They look like rocks... possess a high intelligence... have no eyes... and eat ashes... They travel in your car exhaust... they make fire... they kill.
Year of Release: 1975
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Running Time: 99 minutes (1:39)
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Bradford Dillman ... James Parmiter
Joanna Miles ... Carrie Parmiter
Richard Gilliland ... Gerald Metbaum
Jamie Smith-Jackson ... Norma Tacker
Alan Fudge ... Mark Ross
Jesse Vint ... Tom Tacker
Patty McCormack ... Sylvia Ross
A massive earth tremor opens a deep crevasse in the California desert, releasing a bizarre, fiery, deadly breed of foot-long cockroaches. With their numbers multiplying and the death toll mounting, obsessive entomologist James Parmiter desperately seeks a way to eliminate the seemingly indestructible critters before they spread clear across the country... and beyond!
Bug, remindin' us that when a cravasse to Hell opens up right next to your church, evil demon beetles with butane powered buttholes can't be far behind. Normally God woulda done somethin' about this, but that whole Vietnam thing created a line at the pearly gates that stretched clear from the Garden all the way around to Mecca an St. Peter was gettin' real stressed out from 5 solid years of no lunch breaks. An speakin' of lost lunches, poor Apollo's been havin' to take a Pepto-Lax cocktail twice a day for the last week ever since he got into the trash can an packed away around 16lbs of elk meat that went south after the motor burned out on my freezer. He's been a pretty pitiful guy all week long... just lays by the stove lookin' like he's about to give birth to Robert Z'Dar's head, til you hear this sound like somebody's tryin' to plunge a half eaten baked potato outta the kitchen sink an pretty quick he gets this look on his face like my chromosomally challenged cousin the day he learned why you don't try holdin' a lit sparkler with your sphincter. This is generally followed by about 20 minutes of 'im yowlin' an sloshin' around in the creek up the road as he tries to douse the internal flame, while I scrub the spray paint he just laid down in the hallway offa the wall. Smells about like guttin' a grouse with gangrene in case you were wonderin'. I hate to see the poor guy in pain like this, but it's the only way he'll learn. Least that was how I learned. I guess there're prolly better ways but I've got more important things to do than monitor Apollo's roadkill consumption habits. But if you happen to be drivin' by an see 'im out on the patio layin' feet to the sky on that old bench seat I got out of a totaled F-150 at the salvage yard, you might stop for a minute an rub his tummy a little. That seems to help 'im release some of the air pressure. As it is I'm a little concerned that the EPA's gonna drive by with their windows rolled down, get a big whiff of the country air, an write me a citation for contributin' more'n my fair share of trapped gases into the atmosphere. I guess that's not too likely, cause those government guys pretty much stopped comin' down this way after the last census when they tried gettin' a head count on the Tankersleys an ended up gettin' marched back into town at gunpoint. But anyway, if everybody could say a little prayer for Apollo an my dry wall, I'd really appreciate it.
