followed Quaife to the warehouse, confronts Brundle with a shotgun, but Brundle overpowers him—then vomits on Borans’ arm and ankle, dissolving them.
Brundle then tries to force Quaife into the pods, she fights against him, and accidently rips off his jaw. But, the Bundlefly’s strength is too much, and he/it pushes her into one pod. He steps into the second pod, but Borans manages to grab the shotgun—with his remaining hand—and shoots the cables of the telepod that Quaife is in. She escapes, but Brundle is teleported to the third pod—but, a malfunction fuses his body with some of the metal of the pod.
Quaife garbs he shotgun, but when she fails to pull the trigger, Brundle reaches up and pulls the shotgun to his head, begging her to put him out of his misery. She does.
Director, David Cronenberg, has directed numerous classic Horror films—such as, Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), and eXistenZ (1999).
Of course, we know Jeff Goldblum from such classics as – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Jurassic Park (1993), and Independence Day (1996).
Geena Davis can be found in the classic Beetlejuice (1988), as well as the brilliant A League of Their Own (1992).
Comedy legend, Mel Brooks, produced the film—but didn’t want anyone to know it, because he was afraid people wouldn’t take the film seriously.
Chris Walas, who did the creature effects, won an Oscar for his work. And he went on to direct the sequel.
Michael Keaton turned down the role of Seth Brundle.
Jeff Goldblum often had to wear 5lbs of prosthetics, some of which took 5 hours to apply.
David Cronenberg has a cameo in the film—he is the doctor who delivers the maggot baby in Quaife’s dream sequence.
BLUE MONKEY (1987)
“They Breed. They Hatch. They Kill.”
Director – William Fruet
Writer(s) – George Goldsmith / Chris Koseluk
Starring – Steve Railsback / Ivan R. Roth / Gwynyth Walsh
Distributor – International Spectrafilm
Released – Sept. 25, 1987
Story: After being bitten by an insect, a man is hospitalized—and a parasite breaks out of his skin, and after growing larger, begins terrorizing the hospital residents.
“No-one is Safe!”
Director – Juan Piquer Simon
Writer(s) – Juan Piquer Simon / Ron Gantman / based of the novel by Shaun Hutson
Starring – Michael Garfield / Kim Terry
Distributor – New World Pictures
Released – Feb. 1988
Story: A small town is overrun by radiation-infected slugs.
THE NEST (1988)
“The Terror Has Hatched”
Director – Terence H. Winkless
Writer(s) – Robert King
Starring – Robert Lansing / Lisa Langlois / Terri Treas
Distributor – MGM
Released – May 13, 1988
Story: An island town is terrorized by flesh-eating cockroaches.
THE FLY II (1989)
“A New Generation of Terror!”
Director – Chris Walas
Writer(s) – Mick Garris / Jim Wheat / Ken Wheat / Frank Darabont
Starring – Eric Stoltz / Daphne Zuniga / Lee Richardson / John Getz
Distributor – 20th Century Fox
Released – Feb. 10, 1989
Story: A direct sequel to the 1986 film—The Fly—finds the son of Seth Brundle, and Veronica Quaife (who died in childbirth), being raised under the watchful eye of a corrupt corporation. Martin Brundle seeks to find a way to cure the dormant genes that threaten to come to life.
“Eight legs, two fangs and an attitude.”
Director – Frank Marshall
Writers – Don Jakoby / Wesley Strick (based on a story by Don Jakoby / Al Williams)
Starring – Jeff Daniels / Harley Jane Kozak / John Goodman / Julian Sands
Distributor – Buena Vista Pictures
Released – July 18, 1990
The film begins in the Amazon rainforest, where entomologist James Atherton (Julian Sands), leads a team, all hoping to discover new species of insects or arachnids. Traveling with them is a photographer Jerry Manley (Mark L. Taylor). After discovering a new spider, they return to camp. Unknown to anyone, another spider has climbed into Manley’s backpack. While the researchers are studying their finds, Manley attempts to take a nap, but the spider bites him—killing him. Thinking he died of a fever, the team boxes up his body and sends it home—but it has another passenger, the deadly spider.
