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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie Review - The Deadly Mantis (1957)

It’s the end of the month now… and you know what that means. So, I present my last and final bug inspired movie; “The Deadly Mantis” (1957). It sure is a special one, ha. I won't lie, I did have a little trouble sitting through this one.

The movie opens with scenes of a map for North America, and then shows you the Artic followed by scenes of snow, ice bergs and volcanic action. The credits and title roll to show a large shadowy figure trapped in the ice as it melts. What a beginning.

Loss of contact from a radar tracking station has been lost. Col. Parkman is sent to investigate the site and disappearance of the servicemen. Strange tracks are found in the snow and a mysterious object is found. The object is 5 feet in length shaped like a thorn. Dr. Ned Jackson has been asked to research it. The object is tested and hunches seem to be that of an insect. As it turns out they deduce that it is the spur from a praying mantis. Dr. Jackson works with the military to track the over-sized insect. The military makes a few attempts to stop the mantis with aircraft support but it is too deadly to be stopped. The mantis soon makes its way south creating havoc along the way. The standoff ends with a final fight in New York.

This movie was shot in black and white. I will say, it certainly has a different feel than if it were colour. The special effects of the over-sized mantis were pretty decent but when they showed it flying across the sky it lost all creditability. The acting was alright nothing fantastic. The story was okay, could use help. A little slow and too much emphasis put on the military action. Usually movies like this from the 50’s are laughable. There was also a love interest romantic side story developing between the doctor and a reporter. This simply created slightly more cheese than what was already present; a move that should appeal to anyone in the 50’s. The sound track has that robust symphony sound and fit the mood. The narration is such that it sounds like a science program and one so obvious from the 50’s.

All in all, this movie was pretty terrible. The only thing I thought was neat was the up-close shots of the mantis. I am quite sure that for 1957 it must have fared well at the theatre but quite different than today’s standards. I do think there is merit here and could have been a lot better than it was. I rate this film 4.5/10 and I wouldn’t recommend watching it unless you wanted to see a dated movie.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie Review - The Swarm (1978)

There is something to be said about the hypnotic noise of buzzing that bees do when going from flower to flower. It’s relaxing to listen to when chillin’ in the park or your backyard but what about a few million of them? You be the judge when you watch the movie “The Swarm” (1978). Bees are my favourite insect and therefore took a real interest in this film.

The movie opens right into some action; men in hazmat suits running around what seems to be a military base. They are being extra careful in entering the facility. The group encounters a control room with officers collapsed at their desks. Just then they give the all clear but are confused over what has occurred. Dr. Brad Crane (Caine) had mysteriously shown up on site and being questioned as a civilian. Dr. Crane explains that he has been following a group of bees which had come from the south; specifically the African honeybee. The bees had come in and stung everyone. General Slater gives him a hard time at first until he talks with General Thomson who is in Washington. As it turns out the good doctor happens to be the advisor to a minister that works with the President. All control has been given to Dr. Crane to get the bees under control. Dr. Crane’s first order is to have a few colleagues flown in who have expertise in this field. A vaccine was also trying to be made as the sting is very potent. It would only take 3-4 stings to kill a person. In a series of tests, investigations and efforts to control the bees, they migrate to a small town and wreak havoc on the residents. They sting and swarm their way to Houston, Texas where the final fight occurs. Control of operations had been given back to the military but in the end the doctor works out one last plan to eradicate them. I really want to remain a little vague on this one as to not ruin the complete story.

I really liked the effects on this one. The bees are real. They attach themselves to people and objects resulting in some good death scenes too. There were a couple scenes though where the victims were hallucinating of a giant bee –that looked fake. Overall good fright created. The problem with this movie was the storyline dragged; it built a good beginning but was slow to come around to produce the final product. Too many ‘filler’ scenes broke the flow and prevented the story from being held together. The acting was decent, a star studded line up; Sir Michael Caine, Henry Fonda and few other veterans. Everyone played decently enough. The sound affects were pretty good, nothing like a million angry bees buzzing. Oh wait, I heard that back in the summer with the world cup soccer.

I did like this movie aside from the storyline flaw. I will have to admit I’m swayed because the film involves bees but in any case there isn’t too many bee inspired movies out there. I would recommend watching this and rate it 6.5/10 but note it had potential to be better. If anything you have to see the bees!

Movie Review - Infestation (2009)

Most of the insect gone bad movies I have are old school but I came across a recent production called “Infestation” (2009) and thought I would give it a try. I was surprised to find that the movie is both a comedy/sci-fi/horror action -- an interesting combination.

The story follows Cooper; a charming loser nobody who is a practical joker with no game with women. Things change and the opportunity presents itself for him to prove that he has what it takes to survive and get the girl.

Cooper was just in the middle of being fired at his new job, he was late again but his departure was interrupted by a high pitch squeal which immobilized him and the boss. Hours later Cooper awakes in the office but finds himself covered in some sort of woven web pod. Unaware and disorientated he struggles pushing his way out of the web. He then has his first encounter with a giant beetle. He awakes his boss Maureen and she becomes frantic that her daughter Sara has been waiting outside in the car to pick her up. They make their way outside only to find bunches of web pods with people inside of them. Just then a giant flying wasp swoops down and grabs Maureen. A few more people are awaken including Sara and soon a small group is formed. Some are attacked and stung. Cooper has an idea to get to a shelter that his father built but while enroute they encounter the large bugs again and a few survivors are amiss. Sara gets taken away by a giant wasp to a hive. Cooper and the remaining members; Hugo and Albert make their way to Cooper’s home. While there Cooper awakes his father Ethan a retired military person and they all rest. Not soon after, Albert transforms into a walking spider while maintaining his human torso as he was stung by a wasp hours earlier. Cooper has feelings for Sara and wants to rescue her in the hive but his father Ethan says otherwise. Ethan reluctantly agrees after Cooper makes his way to the hive by himself but was held up in a jail cell by paranoid survivors. Cooper finally makes it to the hive to save the day. I won’t give to much more on this but lets just say it ends as well as it can. THEN, in “Soprano’s” tradition --fades to black leaving you wondering what has been seen in the distance. Could there be a sequel?