Gettin' back to the movie though, Bug is prolly the best "when nature attacks" flick ever to feature a woman bein' burned to death by flatulent fire fauna in the Brady Bunch kitchen, an perhaps more importantly, it also happens to be the last hurrah of that cheeky pioneer of the gimmick flick, William Castle. Will wanted to set up little brushes inside the theaters for this one so that every now an then you'd think somethin' was crawlin' on you durin' one of the bug scenes, only the theaters wouldn't let 'im cause none of 'em had a big enough shop vac to hold all the urine they'da had to vacuum up afterwards. In any event, I plucked out a few pieces of conventional wisdom to share with everybody, cause even though Will's long since left us, his rational approach to everyday problems is immortal. First, if your arsonistic assault roaches attain sentience, it's downright rude to lock their cages even after they try turnin' your torso into a B-B-Q rib joint when you're sleepin', so don't even think about fencin' those little boogers in. Second, a three inch cockroach with an arc welder for an ass crawlin' around on your neck is literally undetectable until it sets your hair on fire. Which is a pretty serious situation. We're talkin' Phil Robertson fallin' asleep with a lit cigar in his mouth levels of fire danger here. Half of Louisiana could burn to the ground before they can get a handle on the situation. An third, hitchhikin' briquette bugs have no respect for the time tested "ass, grass, or cash" payment system that makes thumbin' a ride in America possible. The thing I didn't particularly care for in this one, though, was the way Bradford Dillman just runs the repairman off like a plebe when he discovers the conflagerous cockroaches rootin' around in the air filter of his AMC Javelin. The implication here is that Bradford's this big shot scientist who figures the common clay of the new west, who's workin' on his busted ass windows, is completely incapable of graspin' the fact that fire beetles from the center of the Earth have surfaced an are now theatenin' to ignite his small block. He thinks that the workin' man just can't comprehend a concept like this, nor does he believe we can fathom the significance of what this means for the human race an our planet. I find this deeply insulting, cause Bradford aughta know that guys like us've been studyin' the "nature goes nuts" scenario since King Kong was released in 1933. We're perfectly aware of the seriousness of the situation, an highly offended by the notion that we're nothin' but a liability in the face of this arsonistic phylum of the animal kingdom. We know EXACTLY what to do in this situation, we've BEEN there from the beginning. So maybe next time cut the heroic condescension BS an let US teach you a thing or two about handlin' uppity varmints, 'kay?
The movie begins with Bradford Dillman (James) droppin' his wife (Carrie) off at church cause Bradford's so boring that listenin' to an angry bald man named Harold scream about how America's gone to heck in a handcart ever since we started lettin' businesses remain open on the sabbath actually constitutes an upswing in excitement. Unfortunately, the flock is bein' slowly roasted into mutton sammiches cause it's approximately 134 degrees inside an things only get worse when there's a massive earthquake that ends up rattlin' the church worse'n Darwin's theory of evolution til the pulpit buckles like the axles on a Walmart electroscooter on welfare day. So once everybody makes shifty eyes at each other tryin' to figure out who got God so hacked off, everybody tramples each other like a herd of horny middle aged women tryin' to get into the Friday night showin' of 50 Shades of Grey an Carrie ends up gettin' ditched by 'er ride (Henry) when his son (Kenny) shows up an tells 'im that somebody done fracked their pasture so deep the Morlocks're startin' to poke their heads up outta their newly created gorge. Elsewhere, more of Henry's kids (Tommy an Norma) are outside lookin' at the Bland Canyon, til Henry an Kenny come drive down the road an all the sudden their jalopy starts belchin' Stratocumuli from its exhaust pipe an pretty quick the truck ends up ignitin' like tap water in North Dakota. Later that evenin', Norma's boyfriend (Gerald) drives all over the back forty til he's able to locate her an Tommy who've broken down by the side of what you've gotta live in the boonies to consider a road, an about thirty seconds after he gets 'em outta there Tommy's catalytic converter gets overwhelmed like a proofreader in the Youtube comments section an the truck explodes like Brian Williams' credibility. Then they drive over to Norma an Tommy's place where Gerald goes wanderin' around outside an finds this nasty cockroach an starts tryin' to think of funny places to hide it so he can scare Norma, til its ass starts glowin' like the cigarette lighter in his Chevy Biscayne an he hasta throw it away an look for somebody to kiss boo-boo. Unfortunately, it lands next to an old barn cat that tries eatin' it an ends up catchin' fire as a direct result of its hunger games an pretty quick a buncha other butane beetles start lightin' off their own fireworks til there're burnin' bushes all over the place talkin' over each other tryin' to tell Gerald to get his hiney outta Egypt. The next day, James is teachin' one of his biology classes til this punk squirrel sneaks in an tries learnin' for free an James hasta talk to it in squirrelese to give it directions to the financial aid office. Then class ends an Gerald walks in with a shoe box an he an James go down to the cafeteria where Gerald proceeds to show James the fricasseed kitty right about the time James takes a big bite of coleslaw.