The body arrives home to a small California town named, Canaima. At the same time, a new doctor, Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels), and his family are just moving in. The spider escapes the makeshift coffin and is picked up by a crow. Biting the crow, it drops onto the Jennings family’s new farm. Ross, thinking he is to be the new town doctor, finds out the town’s current doctor, Sam Metcalf (Henry Jones) does not want to retire—forcing Ross to wonder what they will do now. He finds one ally, Margaret Hollins (Mary Carver), who becomes Ross’s first patient.
Meanwhile, the Amazonian spider mates with a domestic spider, who then builds a nest in the Jennings’ barn. Margaret throws a party for the Jennings family, hoping the town will accept him. But, after Margaret dies of an apparent heart attack and a high school football player (both of whom were seen by Jennings), the town starts calling him Dr. Death, not knowing they died of spider bites.
We then meet exterminator Delbert McClintock (John Goodman), who begins looking for spiders after the high school coach’s daughter encounters one in the shower. Finding no evidence of a spider, Delbert leaves the house and encounters one of the spiders on the outside walkway. He sprays it, but the poison has not effect. He then steps on it.
Then, after Dr. Metcalf dies, Ross does an autopsy on the bodies, which reveals that both may have died from spider bites. Ross contacts Atherton—who remembers that Manley was part of his team—and sends an assistant, Chris Collins (Brian McNamara) to Canaima. Ross, Chris, the coroner, and the sheriff begin a search for the spiders, where they finally find a live specimen. Chris calls Atherton and tells him he needs to get here now.
Soon, the ever-growing group, determines that the offspring of the Amazonian spider (now dubbed the General) and a house spider, has produced an army—which, it seems, will likely decimate the local area as they spread, killing everything is their path. They need to find the nest and kill the queen. Atherton is killed while investigating the barn. Ross, Collins and Delbert realizes that the spiders are at the Jennings’ home. They arrive, find that Atherton is dead, and then go the house. Jennings’ family is watching TV, but the house is soon overrun with spiders. Everyone tries to escape, and end up climbing outside.
Ross gets trapped inside, and tries to make his way downstairs, but falls from the second floor and crashes through the first floor—landing in the basement. It is there that he discovers the spider’s egg sack. Ross manages to kill the queen, but when he attempts to destroy the egg sack, the General startles him and Ross falls to the floor, trapping himself under a full wine rack. He manages to fight off the spider (overcoming his own arachnophobia), and sends it flying across the room where it catches on fire. Then Ross fires a nail gun, sending the General into the egg sack—where spider and egg sack pops and burns, killing the offspring.
The Jennings family moves back to San Francisco.
A very effective entry, made with seeming care and enthusiasm. The spiders—utilizing the brilliant work of spider wranglers, Steve Kutcher and Jules Sylvester—were wonderfully entertaining, and even a little creepy. Many filmgoers found the film funny, while others cringed in fear when the spiders appeared on screen. Though laced with much humor, you won’t be disappointed if you want a film that makes your skin crawl—or, at least, makes you feel like something is crawling on you.
Director Frank Marshall is best known for his production work (many in collaboration with his wife, Kathleen Kennedy, and director Stephen Spielberg) of some of the best movies of all-time. From, The Warriors (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Gremlins (1984), Back to the Future (1985), and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).
Jeff Daniels has been many diverse films—such as Dumb & Dumber (1994), Speed (1994), and Looper (2012)—as well as such TV shows as the recent, The Newsroom (2012-2014).
Harely Jane Kozak has been in numerous films (like Parenthood—1989), but has primarily been associated with TV, having been in shows like—Knightwatch (1988-89), Harts of the West (1993-94), and You Wish (1997-98).
John Goodman—he of Roseanne (1988-1997) fame—has been all over the place, gracing us with his performances in King Ralph (1991) and The Flintstones (1994), to The Big Lebowski (1998) and Coyote Ugly (2000), to O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) and Monsters Inc. (2001).
Julian Sands is probably best known to genre fans for such films as Gothic (1986), Warlock (1988), and most recently, as Gerald Crane on the TV series, Gotham (2014-).
Dan Jakoby also wrote the screenplays for Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), and Vampires (1998).
The sound of the spider that is crushed under John Goodman’s foot, is actually potato chips being crushed.
The primary spiders used in the film are actually a very harmless species known as (Avondale spiders), from New Zealand. The larger spider used in the film’s opening is that of the bird-eating tarantula.
The spiders in the film were handled by entomologist Steven Kutcher—who “bug wrangled” in such films as Prince of Darkness (1987), Leprechaun 2 (1994), and Mimic (1997).
