Review Date: September 21, 2004
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 9/14/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
William Castle was the master of gimmick cinema. Every film he did had that unique hook that made many of his films more than movies. Indeed, his films were events. Thirteen Ghosts
had special goggles to view the ghosts on screen, and House on Haunted Hill
had a gag where a skeleton would fly over audience’s heads. Near the end of his career, with his ideas waning and his health deteriorating, he wrote and produced a little film called Bug
. While there may have been no theatre gimmick, the novelty of seeing killer bugs in a horror movie is a attention-grabber in and of itself. The director, Jeannot Szwarc, ended up becoming a creature feature veteran himself, following up Bug
with the accomplished Jaws 2
. So with the talent behind the camera, does Bug
fly, or is it a bottom feeder?
It is the hot days of summer in a small town in the California desert. Laced with sweat, people head off to church. As the pastor is in mid sermon, an earthquake of biblical proportions occurs. Almost like the plague of the locusts in the Bible, a different breed of insects are unleashed upon the world…beetles. These little creatures are different than the average bug however, as they have been spewed up from the hellish portions of the earth’s core. Laced with the ability to shoot fire from their rumps, they go about igniting town and townsfolk. Made with a thick outer shell and from the depths of the earth, these creatures cannot be stopped by a simple foot stomp. They are seemingly indestructible, and they are multiplying.
It takes the death of a friend’s father and brother by the vicious beetles before entomologist James Parmiter (Bardford Dillman
) decides to get to the bottom of the murders. The beetles aren’t quite indestructible, he finds as he researches them further. Rather than directly going out and killing them however, he begins to grow a strange attraction to them. Keeping them in pressure controlled cages, he decides to start breeding them. When he begins cross breading the beetles, he develops a new type of insect. These new bugs are carnivorous, feasting on the beef chunks James gives to them. James locks himself away to study the caged creatures, but he very much ends up caged himself.
With James in self-imposed insect exile, his friends begin to worry for his sanity. One starlet blonde goes to check on him, only to be swarmed and attacked by the carnivorous creatures. The bite and they burn, as her hair goes up in flames and her skin is mauled by the inescapable insects. With his friends dying by the minute, James is very much left alone in his fight against the hell mongers. The question though, is whether or not James still wishes to kill the vicious bugs. With his sanity on the line, will James dispel his little project, or will his ant farm mentality get the best of him?
is a film that starts off interesting enough, but fails to address many of the plot elements it establishes by the conclusion. The biblical analogy is made fairly overt, with the plague hitting during a church sermon and the bugs coming from below the earth’s surface (read: hell). But this plot thread goes nowhere, and neither do many others. The film begins promising a town attack film, as several victims throughout the city are initially shown. However, midway through the film the movie becomes less about the bugs and more a character study into Parmiter’s deranged little mind. We are treated to shots of James crying and James doing other antisocial idiosyncrasies in order to firmly establish his wavering sanity. The bugs really become secondary as the film plods towards a conclusion. Funny that the film is called Bug
, since James would be a more fitting title.
While the film starts out like the great seventies disaster films like Earthquake
, it ends up a weak rehash of Willard
, making James
an even more fitting title. The broad scope of a disaster film does not mesh well with the close personal nature of the character study, and Bug
tellingly ends up a huge mishmash of a film. Not sure whether to be big or to be small, the film succeeds as neither, ending up a dull and wasteful 99 minutes. Characters established at the start of the film, like the grieving daughter Norma (Jamie Smith-Jackson
) are basically abandoned by the midpoint of the film, either by senselessly killing them off or simply forgetting them. Since James is not really the protagonist until a fair ways into the film, the story has a tough time creating a focus for the viewer. The sluggish plot makes it even tougher to hold interest, and by the time the film reaches its end point it is tough to even care anymore.
is directed with an old fashioned sheen by Jeannot Szwarc. Full of lengthy dolly moves and long takes, the film has a staging that makes it feel very much like William Castle’s earlier works. The script does not reach such a level however, as the lack of focus, mishmash of genres and slow pacing make the film pedestrian at best. Castle has been responsible for many inventive and original horror films over the years, but Bug
is not one of them. Even creature feature fans will have a tough time sifting through all the tedium. Castle has demonstrated in the past that a little gimmick can go a long way, but Bug
is pesticide. Avoid.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer doesn’t look too bad, although like Paramount’s Orca
transfer, it is largely inconsistent. While there is a fairly strong layer of grain throughout, colors look very good for the majority of the film. The first half of the film takes place mostly in daylight, so the shots have a considerable layer of depth and look quite good for their 30 year age. When the film reaches the conclusion however, which takes place almost entirely in darkness, the faults of the transfer really begin to show. The image becomes flat and blacks end up looking more of a muddy grey. Print damage, such as scratch lines and dirt, become much more readily apparent during the closing portions of the film. Still though, for an old little film like this, the transfer is acceptable, but there is little doubt that Paramount could have spent a lot more time on it. The film deserves about as much as it has received.
Mono is all that is included, and its flat but just as one would expect. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is Charles Fox’s early electronic music in the film, which is a real experimental fury of sounds and noises. While at times grating, it is nonetheless an interesting little track that comes through nicely on this mono mix.
is a weak film, unsure if it wants to be a disaster film or a personal study into an obsessive mind. It ultimately ends up becoming neither, and instead a lumbering and inconsequential waste of a film. The video is mediocre, and the sound is in no frills mono. Extras are nonexistent, which basically means that this is a release for die hard fans only. All others should check out Paramount’s Orca
for a much better creature feature.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B-
Supplements - N/A
- Running Time - 1 hour 39 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- English subtitles