So once James finishes givin' his lunch a proper burial at sea, Gerald drives 'im out to the fracked up potato pasture where James rounds up a coupla specimens an discovers they're completely blind an prone to acts of pyromania. Meanwhile, half the county's on fire cause all the entomological pyrotechnicians've been hitchin' rides around town in people's exhaust pipes, an when nobody'll listen to James about the blow torch beetles he just kinda hangs out in his lab with his buddy Mark an theorizes about how it must feel when copulation occurs an the male bug accidentally kicks the back door in. Then he goes home an we finally get some closure about what became of Carrie after all the good Christians left 'er to sweat to death in the dilapidated church as he talks to 'er long enough to find out where his dinner is as she's on 'er way out the door. But James can only get about two bites into his tuna on whole wheat before a repairman shows up to replace all the busted windows an pretty quick James goes out to the garage where he hears this noise like somebody's tryin' to sand all the welds off of a railroad spike an finds his engine completely infested an hasta run the repairman off before his car catches fire an spreads to the contractor's rig. Fortunately, James comes up with a plan. Unfortunately, he hasta sacrifice the sports section of the newspaper to lure all the starvin' cockroastes onto it an outta his fuel injectors. Later that night, Gerald, Norma, an Tommy're all divvyin' up the family fortune til the phone rings an Norma doesn't notice the combustible bug hangin' out on the receiver an when she sticks it up to 'er ear it cauterizes itself to 'er like a brick of superheated Swiss cheese, an by the time Gerald can peel it off of 'er she looks like she just survived a brandin' iron match with Terry Funk. Elsewhere, James is sittin' at home thinkin' about how to cure his flaccidity an suddenly comes up with a plan to combat the armored acetylene filled assholes, an drives out to the crevasse so he can stick a needle into one of the little boogers' gut bucket an inflate it to 35lbs, resultin' in a whole lotta roach shrapnel in his professor's beard. So with a plan in hand, James heads back to the lab, drags Mark outta bed, an explains to 'im that the bugs're so used to livin' at the earth's core that crawlin' up to the surface's gave 'em all The Bends an that if they ever find out about Michael Jackson's hyperbaric chamber the world's really had it. The next day, James begs Gerald to fix 'im up a pressure tank in shop class cause he can't afford to go down to the prefab metallurgy shop an pay for one on a teacher's salary.
Meanwhile, Carrie's at home fartin' around in the kitchen from The Brady Bunch, when one of the little incendiary shitheads starts crawlin' around on 'er neck an ends up lightin' 'er hair on fire til she looks like she tried to barbecue with two bottles of Vidal Sassoon holdin' 'er do together, an eventually burns dinner, the sofa, an the full length of 'er body to the point that there ain't enough Shriners in the world to fix 'er. It doesn't take long for James to find out an develop debilitatin' sad face. Even trashin' the lab like the varsity football team after homecomin' can't cheer 'im up, an Mark's consolation doesn't amount to squat since he can't possibly understand how James feels on account of Mark's wife not bein' permanently fused into the shag carpeting. Then James drives out to Norma an Tommy's place to become a creepy recluse an stare blankly into the chasm so he can smirk ironically about how the crevasse is a perfect metaphor for what his life has become. This is about the point where James starts to crack like a fat girl in a pair of Spandex, an he decides to scoop up another specimen so he can stick it inside the divin' helmet Gerald rigged up an pump pressure into it to see if it'll restore his dyin' roach to its former glory. James' scientific hypothesis proves correct, an it ain't long before the bug gets its second wind an starts claimin' burnin' the city to the ground was all "those other guys' idea" when it realizes its been incarcerated. Then James fiddles with his pressure knob til it hits "happy medium" an shoves a Motel 6 standard edition roach in with the firebug to see if it'll cock his roach an pretty quick he's got a Love Connection on his hands. Not literally though, cause that'd be pretty gross. The next day, Gerald an Norma try bringin' 'im some breakfast but he just gets P.O.'d an tells 'em to get the heck outta there or else he's gonna command the supportin' cast of Joe's Apartment to settle their hash browns. Then James begins to realize that his flamethrowin' floozy is with child an tries to convince 'er that she'll never be able to support a litter that size on 'er own so he can get ahold of 'er clutch, but she just fries his fingers an leaves 'im with no recourse but to pace around outside the delivery room until nature takes its course. It's not until the next night when James wakes up after noticin' there's somethin' inside the egg sac usin' a railroad lantern to locate a weak point in the wall of the prenatal prison, an once it finds it a whole buncha nasty critters come pourin' out like somebody just knocked over the coffee pot at Denny's. So with his experiment complete, James remembers how P.O.'d he is about havin' his wife melted down into mold bars an tosses the mama roach in with the baby roaches who immediately burn 'er to a crisp an make it clear that they've got no respect for their elders an that her kind ain't welcome 'round here.