The film was the first one released under the Hollywood Pictures label.
The large animatronic spider (aka the General), used for the film’s final act, was created by future Mythbuster, Jamie Hyneman.
The film won the Saturn Award (from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films) for Best Horror Film and Best Actor (Jeff Daniels).
It was a successful film—grossing nearly $54 million (on $8 million budget). Even more impressive, it made over $30 million in video rentals.
MEET THE APPLEGATES (1991)
“The human race is about to be destroyed by people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Director – Michael Lehmann
Writer(s) – Michael Lehmann / Redbeard Simmons
Starring – Ed Begley Jr. / Stockard Channing / Dabney Coleman
Distributor – New World Pictures
Released – Feb. 1, 1991
Story: A family of Amazonian mantises turn themselves into humans, and move to America—where they fall prey to the same habits, and vices, that all humans do.
“An Environmental Disaster With A Name.”
Director – Clark Brandon
Writer(s) – Clark Brandon / Lanny Horn / Joseph Luis Rubin
Starring – Jim Youngs / Tracy Griffith
Distributor – August Entertainment
Released – Apr. 6, 1994 (USA)
Story: Toxic waste dumping creates giant, killer mosquitoes—which terrorize a small town.
“They Breed. They Hatch. They Kill.”
Director – Tony Randel
Writer(s) – Brent V. Friedman
Starring – Peter Scolari / Seth Green / Rosalind Allen / Ami Dolenz / Alfonso Riberio
Distributor – Republic Pictures
Released – May 25, 1994
Story: A couple takes a group of problem teens on a “getting in touch with nature” trip. While there, they must fight for their lives against giant, killer ticks.
“Blood Never Tasted Better.”
Director – Gary Jones
Writer(s) – Tom Chaney / Steve Hodge / Gary Jones
Starring – Gunnar Hansen / Steve Dixon / Ron Asheton
Distributor – Helmdale
Released – May 20, 1995
Story: An alien ship dumps their trash in a U.S. Park, which gives rises to giant mosquitoes.
JOE’S APARTMENT (1996)
“Sex, Bugs, Rock N’ Roll”
Director – John Payson
Writer(s) – John Payson
Starring – Jerry O’Connell / Megan Ward
Distributor – Warner Bros.
Released – July 26, 1996
Story: A jobless college graduate takes a job running a rent-controlled apratm3ent building—and finds that, in addition to humans, it is occupied by thousands of talking cockroaches.
“For thousands of years, man had been evolution’s greatest creation…until now.”
Director – Guillermo del Toro
Writer(s) – Matthew Robbins / Guillermo del Toro / based on the story by Donald A. Wollheim
Starring – Mira Sorvino / Jeremy Northram / Josh Brolin / Charles S. Dutton
Distributor – Miramax Films
Released – Aug. 22, 1997
Story: An entomologist creates an insect, whose enzymes kills of diseased roaches. But, when the new insect gets in the general population—a deadly breed is produced. This new breed soon evolves into a giant, human-like creatures, which feeds on people. (There were two sequels).
STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)
“A New Kind of Enemy. A New Kind of War.”
Director – Paul Verhoeven
Writer(s) – Edward Neimeier / based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein
Starring – Casper Van Dien / Denise Richards / Dina Meyer / Patrick Muldoon
Distributor – Tri-Star Pictures
Released – Nov. 7, 1997
Story: An interstellar war between Earth and a race of killer insect-like aliens. (There have been several sequels of varying quality).
BUG BUSTER (1998)
“There’s Something Creepy In The Neighborhood.”
Director – Lorenzo Doumani
Writer(s) – Malick Khoury
Starring – Randy Quaid / Katherine Heigl / Brenda Epperson / James Doohan / George Takei
Distributor – Prism Leisure
Released – 1998
Story: Killer cockroaches vs. Randy Quaid.
THEY NEST (2000)
“It’s Feeding Time.”
Directors – Ellory Elkayem
Writer(s) – John Claflin / Daniel Zelman
Starring – Thomas Calabro / Kristen Dalton / Dean Stockwell
Distributor – Kushner Locke Company
Released – July 25, 2000
Story: A city doctor comes to a small island to seek some relaxation. But, he and the local residents soon find themselves fighting for their lives against killer cockroaches.
