12 Movies That Use Bugs to Make Your Skin Crawl

For as long as cinema has existed, it has used our reflexive revulsion to bugs to make us squirm in our seats. Bugs have been employed in horror, science fiction, and fantasy going back to 1933’s King Kong and 1922’s Nosferatu. King Kong’s original cut featured the infamous spider pit scene (similar to what Peter Jackson created in his 2005 remake), in which the sailors fall into a canyon and are consumed by stop-motion spiders. The spider pit was deemed too terrifying for audiences and was cut from reels and lost forever. Nosferatu adapts scenes from the novel Dracula involving the movie’s parallel to Renfield, with Knock eating insects. Nosferatu almost met the fate of Kong‘s spider pit. The film was an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, and all copies were ordered destroyed, but thankfully, someone kept/hid a single copy, which is why we have it today.

Imagery of bugs in movies exploits our animal instincts. We cannot control it. If you see a black widow or brown recluse, you move quickly, even if you do not have a fear of spiders. When you see bugs on screen, you know it is a recording, but your brain still receives the stimulus. For people who do have a fear of bugs, these movies penetrate deep into their psyche. These movies are intended to exploit audiences’ arachnophobia (fear of spiders), entomophobia (fear of insects), and myrmecophobia (fear of swarming).

Bugs took on metaphoric weight in the 1950s and 1960s as fear of communist infiltration swept the nation and Hollywood. The insect became representative, like alien invaders in other sci-fi movies such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of the collective thought and collective societal structure of communism. The insects do not have individuals, other than perhaps a queen and a breeding male, and the workers are expendable. They exist as a hive. They were the perfect-layered subject to work on the red scare and the dangers of science being abused (following its reckless ambition to give birth to atomic bombs and nuclear energy).

The dangers of scientists playing God in sci-fi continue today in our movies, and the warnings of the past have manifested with bioweapons that have escaped labs and swept the globe. The negligence and ego of scientists is explained perfectly in Jurassic Park in Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) monologue on science: “Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid who found his dad’s gun… You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox… Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are expressing fears of scientific abuse with Bill Gates’ genetically modified mosquitoes, which he has released in the Florida Keys. We are living in a time when scientists are allowed by the government to create genetically modified insects and dump them in nature like a sci-fi movie. They do not even have to escape – they are set free. We are assured, like in the sci-fi movies, that their creations do not pose a danger, but the same sci-fi movies that said they would say that, warned us that life finds a way.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly 1986
20th Century Studios

David Cronenberg’s remake of 1958’s The Fly, the most famous insect movie of the 1950s and ’60s, is about a scientist, Seth Brundle, played by Jeff Goldblum, with no interest in insects at all, who creates teleportation technology. Brundle uses himself to test the safety of these teleportation pods.

In his rush to find success, Brundle neglects the importance of an uncontaminated work environment. A housefly enters the pod with the scientist, and the two animals are fused into one. Brundle slowly loses his humanity and begins to undergo a metamorphosis as the fly’s DNA begins to express itself.

Ticks (1993)

Alfonso Ribeiro
Republic Pictures

Clint Howard plays a marijuana farmer, using “herbal steroids” to grow more potent cannabis, but his mystery juice leaks out and contaminates ticks. The ticks mutate, growing to the size of a tennis ball, and they embed themselves in the bodies of hosts. Inside a human host, the ticks enter a new life cycle and grow to the size of a dog before hatching from the corpse.

The plot is about a group of troubled youths (who all seem to be in their 20s), including Seth Green and Alfonso Ribeiro, who attend a camp in the woods in California and are attacked by the mutant ticks. This bug flick is light on plot, but it continues to get watched for its quality stop-motion bugs and gore effects.

Candyman (1992)

Tony Todd as Candyman
TriStar Pictures

Candyman is about a ghost, with a hook in place of an amputated hand and whose body is consumed by bees, who appears and kills you if you say his name five times while looking into a mirror. The story follows Helen Lyle, played by Virginia Madsen, a student working on a thesis about the urban legend of Candyman in Cabrini-Green, an infamous, real-life Chicago housing project that was plagued by violence in the 1980s and ’90s. Candyman is based on Clive Barker’s short story, The Forbidden.

The location is moved from the slums of England to Chicago, adding the element of the American racial divide to the economic division already present in The Forbidden. The title character’s race is also changed, and an origin involving a lynching is added. In Barker’s short story, the Candyman is described as having a bee hive in his chest: “The contents of his torso had rotted away, and the hollow was now occupied by a nest of bees. They swarmed in the vault of his chest.” The film used thousands of real bees, which were placed on the actor, Tony Todd, and were even inserted into his mouth.

Hereditary (2018)

The 2018 psychological horror Hereditary

Most sat down for Hereditary expecting ghosts, but what they cannot erase from the VHS in their brain are the ants. A teen boy, Peter, takes his younger sister, Charlie, with him to a party. During the party, the sister, who has a nut allergy, eats cake with nuts, and she has an allergic reaction. Peter speeds to the hospital with Charlie in the backseat, gasping for air. She rolls down the window and sticks half her body out of the window, and she is decapitated by a power pole. Peter, in shock, drives home. Charlie’s head lies on the side of the road all night and is covered in ants the next morning. The ants later return in a nightmare sequence where Peter is covered by them in his bed.

Creepshow (1982)

They're Creeping Up on You
Warner Bros. Pictures

Written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero, Creepshow is an anthology horror movie. The last story in the anthology is about a wealthy elderly man, Upson Pratt, who has an extreme phobia of germs and bugs. Pratt lives in a minimalist, white-walled apartment that he obsessively cleans. On this night, Pratt keeps finding roaches in his apartment. He sprays one after another with bug killer, but more come. The bugs begin coming from Pratt’s computer system. He enters his sealed bedroom, which has glass walls.

