I have a phobia of cockroaches. It's not just a fear—it's a full-blown phobia. Blattodephobia, it's called. I mostly don't mind other bugs, just cockroaches. I'm especially afraid of the big ones. The last time one was in my apartment, I responded by throwing a blanket over my head. If it hadn't been located and killed immediately, I probably would have moved out and just started a new life.
I also love horror movies, though, and I make myself watch bug movies to scare myself. I mean, that's the whole point of horror movies. So, whether you're a fan or phobic of bugs, here are 6 of the best movies about bugs.
1. BUG (1975)
I've written about this movie before but it definitely needs to be included in this list. Based on the novel The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page, Bug was the last movie written (in part) and produced by B-movie legend William Castle. After an earthquake causes a huge crack to open up in a small town, strange fire-starting bugs begin to appear, wreaking havoc on anything in their path. The good news is: because they've come from the bowels of Earth, the air pressure aboveground is too low, and they die quickly. The bad news is: Professor James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman), who has a degree in sweating, breeds some of them with regular cockroaches, and those adapt to life aboveground, and also, now they can fly.
The movie mostly uses real cockroaches, both the Madagascar hissing ones and the Palmetto bugs found in the U.S. South.
2. CREEPSHOW (1982)
Every story in this Stephen King/George Romero collaboration is worth seeing, but the relevant one here is "They're Creeping Up On You"—the one with all the cockroaches. This was obviously far before CGI and just thinking about the sheer number of cockroaches in this thing (about 250,000, according to Romero) is enough to make my skin crawl. This is the story of a mean old mysophobic man (E.G. Marshall) who's paying top dollar to live in a stark white, completely hermetically sealed apartment, devoid of any life whatsoever besides himself. Of course, the more he tries to control his surroundings, the more out of control they become. There's some sort of metaphor there—oh well, one day it'll come to me.
In Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow, special effects supervisor Tom Savini says about 18,000 cockroaches were brought in from Trinidad by two entymologist "roach wranglers." The roaches were then bred on set in a trailer (hell yeah, the roaches had their own trailer).
According to Just Desserts, as soon as the roaches were poured into the bright apartment set, they ran from the light, wedging themselves into any available crevice (inside the computer, phone, etc). The wranglers apparently tried to keep the roaches from escaping the room by smearing the top of the set wall with Vaseline, but those bad boys just ran right over that. Each time they poured out the barrels of roaches, they'd only manage to get about half of them back—my nightmare scenario.
3. THE NEST (1988)
Produced by Julie Corman (wife of Roger Corman), The Nest (not to be confused with They Nest a.k.a. Creepy Crawlies) is terrible cinema at its finest. North Port is a small New England fishing town besieged with killer cockroaches that travel in hordes, picking clean the carcasses of anything that gets in their path. The plot is very dumb, including a ridiculously evil (and way too sexy) Lady Scientist (Terri Treas). There are real roaches in The Nest, but the rivers of roaches shown in the tunnel is just stock footage from someplace like Trinidad, where the roaches run like rivers. If the roaches that you actually see outside of the cave all look sort of different, it's because they were all just yoinked off the street. According to a comment on IMDB, the studio where the movie was shot had a cockroach problem for several years after the shoot ended.
And the movie poster is amazing.
4. ARACHNOPHOBIA (1990)
I know, I know a spider is not actually an insect or a bug. But Arachnophobia is a scary, well-done movie about arthropods that multitudes of people are afraid of, so I included it. Deal with it, nerds.
Arachnophobia, Frank Marshall's directorial debut, tells the story of a Dr. Ross Jennings, a young doctor (Jeff Daniels) who moves his family from the big city to the country to take over the practice of the retiring town doctor. The young doctor, who has a debilitating fear of spiders, soon finds that some of his patients are dying from what seem to be (and definitely are) spider bites. The little spiders running all around town are, unbeknownst to Jennings, the spawn of a huge spider who hitched its way to the U.S. from Venezuela earlier in the movie by climbing into the coffin of one of its victims.
That spider, an eight-inch Amazonian bird-eating tarantula, was actually known on set as "Big Bob." According to an LA Times article from 1990, Marshall employed six spider "wranglers" who were responsible for handling up to 100 spiders at a time. Five types of spider were used in the the movie, but most are the delena spider (also known as the Avondale spider, or the huntsman spider in Australia) from New Zealand. The delena was chosen by the filmmakers who held a "spider Olympics," to see which spiders were best at walking up a wall, across a piece of string, or climbing into a glass. The delena is harmless, and also has the bonus feature of two legs in front that are longer than the rest, giving it a certain special eeriness.
The movie's original title was Along Came the Spider, but Marshall claimed he "thought that was too cute because there are people who like to go to the movies to be scared. I don't know the answer to the question: Will people who are afraid of spiders go to the movie?"
5. MIMIC (1997)
If regular-sized bugs are terrifying, how about ones as big as humans? In director Guillermo Del Toro's first American movie, Mira Sorvino plays America's sexiest entomologist, Dr. Susan Tyler, who created an bug hybrid called the Judas breed designed to kill the cockroaches that were causing some childhood disease that was killing all the children. The Judas breed bugs didn't live long in the lab, but they changed out in the world; underground in the subways, they were mutating and breeding. And they were changing their appearance to resemble their predator (humans, if that wasn't clear). Now it's three years later and they're killing and eating a lot of humans.
Obviously, the movie doesn't use real cockroaches, and what they do use is CGI, but it's still scary (to me). Del Toro disliked the end result of Mimic so much he publicly distanced himself from it, but in 2011 Miramax released a director's cut, with a different ending.
6. THE UNBORN (2009)
I saw this movie when it first came out, and honestly, I don't even remember the plot, but I definitely do remember the bugs. This movie used potato bugs (sometimes called Jerusalem crickets) which are (besides cockroaches) THE GROSSEST bugs imaginable. The director, David S. Goyer, told Wired that he wanted to use potato bugs in the movie after finding his dog barking at one in his backyard. Goyer revealed, "The bug wrangler said they’re hard to get ahold of and tried to steer me toward cockroaches, but I’d seen that a million times." So Goyer hired entomology students who eventually managed to round up 300 potato bugs in New Mexico and ship them to the movie set in Chicago.
Potato bugs, which are approximately two inches in length, also bite. Goyer explains, "This picture (top) of Odette Yustman screaming? Just below her bosom, there’s quite a few potato bugs on her. Those are real screams because she was actually being bitten by potato bugs." COOL STORY, BRO.
Other bug movies to check out:
THEY NEST (also released as CREEPY CRAWLIES) (2000)
THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE (1971)
Bug movies not to check out:
TARANTULA: In this 1955 movie, they actually stepped on and killed lots of tarantulas, which is horrible.