“Something Very Hungry is About to Hatch”
Director – Gary Jones
Writer(s) – Stephen David Brooks / Jace Anderson / Adam Geirsach / Boaz Davidson
Starring – Lana Parrilla / Josh Green / Oliver Macready
Distributor – Nu Image Films
Released – Dec. 27, 2000.
Story: A journalist, and two of her friends, investigate a crashed space shuttle, and discovered a giant spider—which tries to kill them.
TAIL STING (2001)
“Don’t Fasten Your Seatbelt!”
Director – Paul Wynne
Writer(s) – Timothy Griffin / Peter Soby Jr.
Starring – Robert Merrill / Laura Putney
Distributor – Starmedia Home entertainment
Released – Jan. 1, 2001
Story: Killer scorpions—on a plane.
SPIDERS II: BREEDING GROUND (2001)
“They’re Back…and This Time They’re Breeding Mad!”
Director – Sam Firstenberg
Writer(s) – Stephen David Brooks / Boaz Davidson
Starring – Stephanie Niznik / Greg Cromer / Richard Moll
Distributor – Nu Image Films
Released – May 9, 2001
Story: A giant spider terrorizes the crew of a ship.
“It’s Coming From Another World…To Stay!”
Director – Jack Sholder
Writer(s) – Mark Sevi
Starring – Alex Reid / Chris Potter / Jose Sancho
Distributor – Lions Gate Films
Released – June 29, 2001
Story: Plane crash survivors on the island of Guam, battle giant killer spiders.
EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS (2002)
“Let The Squashing Begin!”
Director – Ellory Elkayem
Writer(s) – Ellory Elkayem / Jesse Alexander / based on a story by Ellory Elkayem & Randy Kornfield
Starring – David Arquette / Kari Wuhrer / Scarlett Johansson / Scott Terra / Doug E. Doug
Distributor – Warner Bros. Pictures
Released – July 17, 2002
Hometown boy, Chris McCormick (David Arquette) returns home after a ten year absence. The town has called a meeting to decide if they want to sell the mine, and the residents to relocate. McCormick opposes the idea, and meeting becomes an argument over what is better for the town.
While the town argues over what to do, Sheriff Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer), and Deputy Pete Williams (Rick Overton) find barrels of toxic waste in a local pond. Soon after, spiders that have been exposed to the toxic water, and are growing, begin an assault on the town.
The town becomes quickly overrun by giant spiders of all types, and the residents—who are still alive and able to fight—gather at the mall, where they become trapped by a swarm of giant spiders. McCormick, Parker, and several of the townspeople make their way to the mine, and finally destroys spiders’ nest.
A mix of humor, and quality CGI effects, makes this a very fun film.
The original title of the film was Arac Attack.
The film was produced by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich—who also produced Stargate (1994), and Independence Day (1996).
Kari Wuhrer appeared in the Sci-Fi series, Sliders (1995-2000), and such films as, Anaconda (1997), and Hellraiser: Deader (2005).
A variety of spiders were used in the film—including tarantulas, jumping spiders, orb-weavers, and trapdoor spiders.
The film is based on the short film, Larger Than Life, which director Ellory Elkayem created in 1997—for a film project.
The film is one of the early roles for the young Scarlett Johansson.
Frank Welker, who provides the sounds/voices of the queen spider, and other spider vocal effects, is also the voice behind some well-known cartoon characters—Jabber jaw, Megatron, and Freddy from Scooby-Doo.
“Invasion of the Killer Bugs”
Director – Josh Olson
Writer(s) – Josh Olsen
Starring – Zach Galligan / Lisa Ann Hadley / Daniel Jenkins / Any Jo Johnson
Distributor – Sony Pictures
Released – Oct. 18, 2002
Story: When friends gather at a funeral, they are attacked by killer flies—whose bites turn people into zombies.
“A Parallel Dimension…A Gateway to Hell.”
Director – David Wu
Writer(s) – Greenville Case
Starring – Richard Grieco / Richard Yearwood / Kate Greenhouse / Colin Fox
Distributor – Universal Pictures
Released – June 28, 2003
Story: A crew of electricians end up in a parallel universe—ruled by giant spiders.
“You Can’t Kill What You Can’t See.”
