October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best bug horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Horror movies have a wide, potentially endless range of things that can be manipulated and shaped into terrifying objects, threats, and nightmares. Something that requires very little work on the part of a film/filmmaker to make creepy and disturbing, though, is our innate fear and disgust of bugs. It’s an easy jump from seeing them onscreen to imagining them crawling all over our skin, and horror movies know it.
For our look at the ten best examples of bug horror on the big screen, we decided on a single rule: we’re ignoring the fact that spiders aren’t actually bugs. I know, we’re terrible. It’s not like we went nuts with it, though, as spiders only headline two of the ten films. Three feature ants, three are about roaches, one squirts worms in your eyes, and one of them stars carnivorous slugs. Which reminds me, neither worms nor slugs are bugs either.
Anyway… for the duration of this post, let’s just remember that spiders — and worms and slugs — are “bugs.” Now please join me and the crew (Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell) as we point our magnifying glass towards ten of the best bug horror movies!
10. Empire of the Ants (1977)
I’ve often thought of myself as the world’s biggest fan of animal attack movies, but if I’m being honest, that honor should actually go to Mister Bert I. Gordon. His particular niche was movies about larger than life animals, and his filmography includes the likes of Beginning of the End (giant grasshoppers!), Attack of the Puppet People (giant cat and rat — technically normal-sized animals but the people are shrunk!), The Spider (duh, a giant spider!), The Food of the Gods (giant rats!), and finally, Empire of the Ants with, well, I bet you can guess what’s giant here.
This film is most remembered for the presence of Joan Collins, but I’m here to sing the praises of those ginormous damn ants. Big, hairy practical effects bring them to life along with some split-screen optic work to put real ant footage into the scenes. It’s effective! The story also stands out for throwing in a turn that goes beyond mere carnage to include the queen ant squirting humans with pheromones and turning them into workers. It’s big fun, and unrelated: can we get a shout out for ol’ Bert who — as of this writing — is still alive! (Rob Hunter)
9. Bug (1975)
I’ve written more extensively about this under-appreciated gem elsewhere, but the short version is that Bug remains an effectively creepy slice of bug horror. They’re cockroaches, and if that’s not icky enough, they’re also prone to chewing your flesh, starting deadly fires, and spelling our ominous warnings — in English! — on the wall with their bodies. It’s low-budget, sci-fi/horror delivering killer bugs and an apocalyptic tease, and the scene where the woman is cooking in the kitchen as a bug sets her hair on fire? Still haunts my dreams… and not just because it was filmed in the kitchen from The Brady Bunch. (Rob Hunter)
8. The Nest (1988)
You know what they say… if you’ve seen one movie about roaches on a list, there’s bound to be more. So here’s the second! (And spoiler, a third is directly below.) This entry sees science go wrong again, sending a horde of the buggers into the nightmares of a small town’s unlucky residents, and while they’re nasty creatures even when normal, they’re hideous monsters when they start taking human form. It’s a fun monster movie, and its back half descends into some gory, gooey goodness that satisfies your craving for some B-movie bug horror shenanigans. (Rob Hunter)
7. Mimic (1997)
Cockroaches are nasty, fat, not-really-little beasts covered in thick armor. You see one in your place, and your skin automatically ignites in gooseflesh. Now, let’s give them a deadly disease requiring a cure that ultimately transforms them into apocalypse-ushering titans. Yeah, it makes sense. That tracks with their gnarly biology. Guillermo del Toro knows the dark corners of our brain, and he easily reaches into them to pull out our most base fears. Is Mimic as mighty as The Shape of Water or The Devil’s Backbone? No way. You know it; he knows it. That’s okay. The film still crawls with wretched mini-nightmares, and when you do get a good look at the creature design, the film astonishes. These beasts are festering, hungry animals that don’t look or feel too far off the natural order. In 2020, we expect these critters to crawl out of the sewers. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Squirm (1976)
Now, here’s a film that makes good on the promise of its title! What’s the matter? Afraid of worms!? This is a Roger Corman movie, with special make-up effects by Rick Baker, that premiered at Cannes, about millions of carnivorous worms descending on a small town in Georgia after knocked-down power lines call them to the surface and instill them with bloodlust. HELL YEAH. Since it’s initial lukewarm (lukeworm) critical reception, Squirm has been revitalized as a cult classic thanks to a memorable second-life on television. Sporting rubber worms, sandworms, and an ungodly amount of bloodworms, Squirm literally used so many worms that the production impacted the local fishing industry in Maine.
Squirm is one of the best nature-run-amok films of the ’70s. Operating on a tight budget (which, again, went entirely towards the worms), the film relies on atmosphere and performances to yield one hell of a creepy film. Worms come out of showerheads, closets, crawlspaces, and people’s faces. Oh, right, and they scream. Did I mention that the worms scream in this movie? Because they do, with their tiny little worm mouths, and it’s very unsettling! If you haven’t had the chance to catch this one, seek it out, and it’ll worm its way into your heart in no time. (Meg Shields)