Later that evenin' while James is tryin' to scoop that last stubborn bean outta the Van Camp's can, he ends up leavin' his steak unattended an before he can get the instant potatoes on the stove some of his specimens create a chew-man chain, escape their terrarium, an start gnawin' on his top sirloin. Fortunately, he's able to scrap 'em off before they can put any additional fire on his medium rare ration, an dumps a few chunks into the cage so they'll quit sittin' right next to 'im at the dinner table an beggin' for scraps. But bizarrely, these happen to be a special breed of roaches that grew up on 50s sitcom television an refuse to eat until the entire family's present, so James hasta round up the ones on the counter an dump 'em back in the cage before they'll even say grace. So after a few hours of reenactin' old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke show with his companions, James finally crashes for the night. Cept once he dozes off the callous kilns escape again an start leavin' icky hickies all over 'im an singein' his chest hair til he starts havin' high school flashbacks of his clumsy goth girlfriend who got a lit candle a little too close one night, an pretty quick he's on his feet an none too pleased at the lack of gratitude shown by his roommates. James is extremely P.O.'d, an once he's able to extricate his nips from their mandible grips he pitches 'em back into the divin' helmet an cranks the pressure up to the "U.S. President" setting an watches 'em bust like Rush Limbaugh's belt buckle at an all you can eat buffet. The next mornin', James confides in his tape recorder that he thinks the roaches have his room bugged, that they're listenin' in on his conversations, an that they also keep linin' themselves up into weird patterns like they're tryin' to tell 'im their cage is in dire need of a Glade plug-in. Then he conks out again for a few hours an wakes up to find his lil friends arranged all over the walls with his name spelled out, an after momentarily fixatin' on the fact that he's got a batch of insects spellin' better'n the average elementary school in Tennessee, finally acknowledges to 'imself that his roach circus idea just isn't gonna pan out at the state fair if they're gonna scare the tar outta everybody. Unfortunately, he's abused his divin' helmet worse than Bud Bundy with an inflatable woman an like said deflated dame, the helmet can no longer hold enough oxygen to get the job done. So James hasta evacuate the premises like a colon clog after six Ex-Lax tablets an hope that not only was his little "they must be destroyed" remark the only piece of English the bugs can't understand, but also that they stay put while he's gettin' his divin' helmet shored up. Gonna cut here, cause at this point the story starts gettin' a little far fetched.
Alrighty, well, we've certainly got a tale of two halves in this one. The first half is surprisingly good, and stays reasonably grounded in reality to the point that I was pretty sure I was going to pass it. Then Bradford Dillman gets the different roaches to crossbreed on the first try. Then the roach lays eggs and they hatch within a day or two. Then they create a chain to escape from their enclosure, and at this point the sheer volume of goofiness would probably doom a serious movie. But we're dealing with a low budget horror flick and I generally figure that if the crew knowingly sets their sights at a lower, attainable goal of making something that's at least entertaining, I'll let these kinds of things slide. Then the goddamned cockroaches start teachin' a calligraphy course and even I can't take it seriously anymore. Low budget horror flicks are constantly walking a fine line when it comes to the audience's suspension of disbelief, and unfortunately, William Castle's script just stretches it too far on this one. We're firmly in Jaws: The Revenge country here in terms of plot plausibility, and that's really difficult to recover from. Switching gears however, nothing about this movie's ball-brained plot means that the movie isn't enjoyable on a goofy camp level. All this asinine plot really does is shift the movie from what could have a middle of the road "nature rebels" flick, to what some might consider a minor cult classic on the basis of the positively laughable direction that the story eventually takes.
