The insect horror film genre is a surprisingly large one. Since the debut of 1950's Highly Dangerous, Hollywood has produced over 75 movies featuring killer insects or spiders. Some involve giant, mutant bugs that can consume humans, while others feature deadly swarms of ants, bees, or wasps. They range from the hilariously campy to the seriously terrifying.
After month's of research and discussion with other aficionados, I've selected the 5 films that I believe best represent the genre. Here you go – the 5 best bug horror films of all time.
1. The Fly (1986)(R)
Read the plot summary for The Fly, and you'll think it's your typical campy, laugh at the screen science fiction flick. But this remake of the Vincent Price classic is a quality film, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Ask any lover of sci fi about their favorite insect-themed horror films, and they will count The Fly among their top picks, I guarantee it.
Scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is putting the finishing touches on his teleportation device, and decides to test it one last time - on himself. But unbeknownst to Brundle, a fly has found its way into the machine along with him. Brundle morphs gruesomely and gradually into a man-fly.
The film is a surprisingly touching story, as Brundle struggles with the loss of his humanity. He finds himself driven more and more by impulse and less by reason. When he learns that his girlfriend Veronica Quaife (Davis) is pregnant with his child, he begs her to have the child and let the last remnants of his humanity live on in his son, but she is terrified that her offspring might contain his mutant genes.
2. Them! (1954)(NR)
Them! is the movie that launched the genre. Filmed in black and white, this 1954 classic horror film preyed on the fears of post-WWII moviegoers living in the age of the atomic bomb. It's the first movie to feature giant insects (ants exposed to atomic radiation, in this case) threatening humankind. It even earned an Oscar nomination for best special effects.
Police Seargent Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) finds a young girl wandering alone in the New Mexico desert. She's clearly been through some kind of trauma, but is unable to speak. Her parents are missing from their trailer (where a sugar bowl has been disturbed...hmmm).
When more mysterious deaths occur in the area, FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) joins the investigation. A father-daughter team of entomologists (played by Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon) suspect that ants may be to blame, and test their theory by having the girl smell a vial of formic acid. "Them!" she cries. Can they stop the giant ants before they destroy mankind?
3. Arachnophobia (1990)(PG-13)
Arachnophobia won two Saturn Awards – Best Actor for Jeff Daniels and Best Horror Movie of the Year - from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. It also garnered its share of positive critical reviews when it was released in 1990. But mostly, it made audiences scream. Arachnophobia plays on one of our most common fears – spiders.
The plot is just plausible enough to be scary. A scientist on a research expedition in the Amazon is killed by the venomous bite of a spider, which then stows away in his backpack. His colleagues, thinking he died of a fever, transport his body (and the deadly spider) back to the U.S. The undertaker opens the coffin to find the body has been wrapped in silk and drained of its bodily fluids, but doesn't notice the spider sneaking away.
Jeff Daniels plays arachnophobic family doctor Ross Jennings, who soon suspects something is amiss when several patients die. Tests soon confirm what he believes to be true. Their deaths are caused by spider venom. Deadly spiders, the offspring of the South American stowaway, have infested the town. Dr. Jennings enlists the help of an exterminator (played by John Goodman), and sets out to conquer his fear of spiders and save the town.
4. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)(PG)
Now this is a campy horror film! You really can't go wrong with a movie that features giant tarantulas and stars William Shatner. Shatner was nominated for a Saturn Award for his role as veterinarian Rack Hansen, and Kingdom of the Spiders earned a Saturn nomination for best horror film.
Rack Hansen is summoned to a farm in rural Arizona by a farmer who is concerned about a sick calf. Hansen returns to the farm with entomologist Diane Ashley, who believes lethal spider venom is to blame for the mysterious animal deaths. Her suspicions are confirmed when the farmer shows them a massive spider mound on the property, which is teeming with tarantulas.
Spider enthusiasts will need to forget, for purposes of enjoying the film, that tarantulas aren't actually social, nor do they live communally. In Kingdom of the Spiders, pesticides have altered their natural behavior and forced the giant spiders to hunt in gangs. And this unstoppable pack of hungry spiders is headed for some unsuspecting tourists at a remote, desert hotel.
5. Creepshow (1982)(R)
I debated including Creepshow on this list. The film is actually an anthology of 5 short horror films, only one of which features insects. But in the end, I couldn't dismiss this masterpiece of horror by the master himself, Stephen King. George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) directed the film, and the King-Romero combination proved successful at the box office.
King wrote "They're Creeping Up on You!" specifically for Creepshow, which is itself an homage to the horror-themed comic books published by EC Comics in the 1950's. The piece stars E.G. Marshall as businessman Upson Pratt, a man who prides himself on his skill at stomping on the little guy. Pratt also has a bit of OCD; he fears germs and lives in a hermetically sealed apartment. That is, until the roaches find a way in. It's a classic Stephen King psychological thriller.