Cicada mania has swept the area this summer, with mature nymphs emerging from their underground dwellings after a 17-year hiatus. Though cicadas do not bite or sting — therefore posing no danger to humans — this got us to thinking: What are some creepy, icky insect-oriented horror/sci-fi films?
Like the creatures who inspired them, the following 10 films will creep you out and make your skin crawl. While some quality films are featured, others fall into the so-bad-they’re-good or self-parody categories. They amuse us for reasons the filmmakers may or may not have intended.
After seeing these films, you realize that cicadas are the least of your insect worries. Yes, there’s that annoying and incessant singing, but these Brood II critters die off after one or two months, leaving offspring to burrow into the ground for 17 years. The same can’t be said for the insects featured in these films.
Caution: We’re adhering to true insect classifications for this list. So, if you expect to find films like “Tarantula,” “Arachnophobia” or “Eight Legged Freaks,” you’ve come to the wrong ick fest — spiders do not belong to any insect order.
The movies, in creepy, icky chronological order:
Director: Gordon Douglas
Law enforcement officials (including James Arness of “Gunsmoke”) investigate mysterious deaths and disappearances. The culprits turn out to be man-eating ants that, following exposure to radiation, mutated into giant monsters. Based on a story by George Worthing Yates, this acclaimed classic received a Special Effects Oscar nomination, an accomplishment for “big-bug” films that often feature laughable visual imagery.
“The Beginning of the End” (1957)
Director: Bert I. Gordon
In a bid to end world hunger, an Illinois-based agricultural scientist (Peter Graves of “Mission: Impossible” fame) uses radiation to grow gigantic vegetables. Hungry locusts, however, have other ideas: They eat the crops, transform into humongous monsters, move on to human delicacies and wreak havoc. If you want to see bad acting and special effects that epitomize the worst of 1950s sci-fi films, this — or “The Deadly Mantis” — is it.
“The Fly” (1958, 1986)
Director: Kurt Neumann (1958), David Cronenberg (1986)
Human and insect anatomies collide in this sci-fi film, based on a short story by George Langelaan. A fly joins a scientist (David Hedison) in his self-invented teleportation device, causing a mixture of their atoms. The reveal of the scientist boasting the head and arm of a fly is classic creep-out cinema.
In the 1986 remake starring Jeff Goldblum, the scientist’s metamorphosis is more gradual; only near the end of the movie does he complete his transformation. Aside from winning a Best Makeup Oscar, the 1986 version contributed the following quote to pop culture: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Director: Ishir Honda
Before taking on Godzilla, cinematic icon Mothra made its debut in this Japanese film. The sacred egg, Mothra, hatches a huge insect larva, travels to Tokyo and searches for two tiny kidnapped women who sent out a telepathic cry. Mothra eventually metamorphoses into an adult moth of monstrous size. Sure, Mothra causes its fair share of property damage, but as protector of the “Shobijin” (small beauties), it proves that not all giant monsters are out to eat us.
“The Deadly Bees” (1967)
Director: Freddie Francis
Based on H.F. Heard’s 1941 novel “A Taste for Honey,” this British horror film shares commonalities with “The Beginning of the End” — namely, bad acting and special effects. Robert Bloch, who penned the book “Psycho,” co-wrote this tale of terror in which a beekeeper grows killer bees on a remote island. If the sight of bees alone does not freak you out, seeing them attack and cover a woman’s face should do the trick.
“Phase IV” (1974)
Director: Saul Bass
An unknown cosmic event causes an army of desert ants to form a hive mind and wage war on humans in this intelligent sci-fi entry. One Arizona scientist wants to attempt communication with the ants, while the other wants to kill them. Naturally, the one trying to wipe them out falls into a deep trap and becomes ant food. The ants want to make humans part of their world, but since there is no “Phase V,” we may never know what part that is.
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Mutant cockroaches emerge following a major earthquake. While not gigantic, these intelligent critters can start fires with their bodies. A scientist tries training and breeding the bugs, which, as you could imagine, doesn’t turn out so well. In one of the more memorable, icky scenes, a cockroach crawls up a woman’s hair and sets her on fire. In yet another, the bugs crawl all over the scientist and start feasting.
Director: Gary Jones
In this throwback to B-movies of the 1950s, mosquitoes feed on the blood of dead alien spacemen after a spacecraft crash-lands on Earth. While far from a ground-breaking entry in the insect-monster genre, the movie features Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface from 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and gets right to the point: Just minutes in, a gigantic mosquito crashes into a windshield.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Using genetic engineering, an entomologist (Mira Sorvino) creates a large insect that feeds on disease-carrying roaches in Manhattan. The new bugs manage to reproduce, grow to man-size stature, and mimic the appearance and behavior of humans. The film, inspired by a Donald A. Wollheim short story, features two chilling scenes: the slaying of two young boys and a “man” reverting to insect form and flying off with the entomologist.
“The Bay” (2012)
Director: Barry Levinson
A critical success that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, this found-footage-style flick documents a horrific plague that killed hundreds of residents in Claridge, Md. After swimming in or drinking the local water — which has a high level of toxicity — humans become hosts for the tongue-eating parasite cymothoa exigua. The sight of these bugs killing their hosts is enough to make viewers stay as far as possible from Earth’s most abundant compound.
Five others to check out
“Empire of the Ants” (1977): A toxic spill transforms ants into gigantic monsters set on destroying humans. Loosely based on H.G. Wells’ short story of the same name, this film stars Joan Collins as a crooked land developer. The biggest shocker? Collins take on creatures more loathsome than the one she played on “Dynasty.”
“The Swarm” (1978): This killer-bees disaster flick, which was a critical and commercial failure, assembled an all-star cast that included Michael Caine, Olivia de Havilland and Henry Fonda. Armed with a powerful venom, the bees — which originate from Africa — kill thousands of people.
“Creepshow” (1982): Containing five short stories, George A. Romero’s “Creepshow” features the work of horror writer Stephen King. “They’re Creeping Up on You!” contains one of the ickiest insect scenes ever on film: Cockroaches swarm on a man, burst out from his corpse and bury him in their sheer volume.
“Men in Black” (1997): “Bug,” a member of a giant cockroach-like species, steals a farmer’s skin and wears it as a guise in this sci-fi blockbuster, based on “The Men in Black” comic-book series. Near the end of the film, the extraterrestrial reveals his true, scary, 11-foot self to agents K and J (Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith).
“Starship Troopers” (1997): Adapted from Robert A. Heinlein’s same-titled 1959 novel, this sci-fi thriller pits a futuristic military unit against alien insects. When the military attacks the Bugs’ home planet, the result is not for the squeamish: the Bugs impale and rip thousands of soldiers to shreds.