On the subject of Jaws: The Revenge, however, something that Bug has going for it is the fact that the potential for disappointment is relatively low. The reason Jaws 4 got panned so hard was because it was part of a series wherein the first two movies were excellent, and above average, respectively. Personally, I think it's really unprofessional to tank a movie because it "disappointed" you. The fact that your preconceived notion of what the flick "should" be didn't turn out to be correct isn't an indictment of the movie or the crew that made it. Of course, when a movie has flaws that are so deep you can't look past them to enjoy whatever else it has to offer, that's a different story, and I completely understand why a movie like Jaws 4 or even Bug might infuriate someone to the point that they become beyond redemption for them. Then again, some people probably hate this one for no better reason that having a fear of insects. Even beyond that, though, Bug is another flick that would have gotten a PG-13 rating if the rating had existed at the time. But because it didn't, we've actually got a relatively nasty movie for a PG flick. The scene that really made me cringe was the one involving the cat, because they're obviously using a real cat, and even though it's hard to tell just what the hell they were doing because of all the fast cuts, there is smoke coming from that cat. It's possible they were just using smoke bombs or something similar, but watching a scene like that from an older movie is always a little unsettling because it's more likely they just maimed the animal, than if it's a newer movie. Also telling is the fact that the standard "no animals were harmed in the making of this film" text is glaringly absent from the end credits.
So with all this in mind, lets stomp these critters and see if they smoosh under the pressure. The plot, as I mentioned, starts out reasonable enough. But like Bradford Dillman in the flick, descends into madness to the point that it can no longer be taken even remotely seriously. You could argue that because it takes a while to finally go completely pants on head retarded, that makes it better than a movie like Jaws: The Revenge. You could, but I wouldn't. The fact that Jaws: The Revenge wore its dumbassery like a badge of honor right outta the chute actually made it more enjoyable for me because it was clear from the beginning that I should abandon any hope for it. Here, we don't find out that William Castle'd gone cuckoo bananas on us until over an hour into the movie. More so than usual, I mean. Either way, this's some seriously stinky plot we got here. The acting is probably the high point, with Bradford Dillman giving a performance that frankly a movie with this storyline didn't deserve. My favorite Bradford Dillman movie is still Piranha, but he's pretty good in this one too. The supporting cast isn't bad either, with Joanna Miles and Jamie Smith-Jackson being scorched alive pretty convincingly (at least until the stuntman takes over) by the firebugs. Normally in movies with this type of subject matter and/or budget, you've got one or two supporting cast members whose acting prowess suggests they just showed up on the set one day when one of the other actors didn't show and were offered the role, but I didn't see anything like that here. Even the less important characters seemed adequately acted, which is a little unusual.
