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Bzzzzz! Movie bugs with just the right sting

Honestly, there are not many great insects of the cinema. The few memorable ones are rarely the stars of the film. They support, make cameo appearances and are almost always below the title. Stupid humans — they’re more into other stupid humans as protagonists.  By Dave White
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Honestly, there are not many great insects of the cinema. The few memorable ones are rarely the stars of the film. They support, make cameo appearances and are almost always below the title. Stupid humans — they’re more into other stupid humans as protagonists.

Even worse, lately, the only insects people shell out money for at the movies are cutey-cute, tired-concept, anthropomorphic animated bugs. “A Bug’s Life,” “Antz,” “The Ant Bully” and now the less-than-thrilling (sorry, people with kids, it just is) “Bee Movie.” Have any of these creatures been as awesome as Jiminy Cricket? Did any of them teach you stuff? Warn you against disobedience to parents? Wear a top hat? Spats? No. None of them did that. And that’s how you know they’re inferior. 

But these bugs aren’t. They’re the insectiest:

“Bug” (1975)The 2007 movie called “Bug” has no bugs in it. I felt kind of cheated — even though that movie is still cool because Ashley Judd goes cuckoo-bananas in it and lines the entire inside of her room with aluminum foil — because I thought it was going to be a remake of the 1975 one where cockroaches sneak up on people and start fires. Best of all it’s got one of those posters that barks at you: “THE PICTURE YOU SEE WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED!” This is followed by: “CHECK LIST AFTER VIEWING ‘BUG’: 1. CHECK YOUR CAR 2. CHECK YOUR NECK 3. CHECK YOUR HAIR 4. CHECK YOUR BED.” And because this isn’t quite enough, under the photo of a screaming woman holding a telephone receiver that’s on fire because of a cockroach, there’s “A SERIOUS WARNING” from screenwriter William Castle about how you probably shouldn’t see the movie at all. Reverse psychology!

“Creepshow” (1982)More cockroaches. Obsessively clean and Scrooge-mean E.G. Marshall lives in a hermetically sealed environment. And then the roaches show up, threatening to turn his home into “Joe’s Apartment.” Finally he’s consumed by them. It’s basically the moral template for the “Saw” movies, where jerks are hoisted on their own petards and killed by something super-disgusting while the audience thinks, “Ew. Well, he deserved it.”

“The Swarm” (1978)The bees in this movie are, admittedly, not even as interesting as the bees in “Bee Movie” because it appears that they’re actually a lot of raisins being thrown into the air opposite some giant fans. But what makes it all weirdly fascinating is how far the mighty Irwin Allen brand of disaster movie had fallen into cheapness and disrepair by the time this was made in the late ’70s. Stocked with big names out for a paycheck, they got Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland to be in it. Michael Caine, too, but he said yes to everything. Anyway, they’re pretty funny raisins.

“Them!” (1954)A true B-movie, back when there was a definite line between a movie about giant mutant creatures and a movie that people were supposed to take seriously. Of course, now people sort of do take this one seriously. It was a bar-setter for movies about giant mutant things, a standard by which others are measured. Here the giant mutant things are ants and they got that way because it’s New Mexico, home of all things nuclear and terrifying. The ants kill people. Then more people run and scream. A lady gets picked up by one. You know, fun. A radiation classic.

“The Fly” (1958 and 1986)Both versions are classics, but David Cronenberg’s is the goriest and therefore the winner. Because you just can’t ignore the nasty, maggoty genesis of these creatures. It’s cheating if you do. Cronenberg would resurrect his bug-fascination in “Naked Lunch” but it didn’t hold a candle to the Jeff Goldblum supergoo.

“Starship Troopers” (1997)This mindblowingly crazy fantasy about a fascist future of evil insects and how hyperactive military forces have to blow them away in the most violently graphic ways possible is one of the greatest, silliest, smartest, weirdest, most political movies of the 1990s, one where you cheer on the military and the monster-bugs. If you took all the insanity of director Paul Verhoeven’s earlier movie, “Showgirls,” and substituted building-sized, rip-you-to-pieces insects for naked strippers pushing each other down flights of stairs and then soaked it all in Hitler sauce and cocaine, that would be this movie.

“Empire of The Ants” (1977)Joan Collins is in it. Joan Collins and big ants. I don’t know why I should have to tell you anything more than that, really. If you’re not into it then you can just go watch “Stepmom” or something. I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.

“Cremaster 2” (1999)Unless you’re at a museum where it’s showing or can find a bootleg of this thoroughly freaked-out Matthew Barney art film, you probably won’t get a chance to watch it anytime soon. But should you ever cross its path, know that it’s amazing and it stars Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini and is about — I think — the idea that murderer Gary Gilmore was thought to be descended from Houdini. Then there’s a bit about Johnny Cash and some bees. Johnny Cash isn’t in the movie, though. “Cremaster 2” was made at around the same time as the indie drama “Ulee’s Gold” came out, the one with Peter Fonda as a beekeeper with family troubles and you’re supposed to boo-hoo over it all. Thoroughly unmemorable bees in that one. Barney’s bees get into way more A-listy art-world parties than those sad, little honey-making stiffs.

“Invasion of the Bee Girls” (1973)They just don’t make this kind soft-core sex/horror movie anymore. And feminism’s not to blame for that because Hollywood adapts, much like the Mira Sorvino-created-mantis-monster in “Mimic,” and simply finds new ways to be insulting to women. So that’s not it. Maybe we’ve all just grown more ashamed of our embarrassingly tacky sexual selves and movies like this just laid it out on the line too much. But that’s a conversation for another time, because in this movie the very urgent problem of a bunch of men dropping dead after sex is happening and it’s all the ladies’ fault. The women are being transformed into queen bees that see things in multiple-lens insectovision and have to kill because it’s what queen bees do. So they love those guys to death. This, of course, can’t go on or the men won’t rule the world like they’re supposed to, but while it’s happening it’s pretty groovy.

“Mothra” (1961)
Why Mothra is better than all of the rest:

  1. Is the biggest.
  2. Knows Godzilla personally and has held her own in multiple battles.
  3. Has starred in more movies than all other bugs — 14 to date — including “Destroy All Monsters,” the greatest giant monster film of all time.
  4. Has had several songs written about her.
  5. Is the only giant insect to have personal assistants in her entourage: tiny twin heralds she uses as messengers when she’s too busy to go announce her impending arrival herself.
  6. Never dies, destroys stuff like crazy and just generally gets the job done. If Oprah and Madonna were giant bugs, they’d be her.

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile In Guyville.” Find him at