A fair amount of the population has an aversion to bugs, spiders, and all the critters that scamper away when you overturn a rock or rotting log. The world under our feet is full of so many wild and amazingly gross creatures. Such as the parasitoid wasps who lay their eggs in other arthropods, the larvae bursting forth into a warm breakfast buffet. Or the hairworm, which hides inside crickets and makes them jump into a pond or other body of water where it emerges from the drowned victim. So, it should come as no surprise they’ve been used in horror films for decades, both in swarms or giant versions. Here are a few of my favorite creepy-crawly movies!
Content Warning: Discussion of bugs, spiders, and worms.
Mostly remembered for the poster featuring a woman in her underwear being attacked by a giant cockroach, The Nest brings us to a small New England island quickly infested with killer cockroaches dumped on them by a shady corporation. Soon, the island’s inhabitants are working against the clock to turn on the lighthouse and signal that survivors are still alive before the whole place is blasted with insecticide! There’s some really fun gore in this, even if the plot is meh. I’m here for the goop!!
In my opinion, Slugs is the king of creepy-crawly movies. Once you suspend your disbelief that creatures that move at a literal snail’s pace could take out an entire town, it becomes hilarious and horrifying. A puppet slug with comically pointy teeth bites a dude’s finger! But then another guy has his eyeballs explode! The contrast between these two moods makes for a really wild film. It’s probably the only movie where the heroes are a three-person team composed of a health inspector, a sanitation department manager, and a science teacher. The cast and crew were made up of Spanish and English-speaking actors, so there is some dubbing and stilted dialogue, but that only adds charm. (Shamelessly, I just got the Slugs Blu-ray!)
All of these creepy-crawly movies have ridiculous explanations as to why the critters are suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to consume human flesh. Squirm, though, might have the best/worst of them all. Get this: after a series of storms, lightning strikes the ground at a worm farm, making them all rise to the surface, frenzied and ready to KILL. They used millions of real worms for filming, and a local Boy Scout troop was brought on to jiggle the sets to make the worms wiggle more. (They got merit badges for this!) Legendary effects artist Rick Baker also created a prosthetic for a character being eaten near the end of the film.
Under-appreciated when it was released in 1993, Ticks features some relatively big names. Clint Howard stars as a pot dealer who uses steroids to improve his crop but ends up creating the giant ticks in the process. Seth Green appears as a teenager we’re all rooting for, and Alfonso Ribeiro plays a character named Panic (who explains, “they call me Panic cuz I never do it.”). Panic also has the most extreme death, with a massive tick bursting forth one leg at a time before his head splits in half. It’s rad.
There are actually two creepy-crawly movies called The Swarm: The first is from 1978, with Michael Caine acting his ass off despite the ludicrous killer bees plot. Once victims have been stung, they start hallucinating giant, fuzzy bumblebees which are just adorable. Unlike Candyman, where Tony Todd was paid for every time he was stung by bees, for The Swarm (1978) the filmmakers painstakingly cut the stingers off 800,000 bees! I would hate to have that job. Unfortunately, the film is over 150 minutes long, so it’s an utter slog to sit through!
The Swarm (2020), on the other hand, is about a failing locust farm in France. The owner Virginie is struggling to make ends meet (Nobody wants to buy her locust flour! Come on!) while also dealing with being a single mom to two kids. After a bump to the head, Virginie wakes up to find her insects are munching on her arm and seem to LOVE blood. So, like any normal person, she starts letting them feed regularly on both herself and the neighbor’s goats. Things get out of hand quickly with the titular swarm attacking everyone after their home/greenhouse is set on fire. Overall, it’s pretty good and more down-to-earth than anything else on this list.
Eight Legged Freaks
When my partner told me he saw this in theatres as a kid I was shocked because he has pretty bad arachnophobia. Once we watched it together I saw why he was able to watch it: the goofiness overrode his phobia! Toxic waste is the name of the game in Eight Legged Freaks. It leaks into the water reservoir, then gets into some crickets, which are then fed to exotic spiders that grow massive. Not sure why they’re the only thing affected, but hey, it was 2002. The townsfolk—including Scream’s David Arquette and Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson—are actually pretty quick to rise to this threat and squash a fair number of spiders.
Arquette and the gang eventually head to the local mines, abandoned due to high levels of methane, and rescue his old Aunt Gladys and a few others. They ride off on BMX bikes while explosions blast all around them in spectacular fashion. This is mainly a comedy, but there are some nasty moments, like a guy being drained like a smoothie. The CGI looks a bit clunky now, but as a first-timer I still enjoyed it!
After all this, I bet you’re wondering if I have any insect aversions. I have to admit I don’t like crane flies because of the giant bugs in Jumanji. Hopefully, these films don’t make anyone’s phobias worse. It’s fun to joke about bugs, but they really are an important part of the world, even if they’re gross!