There is something innately creepy about insects and spiders. The exoskeletal systems with all those legs gives a lot of people the heebie-jeebies so it is only natural that the horror genre should use the built in fear to titillate audiences. In the 1970s saw a rash of such films, with the rise of ecological consciousness, like the nuclear fears of the 1950s, the idea of nature rebelling and taking its revenge on humanity was a common thread. The idea that the seemingly innocuous could somehow better the advanced This article will focus on three such productions of the 1970s focusing on three very different bugs.
Bug (1975) – Of the three movies being reviewed in this article, this is the one I did not rewatch, so I will not focus on my opinion of performances or production quality. One reason I chose not to subject myself to rewatching this film, is, this is one of the few films in my childhood that gave me nightmares. I am not sure why, as other monster “insect” movies did not have that effect on me, but for some reason, this particular film scared the lights out of me.
At first the plot is a bit formulaic; an earthquake releases a bunch of “mutant cockroaches” that can create fire by rubbing their legs together. Since the bugs evolved deep underground, they could not survive in the low air pressure on the earths surface, and they begin to die out. That is until, a scientist, Professor James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman) cross breeds them with normal cockroaches and creates a breed of flying, super intelligent bugs with pyrotechnic abilities. This is where the movie moves from formulaic to a bit more unique. The film shifts focus from the bugs to a human obsession and the separation of man from nature and the unification of man with God. The schism that divides religion and science. The themes of this production are more inline with the metaphysical than the ecological.
This was the last film of genre great, William Castle, who gave us movies like House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, and Rosemary’s Baby. Although he did not direct Bug, he did produce it and co-wrote the script along with Thomas Page who also wrote the 1973 novel of the same name.
Ants (1977) – Also known as It Happened at Lakewood Manor and Panic at Lakewood Manor, Ants is a made for television horror film that originally premiered on ABC in December of 1977. This film is blatantly a cautionary tale about pesticides and what man is doing to the Earth. Construction next to an old hotel, unearths a huge colony of ants, that have evolved to provide lethal bites due to the poisons that have been used as insecticides for years. The head of the construction crew, Mike Carr (Robert Foxworth) is engaged to Valerie (Lynda Day George), the daughter of the hotels owner, Ethel (Myrna Loy), when two of his men are attacked by the ants, Mike tries to warn the health department when they come to investigate. A group of guests and employees, become trapped in the building while the ants swarm their location. How many will survive and how many will perish? Watch and find out!
I really love these old television movies. Back in the 1970s, we didn’t have 100s of channels to search from and we didn’t have streaming services or movies on demand. Hell, we barely had VCRs (Video Cassette Records for those too young to know). So when one of the three main networks would show a horror film, like Ants, it held a type of gravity or importance. I still really enjoy watching them. They are often corny and formulaic, but they are fun and creepy. I do feel that Ants was a particularly well done film, it keeps a good pace and never really slows down. Taking something as harmless as ants and making them mass killing machines, is horrifying on its own. The acting is what you would expect from a TV movie, a bit over the top, but actually quite good. Many of these films, pulled viewers in, by casting movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood, in this case, Myrna Loy, best known for her role as Nora Charleston in the Thin Man mystery series.
Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977) – Two pilots hatch a plan to make some easy money by flying a load of coffee from Ecuador to California. The coffee beans, which had been stored in a warehouse for two years, was laden with the most aggressive and poisonous of spiders. Their plane develops mechanical problems and crashes near a small community whose survival is dependent on their current crop of oranges. Of course, the spiders get out of the plane and slowly make their way to the warehouse the oranges are being stored at, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Doctor Hodgins (Pat Hingle), Cindy Beck (Deborah Winters) , Joe Harmon (Charles Frank), and fireman Bert Springer (Claude Akins) must figure a way to save the crop, stop the killing and get rid of the tarantulas. Can they do it? Tune in to find out!
Like Ants, this is a made for television movie, which premiered just 26 days after the afore mentioned Ants, in late December of 1977. This follows the basic formula of dodgy con men cause an accident that puts the towns financial stability in danger, with a mayor more concerned with the money than the loss of human life, and the town needs to be rescued by the hero. This is the formula most natural disaster films follow, the Jaws franchise is a great example of this. This production used some classic television actors to pull the audience in. Claude Akins, Tom Atkins, Howard Hesseman and Pat Hingle all play parts in the film adding to its credibility. It was also nominated for two Emmy Awards for sound mixing and editing.
There are two different and almost opposing reasons that bugs are so dominant in the horror industry, especially in the past. The first is the afore mentioned built in creepiness based solely on the general appearance of the creature. The slow deliberate movement of the spider, the scurrying armor plated cockroaches or the sheer number of the tiny ants, seems to be genetically encoded in most of us to create an aversion or reaction of, at the least, general disdain and at the most, blinding panic and fear. The second reason is that bugs are commonly overlooked and expected as a daily fact of life, and for the most part are harmless, and often serve a purpose. Because we as humans take them for granted, the fact that they outnumber us and if they ever did decide to turn, becomes a type of nightmare all on its own. The innocuous nature of bugs lends to a type of predator / prey reversal that makes for good storytelling. Specifically in the 1970s, the rise of ecological conservation was on the rise and the knowledge that man was pillaging the planet and would someday have to pay, became a common theme among a lot of genre films. Human’s have lost the ability to live in harmony with nature, and soon nature will go to war. These films are meant to be cautionary tales, with natures sheer power and army of creep crawlies, humans don’t have a chance at survival.