Director – Joseph Conti
Writer(s) – Robinson Young / Patrick J. Doody / Chris Valenziano / and Joe Conti
Starring – Antonio Sabato Jr. / Angie Everhart
Distributor – Sci-Fi Pictures
Released – Sept. 6, 2003
Story: An engineer, and an entomologist, are trapped in an underground tunnel—with scorpion-like killers.
“These Girls Have A New Major…Survival”
Director – Jeffrey Lando
Writer(s) – Jeff O’Brien
Starring – Meghan Heffren / Travis Watters / Rhonda Dent
Distributor – Shoreline Entertainment
Released – Oct. 22, 2005
Story: Sorority girls battle giant bugs.
“Deep In The Earth Terror Awaits”
Director – Gregory Gieras
Writer(s) – Gregory Gieras
Starring – Larry Casey / Margaret Cash / Trevor Murphy
Distributor – Generon Entertainment
Released – Nov. 6, 2004
Story: Spelunkers battle killer centipedes.
GLASS TRAP (2005)
“There’s No Escape”
Director – Fred Olen Ray (as Ed Raymond)
Writer(s) – Lisa Morton / Brett Thompson
Starring – C. Thomas Howell / Stella Stevens / Siri Baruc / Andrew Pine
Distributor – First Look Home Entertainment
Released – Aug. 2, 2005
Story: Radioactive ants terrorize people in a skyscraper.
LOCUSTS: THE 8th PLAGUE (2005)
“Watch The Skies…And Run!”
Director – Ian Gilmour
Writer(s) – D.R. Rosen
Starring – Dan Cortese / David Keith / Julie Benz / Jeff Fahey
Distributor – MGM
Released – Nov. 12, 2005
Story: Genetically enhanced locusts escape from a lab and terrorize Idaho farmers.
“Horror Has A New Face.”
Director – James Gunn
Writer(s) – James Gunn
Starring – Nathan Fillion / Elizabeth Banks / Michael Rooker
Distributor – Universal Pictures
Released – Mar. 31, 2006
Story: A meteorite lands in a small town—unleashing parasitic worms on the populace. Lots of B-Movie laughs and gore.
ICE SPIDERS (2007)
“Hell Has Just Frozen Over”
Director – Tibor Takacs
Writer(s) – Eric Miller
Starring – Patrick Muldoon / Vanessa A. Williams / Thomas Calabro
Distributor – Regent Worldwide
Released – June 9, 2007
Story: A breed of giant, deadly spiders terrorizes a ski resort.
DESTINATION: INFESTATION (2007)
Director – George Mendeluk
Writer(s) – Mary Weinstein
Starring – Jessalyn Gilsis / Serge Houde / Antonio Sabato Jr.
Distributor – A&E
Resale – July 7, 2007
Story: People, on a plane, battle poisonous ants.
BLACK SWARM (2007)
“If You Can See The Swarm…It’s Too Late”
Director – David Winning
Writer(s) – Todd Samovitz / Ethlie Ann Vare
Starring – Sebastien Roberts / Sarah Allen / Robert Englund
Distributor – Genius Entertainment
Released – Dec. 7, 2007
Story: A scientist creates a breed of killer wasps that escape, and attack a small town.
THE HIVE (2008)
“Death Is Their Picnic.”
Director – Peter Manus
Writer(s) – T.S. Cook
Starring – Tom Wopat / Elizabeth Healey / Kal Weber
Distributor – RHI Entertainment
Released – Feb. 17, 2008
Story: Scientists battle an army of flesh-eating ants.
HIGH PLAINS INVADERS (2009)
“No One Invited Them. Nothing Can Stop Them.”
Director – K.T. Donaldson (Kristoffer Tabori)
Writer – Richard Beattie
Starring – James Marsters / Cindy Sampson / Sebastian Knapp
Distributor – SyFy Channel
Released – Aug. 30, 2009
Story: An insect-like alien race, battles the resident of an old west town.
CAMEL SPIDERS (2011)
“They Really Get Under Your Skin”
Director – Jim Wynorski
Writer(s) – J. Brad Wilke / Jim Wynorski
Starring – Brian Krause / Melissa Brasselle / C. Thomas Howell
Distributor – SyFy / Anchor Bay Entertainment
Released – Mar. 4, 2011
Story: Camel spiders—having traveled back with U.S. soldiers, returning from the Middle East—begin terrorizing the southwest United States.