Not surprisingly, nobody famous enough to warrant excluding their casting credits, so here's who matters and why: Bradford Dillman (Lords of the Deep, "Demon, Demon", Piranha, The Swarm, Moon of the Wolf, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Atomic Brain), Joanna Miles (Judge Dredd, The Orphan, The Ultimate Warrior), Richard Gilliland (Vampire Clan), Jamie Smith-Jackson (House of Evil, Satan's School for Girls), Alan Fudge (Brainstorm, Shark Swarm, Galaxis, Nightmare on the 13th Floor, I Saw What You Did, My Demon Lover, Chiller 1985, Are You in the House Alone?, Capricorn One), Jesse Vint (Silent Running, Forbidden World, Pigs), Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed 1956, Inhabited, Shallow Ground, Mommy, Mommy's Day, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back, Invitation to Hell), Brendan Dillon (Premature Burial, Carnival of Souls 1998, Vampire 1979, The Dead Don't Die), Frederic Downs (Terror from the Year 5000), James Greene (Philadelphia Experiment II, Ghost Story), Sam Jarvis (The Psychopath). With a cast this decent, one has to expect that not everyone has complete genre purity, so for you tourists out there, I now submit the projects the cast were forced to partake in while there was nothin' decent available. Bradford Dillman would probably be best known for playing J.J. in The Way We Were (ya know, if you're into Streisand and permanent brain damage), or lacking that, for his role as Captain McKay in The Enforcer. Additionally, Richard Gilliland was Nick Holden on Operation Petticoat, Alan Fudge portrayed Lou Dalton on the nausea inducing 7th Heaven, James Greene might be best known as Davey McQuinn on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, and Jim Poyner may possibly have come closest to fame in the role of Dennis Carrington on Texas. And of course, William Castle has a bit part in there as well, as he often did in the movies he helped to produce.
The special effects are pretty skimpy, and more than a little repulsive when you can't be sure how much of what was happening to that cat was well supervised. Don't get me wrong, I don't think for a moment that the cat was actually killed, but it's still pretty screwed up. That said, the dead cat prop looks pretty good, and one can always hope the cat wasn't harmed at all, other than psychologically. The rest of the effects are kinda pitiful, although it's not that big of a deal since there aren't hardly any others. We've got the blood trickles, which are far too thin and rather translucent, suggesting they probably used syrup of some sort. I'm also not entirely sure if they used a real roach in that scene where Bradford Dillman pumps air into it like an old saggy white wall tire until it explodes, but it certainly looks real. You could probably also count the scenes that're shown in reverse, where the roaches spell out words on the walls. I suppose that's a special effect, and one that's all too obvious, but I see no other way for them to have achieved the desired effect besides just setting up all the roaches in order and reversing the film as they scuttle out of sequence, so whatever. Otherwise, I suppose all that's left is the scene where Joanna Miles has her wig ignited and fails to stop drop and roll before there's nothin' left of 'er. The stunt double doesn't exactly match her body type but the scene still comes off pretty well, and is one of the more dramatic shots in the movie. There are some more creature effects at the climax, but without spoiling the plot I can tell you they're pretty unconvincing, which seems to be a common theme here.
The shooting locations are alright, but nothing special. Right off the bat, anybody that watches this flick is gonna notice that Bradford Dillman's kitchen is the same one used in The Brady Bunch, which had been recently cancelled. So it's kinda surreal watching Joanna Miles' hair catch fire on the same spot that Ann Davis used to cook breakfast for all those rotten little shits. Otherwise, most of the shots are interiors and none too exciting. However, the exterior of the little church was a pretty good, and the cramped, rustic interiors of both it and Jamie Jackson's place where Bradford holes up during the final half hour aren't without a retro sort of charm. Still, they're just okay. The soundtrack is... interesting. On the one hand, I do kinda like it, but on the other I find it far too science fictiony for how much science fiction this movie actually has. This soundtrack would be better suited to a movie that takes place on a spaceship, or maybe on another planet, and comes off as a little heavy handed in its attempt to force a greater sci-fi feel than the movie actually warrants. The best way I can describe one particular portion of it, would be to imagine two dial up internet connections fighting to the death. Kinda strange, but not too unusual for a low budget 70s movie. It also had a track that reminded me a whole lot of the trailer for Basket Case. It's so similar I wonder if maybe Basket Case didn't lift it for use in that trailer. I can't actually recall if what I'm thinking of only appeared in the trailer, or if it made it into the movie as well, but it's extremely similar. Overall, I was poised to pass it even after the crap with the cat, but it managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory plot wise in the last half hour. Still, somewhat enjoyable on a camp level. So if you're an "animals attack" completist you'll wanna check it out, otherwise, it's probably not for you.