Bradford Dillman, Joanna Miles, Richard Gilliland, Jamie
Smith-Jackson, Alan Fudge, Jesse Vint, Patty McCormack. Directed by
Jeannot Szwarc. (1975, 99 min).
by D.M. ANDERSON
was originally released just days before a certain great white
shark came along to scare the bejeezus out of anyone with a pulse.
While tens of millions showed up in droves to catch Jaws in
the summer of 1975 (and subsequently stayed out of the ocean
forever), Bug came and went virtually unnoticed.
with nasty dispositions were suddenly all the rage, and slews of
similar films followed in Jaws’ wake (no pun intended):
Alligator, Dogs, Squirm, Piranha, Prophecy, Day of the Animals,
Mako: The Jaws of Death, Tentacles, Orca, ad nauseum. One of the
more successful Jaws rip-offs at the time was Grizzly,
a low-budget scare fest released in 1976, with a plot so similar it
could almost be considered plagiarism. As an impressionable
12-year-old recently stricken by Jaws fever, I couldn’t
then, theaters often offered double features for your ticket, where
new movies were accompanied by older ones of the same genre. Hence,
Bug was back on the big screen as a co-feature (even if no one
was pining for it).
didn’t leave much of an impression. It was fun, but mostly
because it followed the Jaws formula almost verbatim. Bug,
however, was a different story, especially for a kid whose exposure
to horror was still fairly limited. The violent deaths in Jaws and
Grizzly were suitably graphic for 1970s PG movies, but Bug
featured the most disturbing death I’d ever seen up to that
point, when one of the title creatures barbecues a cat alive. I felt
sickened and appalled as this unfortunate feline howled and thrashed
about, trying in vain to detach this burning roach from its head.
I was days getting over that.
from depriving a kid of a few nights’ sleep as he wondered if they
actually killed a cat for the sake of a shot (even today, that scene
is pretty unnerving), Bug is mostly notable for being William
Castle’s last hurrah as a filmmaker. In the 1950s and 1960s, Castle
was one of many prolific producers of low-budget horror schlock. But
unlike the Cormans and Arkoffs of the day, he’s best-remembered for
the gimmicks he came up with in order to sell more tickets, such as
offering fright insurance policies for patrons of Macabre and
rigging theater seats with makeshift buzzers for The Tingler.
Obviously, this wasn’t high art, but a lot of fun. Castle even
managed to accidentally crank out a bonafide classic, The House on
Haunted Hill, featuring his most gloriously-goofy gimmick,
“Emergo,” in which a wire-tethered, red-eyed skeleton hovered
over the audience.
the 1960s wore on and moviegoers grew more jaded Castle’s tacky
tricks seemed kind of quaint, no longer planting butts in seats like
they used to. He made one noble stab at respectability (he’s
responsible for getting Rosemary’s Baby off the ground,
though Paramount refused to let him direct it) before relegating
himself to churning out b-movie drive-in fodder – sans gimmicks -
for the remainder of his career, with diminishing results. Bug
ended up being Castle’s final film, though at this point he was
apparently content to write and produce, leaving the directorial
chores to Jeannot Szwarc, who’d go on to make a name for himself as
the best guy available to helm Jaws 2.
|When earmites go unchecked.|
on the 1973 novel, The Hephaestus Plague by Thomas Page, Bug
begins with an earthquake, which rocks the inhabitants of a small
California farming town. As if that isn’t bad enough, a previously
undiscovered species of cockroach emerges from the fissures in the
Earth. They’re attracted by combustion engines and capable of
creating enough internal heat to ignite fires, resulting in the
flaming deaths of a few locals and the aforementioned cat.
Fortunately, they’re unable to survive very long above ground
(something to do with atmospheric pressure). But unfortunately,
college professor James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman) decides to play
God and crossbreed them with domestic cockroaches, even though one of
these firebugs just killed his wife by setting her ablaze. One would
think any recently-widowed, right-thinking guy would prefer to ensure
these critters’ total extinction. Instead, Parmiter becomes
increasingly obsessed and unhinged. Retreating to a cabin, he
isolates himself from the outside world in order to conduct his
each new generation he breeds becomes smarter and more
indestructible, to the point they can gather en masse to literally
spell out threatening messages on Parmiter’s wall... a laughable
plot twist to any free thinking adult (how the hell did these bugs
learn to spell?), but fairly ominous to 12-year-old kids in the 1970s
who were generally unaccustomed to noticing plot holes.
|The Squirrel Mafia Godfather.|
most horror films prior to Jaws, Bug tries for a dark,
oppressive tone with the usual ominous resolution. Whether or not it
succeeds is subjective, but for a dated film with a ridiculous
premise, budget conscious production values, and “oh-come-on!”
story turns, Bug works on a visceral level. It’s unlikely
anyone watching this film will walk away thinking they’ve seen
something great or groundbreaking, but there are many moments that
are suitably unnerving, effectively exploiting our fears of creepy
crawlies hiding in places we always dreaded they would. Aided
immeasurably by clever camerawork and a weird-ass music score by
Charles Fox (mostly known for Killing Me Softly and some TV
theme songs), Bug gives us some truly hateful, malevolent
kudos must go to Bradford Dillman, who was always a decent character
actor, though never particularly memorable. In a rare leading role,
he portrays Parmiter with over-the-top gusto, treading a fine line
between scientific curiosity and total insanity. He’s forced to
utter some inane expositional dialogue, but he does it with enough
conviction that, at least in the moment, we buy into his delirium.
hasn’t aged particularly well, nor does it display any unique
directorial skill. Still, despite some unintentionally humorous
moments, the film provides a surprisingly bleak - even nihilistic -
suggestion that humankind’s dominance (and arrogance) as a species
could be usurped at any given time. Of course, it’s unlikely
William Castle had such a lofty message in mind at the time. He
apparently still had a bit of the old huckster left in him as well,
coming up with an idea to rig theaters with brushes that simulate
bugs crawling up the audience’s legs. Unfortunately, this cheeky
gimmick never happened. Too bad... it would have been a nifty capper
to an endearing legacy.
here’s a bit of trivia for anyone who grew up in the 1970s... if
Parmiter’s kitchen and living room stirs strong feelings of deja
vu, that’s because it’s the same iconic set used in all five
seasons of The Brady Bunch.