What is still unclear is how these bugs ended up being so huge any why all of a sudden they have encapsulated everyone in a web pod. There were no signs of a coming apocalypse. In any case, the acting was not bad. The characters were all unique and interacted well with each other.

The story progressed well, lots of action, some acceptable affects and of course some laughs along the way while still trying to be serious -- nicely done. I enjoyed watching this movie and rate it 6.5/10. I would suggest watching it only because the hero is an underdog and in some ways reminded me of the tough times us guys go through.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Movie Review - Bug (1975)

It just goes to show you that you don’t need anyone else but bugs to headline a movie and even more so if the bug in question is a slow almost non moving cockroach. If you want to see what I mean, check out “Bug” (1975).

So we start off with a small town on an average day. An earthquake of low to moderate richter rocks the area and forms a rips a ridge in the ground. Sure, nothing odd about that. Soon residents begin to be involved in mysterious fires and some are even terrorized by some bugs. Later a scene shows steam and cockroaches bellowing out. Enter - Professor James Parmiter, he is a teacher of entomology at the local college. He is contacted by a local resident who recently had an experience with these fire cockroaches and brings one to him. The professor starts investigating their strange ability to start a fire in their back end. A visit to the rip in the earth confirms his findings. His wife is lost in a fire and starts loosing his mind. Held up in a fixer up shack on the outskirts of town he carries on his experiments with the cockroaches. He tries everything from using a pressure tank to breeding with a domestic cockroach making notes along the way. Things get concerning when the new batch of cockroaches ends up being bloodsuckers. I won't ruin the ending and leave it at that.

The story starts off like most would but for the latter half it turns down another road which is almost unexpectedly. The latter end of the film is entirely about the mad professor’s experiments. From a scientific side I did find it interesting but it made the movie boring. The only thing that kept from being worse is you see the professor slowly becoming more crazy and obsessed with the cockroaches. You just wonder where it’s going. I would have preferred more terror of the town but oh well.

Some pretty good effects -- well for 1975. These particular cockroaches move slow but they managed to create fear. When a cockroach drops from the ceiling and lands on you, you’re done for. Good camera shots. The acting was alright, they do have to act scared of something that isn’t and did so but the whole concept is cheesy and so it ends up being fake-ish. The professor was likely the star along with the cockroaches.

The movie was alright for what it was. I think maybe something further couldn’t have been done with the story direction. After it was realized that the cockroaches were dying, the story continued in lab experiments...where is the terror in that? It was what it was and I rate it 4/10 but suggest watching it only to see the affects and feel of fear created by a docile insect.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movie Review - Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

The next best thing to a zombie apocalypse is a creepy crawly bug apocalypse. That is what this month’s theme is that I’m exploring. I recently watched the movie “Kingdom of the Spiders” (1977). I was surprised with this one. It's classified as a horror... what else would it be? I’m a big fan of the bug world and took an extra special enjoyment with this one.

The story involves a small town somewhere in Arizona. Life is pretty normal and the town is getting ready for a county fair. A farmer’s livestock has been mysteriously killed by an unknown source. With the help of the local veterinarian; Dr. Robert Hansen he determines that the cause is by spiders; specifically tarantulas. It doesn’t take long for the spiders to show themselves a lot more frequently. A scientist; Diane Ashley soon joins the cause and finds out the spider venom is 3x more toxic than usual. While investigating the mysterious appearance of the spiders they encounter massive hills (like ants) with tarantula spiders spewing out. At first the hill is burned but the mayor orders some heavy duty pesticide be used. This is dispersed by a biplane but the pilot suffers an attack and crashes. The spiders realize that they are marked for extermination and start creating havoc with the town’s people. This causes the veterinarian, his niece, the scientist and some vacationers take refuge in a cabin campground office boarding up the windows and trying to keep the spiders from coming in. All seems to be calm in the morning and the survivors are happy to see that they have survived the night but one look out of the window they realize that they have awaken to a silken laden landscape home to the kingdom of the spiders.

The movie stars William Shatner as the veterinarian Dr. Hansen. He played okay. Will is not really a good actor to begin with. The other actors are unknown to me but they did an okay job. The effects and use of spiders were decent. Some scenes did scare a bit. In all fairness the tarantulas moved to slow to be any real threat. The implied aggression of the spiders was misleading, in some scenes they are just shown being brushed or picked away. The camera work was decent, pans pull ups and even POV spider shots through the blades of grass. Very nice.

This movie was decent for it’s time. The fright and hysteria caused over tarantulas is entertaining and some actually did it believably. For 1977, this movie would have scared you but it is in no means like “Arachnophobia” (1990). I rate in 5.5/10 but note it was a strong effort. I would recommend seeing this film only because you should see what Hollywood was capable of doing with these 8 legged furry creatures.