(thank you, Trash Trailers!)
Even though it was released two full weeks before Stephen Spielberg’s JAWS, the late William Castle’s final production, BUG was somewhat destined to fail. Despite some fine direction by Jeannot Szwarc and an intense performance as Bradford Dillman starring as the doomed Dr. James Parminter and plenty of startling deaths (well, startling to an 11-year old me), the film probably freaked too many people out with its swarms of over-sized fire-starting cockroaches causing all sorts of flaming mayhem throughout a small town after they start popping up after an earthquake.
What makes the film work as a nice horror/sci-fi blend is the sheer craziness of the insects from hell being able to start fires anywhere they crawled (which again, leads to some nasty demises throughout the flick) and Parminter’s supremely stuborn insistence on tampering with them even more with his research.
The bugs are already a menace, but they aren’t long lived away from their natural environment thousands of feet below the earth’s crust. After causing some havoc, they start dropping like flies (a-ha-ha), but that would be a pretty crappy ending if the supposedly indestructible cockroaches didn’t take over things in some way, right? Well, the good Dr. P manages to save one big bug, breed it with a common cockroach and faster than you can say “Well, THAT was a really bad, BAD idea!”, yep… you have a small army of super-flamethrowing bugs that are actually smarter by a few leagues than their deceased colleagues. Even worse, Parminter changes their diet from ashes to raw meat (Ruh-Roh!), changing them into hardcore carnivores (eek!). Let’s just say that things go from bug to worse for all involved and that tidy 99 minutes it takes to tell the tale is time well spent if you’re a genre fan.
There’s a level of complete weirdness throughout the film which is probably partially due to the use of plenty of live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and having actors handle (and mishandle) them often in close ups and extreme close ups. I can vaguely recall wanting to leap behind my theater seat a few times during the film when the numbers of roaches on screen was more than one and I think some woman started screaming from the back of the theater so loudly at one point that I was more afraid of that distracting noise that I was of what she was going on about. It may have been the infamous cat burning sequence (poor kitty!) or when some poor woman gets a bug in her hair or another gets one on her ear. I don’t recall, as I may have been screeching a bit myself.
However, I do recall the ending (which is pretty wild stuff) and later on, reading how William Castle wanted to revive the “interactive” gimmick he perfected when he was churning out his awesome “B” horror flicks back in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Similar to “Percepto!” the vibrating seat device from his cheesy 1959 classic, The Tingler, Castle wanted to have theaters install tiny whirring brushes to simulate a bug crawling about the ankles or lower legs of patrons. This was deemed too much of a hassle by Paramount (and no doubt would have been much more expensive to do compared to his older films) and was nixed. A good thing, as I can only imagine some poor unsuspecting guy or gal with a terrible fear of bugs already freaked out by the chaos on screen dropping dead or beating that theater seat to death in self-defense. Or worse, getting a little too thrilled at that ankle-tickling and passing out from er… other reasons. Hey, some people have really sensitive spots all over their bodies, y’know…
Anyway, this one’s a bizarre classic – go check it out sometime, I say…