Summer is in full swing and while the black flies have receded, mosquitoes are in full swarm. This week marked the anniversary of the classic The Fly and, on this day in 2002, the nostalgic ‘giant insect’ film Eight-Legged Freaks was released. To mark these horror moments, in this edition of The Chopping Block, I’ll be looking at some of the best ‘giant insects’ horror films. A fun subgenre of science-fiction and horror film hybrid that surfaced in the 1950’s era of the atom bomb and drive-in theatres,
Tarantula is pure 1950’s sci-fi/horror fun for audiences that appreciate old-style black and white fare. It’s story of a tarantula that grows to the size of a house when it’s a test subject for a radioactive super-nutrient is nostalgic drive-in fun. Like all 1950’s monster movies, Tarantula takes its time giving the audience what it wants, but it’s worth the wait. The special effects are impressive for the time period and arguably still hold up enough to deliver the creeps you expect from a movie about a giant tarantula.
Eight-Legged Freaksis an open love-letter to the sci-fi horror films of the 1950’s. It’s story of accidentally leaked toxic chemicals causing spiders to grow to massive proportions could have come from any number of black and white B-films. Not all the intended humour of Eight-Legged Freaks lands. In addition, the film occasionally loses sight of what makes spiders creepy for most people. Nevertheless, Eight-Legged Freaks remains infectiously fun even if it runs a little longer than necessary. Some of the visual effects are a little suspect, but they hold up well when compared to some of what you’ll see in the average SyFy film.
Mimic may not be Guillermo del Toro at his best, but it’s still a fun and grossly disgusting ‘giant insect film. To combat a disease carried by crack roaches, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler creates a new breed of insect to hunt and kill the pests. Despite being bred to die off after one generation, the insect breed mutates, grows, and develops the ability to ‘mimic’ human beings. Critics expecting another Cronos were disappointed with Mimic. Fans of B-films, however, will appreciate del Toro’s homage to 50’s sci-fi horror accompanied by his usual stunning visuals. The monster effects are pure creature fun.
Starship Troopers (1997)
In the 1980’s, director Paul Verhoeven gave us the classic RoboCop. Ten years later, Verhoeven bestowed the fun, brilliant satirical Starship Troopers upon us. Sadly, audiences in 1997 weren’t ready for a film about fascist military propagandizing dressed up as a science-fiction action hybrid about giant alien insects. Even if you didn’t appreciate the ‘recruitment ads’ interspersed throughout Starship Troopers, it’s still a fast-paced ‘shoot’em up’ action film with good special effects and lots of Rated-R blood and guts. Smart films and their messages typically age well. Today, Starship Troopers is even more relevant than it was 20 years ago. As an added bonus, you get Neil Patrick Harris. And Jake Busey.
If there are two films that define the 1950’s sci-fi horror wave, it’s The Blob and Them. While many of the ‘ large insect’ films that popped up in the 1950’s and 1970’s were cheesy B-films, Them plays it straight with its story of ants mutated to massive size as a result of atomic testing in the desert. Like most older monster movies, Them keeps its creatures hidden for much of the first half, only dropping hints that are effectively foreboding. There are a lot of little things that elevate Them from its B-film monster cousins, making it timeless. Its creature effects are impressive for the time period, the story actually weaves with some actual suspense, and the moments traumatized little girl provides the film its title adds some gravitas. Simply put, Them is a perfect midnight creature creature for horror fans who don’t mind an old-fashioned black and white approach.