Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 12 October 2004
Source Paramount Home Video DVD
features: October: 31 Days of Horror
A Serious Warning:
Many people have an uncontrollable fear of the unknown. If you are such a person, please believe me when I say – this movie is not for you.
William Castle – The King of Horror
So reads a promotional poster for Bug, the final project of movie legend William Castle. Although responsible for producing Rosemary’s Baby, and directing such cult favorites as Macabre and The House on Haunted Hill, Castle is likely best remembered for his outlandish publicity stunts, in particular a plan to enhance the experience of his film The Tingler by wiring theater seats to electrically shock audience members. And as the above advertising copy testifies, even at the end of his long career Castle was still consumed by hype, a firm believer that, as he put it, his films had the potential to “scare the pants off America.”
And to Castle’s credit, Bug (which he co-wrote and produced) serves up some unnerving moments of insect mayhem during its first forty-five minutes, assembling a satisfying When Nature Attacks storyline featuring a small town beset by a colony of prehistoric, cockroach-like creatures endowed with the peculiar and destructive ability to start fires. As sporadic conflagrations and lethal bug attacks threaten to become the order of the day, however, science teacher extraordinaire James Parmiter realizes that the creatures, spewed out of the center of the planet by a violent earthquake, will inevitably be quashed by the extreme pressure difference on the surface.
In a mad desire to understand more about the remarkable insects before they perish, Professor Parmiter undertakes a series of ill-advised experiments, including an attempt to breed the “firebugs” with run-of-the-mill roaches. Centered on an elaborate theory of primitive communication capabilities between man and the natural world, an emerging God complex, and super-cockroaches that learn to spell, this unexpected and intriguing shift in plot injects the final forty-five minutes of the film with a renewed sense of horror.
The abrupt story change may leave some viewers unsettled, especially advocates of the visceral horror highlighted in the film’s first half. However, the cerebral fears showcased in the second section are by far the more original contributions to the genre, elevating Bug to a level worthy of Castle’s outrageous claims, and serving as a worthy end to the career of a man dedicated to finding unusual ways to terrify his audiences.