Director – G.E. Furst
Writer(s) – Paul A. Birkett / Eric Forsberg
Starring – Megan Adelle / Gralen Bryant Banks / Edward Furlong / Tracey Gold
Distributor – SyFy
Released – June 23, 2012
Story: An earthquake unleashes giant spider on the city of New Orleans.
DRAGON WASPS (2012)
“A New Breed of Evil”
Director – Joe Knee
Writer(s) – Mark Atkins / Rafael Jordan
Starring – Corin Nemec / Dominika Julliet / Nikolette Noel / Benjamin Easterday
Distributor – SyFy Channel / American World Pictures
Released – Dec. 1, 2012
Story: Soldiers battle giant wasps.
SPIDERS 3D (2013)
“The City is Crawling”
Director – Tibor Takacs
Writer(s) – Joseph Farrugia / Tibor Takacs / Boaz Davidson / Dustin Warburton
Starring – Patrick Muldoon / Christ Campbell / William Hope
Distributor – Nu Image
Released – Feb. 8, 2013
Story: A Russian space station falls to earth, and crashes into a New York subway tunnel, where it unleashes an experimental breed of spiders—that grow, and begin terrorizing the city.
BIG ASS SPIDER! (2013)
“10 Stories High…and Very Hungry”
Director – Mike Mendez
Writer(s) – Gregory Gieras
Starring – Greg Grunberg / Clare Kramer / Lin Shaye / Lombardo Boyar
Distributor – Paramount Pictures
Released – Oct. 18, 2013
After being bitten by a spider, an exterminator named Alex (Greg Grunberg), is taken to a hospital for treatment. While there, a rat-sized spider climb out of a dead body, and bites the mortician. Alex agrees to deal with the spider problem, in exchange for the hospital paying for his bill.
While searching for the spider, the military shows up to examine the dead body. Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer), and a hospital security guard, Jose (Lombardo Boyar) help Alex in his search—which leads them outside, where they find the spider, which growing larger by the minute, has killed a homeless man, and is heading into the city.
The spider continues to grow larger, until it is gigantic. It soon begins to terrorize the people of L.A., and the military begins an assault on the creature. Alex and Jose eventually confront the giant spider head-on, and Alex uses a rocket launcher and shoots the spider in its spinneret—blowing the spider up—and saving the city.
Director Mike Mendez could not afford a casting director, so he used some of his Facebook fiends. He also directed The Convent (2000), and The Gravedancers (2006).
Greg Grunberg was also in the TV series, Heroes (2006-2010), and Heroes Reborn (2015).
The jogger was played by Lloyd Kaufman—of Troma Films.
Clare Kramer is probably best known to fans as Glory, on the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). She also hosts two popular internet programs—Take Five with Clare Kramer, and Five By Five.
A mid-credit scene shows a giant cockroach climbing the Statue of Liberty.
“Fire Burns…Lava Bites”
Director – Mike Mendez
Writer(s) – Neil Elman / Ashley O’Neil
Starring – Steve Guttenberg / Nia Peebles / Patrick Renna / Michael Winslow
Distributor – SyFy
Released – July 25, 2015
Story: Volcanos erupt—and unleash lava-spewing tarantulas on Los Angeles.
INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)
Based on the brilliant novel by Richard Matheson, this film—directed by Jack Arnold—has a brilliant killer spider scene.
The main character, Scott Carey (portrayed by Grant Williams) battles a spider—which, due to Carey’s shrinking—is gigantic.
Written by Stephen King, and directed by George A. Romero, this collection of tales features one segment that is very relevant to this list.
The final segment, titled They’re Creeping Up On You. It is the story of a greedy businessman (portrayed by E.G. Marshall), whose secure penthouse is overrun by cockroaches.
THE MIST (2007)
Based on a story by Stephen King, and directed by Frank Darabont, this brilliant—and tragic Horror film—features several creatures that appear during a freak storm. One of the creatures is a giant, wasp-like monster.
And so, we come to the end of Creeping Crawling Cinema. It can be a fun little film niche, and when done well, can also provide all the skin-crawling moments that scare us, entertain us, and make for a fun evening with friends and family.
Hey, what’s that on the ceiling above you?
A informative collection of films with--killer bugs, giant spiders, slugs, flies, and other leggy creatures that want to kill, eat, or rule us. Gives relevant information of each film--some with a brief synopsis of the film, as well as some fun facts. A mini encyclopedia of "killer bug" movies--from the 50s to today.