Pratt notices the bed cover is pulsing. He throws it back and discovers thousands of roaches crawling on the bed. The roaches swarm the room and over Pratt, and he has a heart attack. After a time jump, we see the apartment is clean of insects, and Pratt lies in his bed behind the glass wall. His body erupts with thousands of roaches that fill the floor of the panic room one quarter up the glass.

Related: The Exorcist (1973): Explaining the Ending of One of the Scariest Horror Movies of All Time

The Exorcist (1973)

the exorcist regan laughing
Warner Bros. Pictures

You are thinking, there are not any bugs in The Exorcist, but you are wrong. The presence of insects in The Exorcist is one of William Friedkin’s subliminals. The most obvious subliminals in the film are quick cuts to frames of the demon’s face, but Friedkin included sound effects like the snarling of pigs and the buzzing of an insect (allegedly a bee in a jar).

In the Iraq scene, in which Father Lankester Merrin uncovers a carving of the head of the demon Pazuzu, there is audio of buzzing inserted over the scene. It happens again when he visits the full scale statue of the demon at dusk. It is small, but it is one of the many elements of The Exorcist that are layered to create the overall emotion of the movie – its dread and the confusion of its surrealism.

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser 1987
Entertainment Film Distributors

Clive Barker was paying close attention to William Friedkin’s psychology. Barker’s feature directorial debut, Hellraiser is layered with subliminal sounds like The Exorcist. When the female Cenobite, Deep Throat, first appears in the cold open, the sound of a buzzing fly is played over her appearance. The fly represents death. Hellraiser is obsessively loaded with insects, but there are also multiple images of flowers. These two motifs, the fly and the insect, represent the relationship of the Cenobites, as insects, and the flesh, as the flower.

Aliens (1986)

Newt Aliens
20th Century Studios

In the sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror masterpiece, James Cameron shifted the design of the creatures toward bug-like aesthetics, tapped into the phobia of swarming by including multiple creatures crawling on the walls, introduced a hive social structure, and gave the eggs an origin – a massive queen with an egg sac similar to a termite. The space marines frame the mission in the second film as a bug hunt in reference to Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel, Starship Troopers. These parasites are more horrifying than some bullet-sponge bugs. These aliens are smart, they set traps, they problem-solve, they think in multiple dimensions, and they use humans to carry their larvae.

Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers
TriStar Pictures

Starship Troopers is a satirical look at war and the dehumanization of the enemy. On the surface, it is about soldiers battling soulless bugs, but its presentation of the sincere patriotism of the soldiers and the propaganda films baiting them into signing up for the war is criticizing the military-industrial complex. The marines go into battle with no idea of the meat grinder they are being thrown into.

The leadership has no strategy or concern for losses. They are just throwing bodies at the bugs, and the bugs tear through the naive soldiers. It is a hopeless, never-ending war that can only benefit one party, like all modern wars – create demand for more military hardware to be produced.

Krull (1983)

Widow of the Web
Columbia Pictures

In this epic ’80s fantasy film, the heroes are challenged to locate a castle that changes location at the rise of the sun each day. Their only option is to go to an oracle, who is captive in a cave and guarded by a giant, translucent widow spider. In the scene, Ynyr, the centuries-old mentor of the new king, takes center stage and leaves behind the others to ask the seer, The Widow of the Web, the location of the castle at sunrise the next day.

The Widow was Ynyr’s wife, who killed their son and was imprisoned in the cave long ago. She uses the hourglass in her chamber to allow Ynyr to cross the web, but the only way for him to escape is for her to break the glass and give him the red sand to pause the spider. Without the sand, the spider will kill her, and when Ynyr’s palm-full of sand runs out, so will his long life.

Related: Why Arachnophobia Should Be a Sequel and Not a Remake

Arachnophobia (1990)

John Goodman in Arachnophobia
Buena Vista Pictures

Jeff Daniels stars as a new doctor, Ross Jennings, in a small town with a fear of spiders, and John Goodman plays the town’s exterminator, Delbert McClintock. When a cameraman is bitten by an exotic species of spider in Venezuela and dies suddenly, and his body is shipped back in a wooden box to his hometown. Unknown to the men who load his body into a wood casket, the spider hitches a ride on the body, and upon arriving at its destination at the funeral home, it escapes.

The spider mates with a house spider, and they produce a hybrid batch that ventures out into the little town and begins taking victims with a single bite. Dr. Jennings believes a spider is responsible for the deaths that are occurring. In the third act, Jennings and McClintock discover that the nest is at Jennings’ home, and as they arrive to evacuate his family, the spiders swarm the house.

Mimic (1997)

Mir Sorvino
Dimension Films

Mira Sorvino stars as entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler, who creates a genetically modified insect that evolves to be six feet tall and mimic humans. The insects were created to kill the roaches in New York City, which are carrying a respiratory illness that threatens to kill a generation of children. Dr. Tyler creates the Judas Breed, a mantis and termite hybrid with an accelerated metabolism that is supposed to cause the bugs to die before they can reproduce (a built-in failure to make sure they do not become an invasive species).

Somehow, a small percentage of the bugs survive, and because of their accelerated metabolism, they breed thousands of generations in only three years, rapidly mutating, evolving lungs, and camouflaging themselves to appear as humans.

Lindsay Lowe

Lindsay Lowe is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Lindsay Lowe joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: LindsayLowe@worldtimetodays.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button