After his enormous success producing ROSEMARY'S BABY, Paramount backed two further projects for William Castle, neither which broke any box office records. SHANKS (1974), the macabre story of a mute puppeteer was the last film Castle directed, followed by 1975's BUG, his contribution to the "nature gone wild" craze of that time. Trying to lift itself above the other numerous insect pictures of the 70s, BUG also acts like a small-scale natural disaster flick, but at least benefits from a unique, intelligent sci-fi script written by Castle and Thomas Page, based on his novel The Hephaestus Plague. BUG was also Castle's swan song, as the master showman and gimmick champion passed away in 1977.
A small earthquake hits a town in southern California, causing a sizable crack in the ground near a farmhouse. College student Gerald Metbaum (Richard Gilliland) inspects the crack and witnesses strange insects crawling slowly all over the ground. Noticing that these large cockroach-like bugs are unordinary, he picks one up only to have his finger burnt by it, and is horrified when they apparently set a cat in flames and then gnaw on its dead flesh. He takes the feline's remains to college professor James Parmiter (Bradford Dillman) who soon sets up shop in the barn to do experiments on these blind rock-like buggers. Formulating theories about their origins from beneath the earth, he discovers that these fire-starters lack a conventional digestive system and exist on a diet of carboniferous ash, and after trying to mate them mate with a conventional roach, it is apparent that they have a penchant for red meat and have super-intelligent attributes as well.
Castle and director Szwarc (JAWS 2) here reinvent the type of film that was the staple of the genre during the 1950s, establishing an intriguingly credible scientific situation for the insects, and they manage to deliver a pretty creepy film, especially for those squeamish at the sight of oversized cockroaches. There are some particularly nasty scenes with the buggers burrowing into Jamie Smith Jackson's ear and in Joanna Miles' hair, which causes her to be set on fire, and an even more horrible fate is in store for Patty McCormick (who ironically, was also set on fire a decade earlier in THE MINI-SKIRT MOB). The film takes things to a personal level, involving much of the screen time to concentrate on Dillman's isolated experiments and the mental breakdown he endures because of it. This flaws the film a bit, as we never know how drastic the insect epidemic really is to the outside world, and the attacks are only limited to a handful. But on the other hand, these claustrophobic scenes makes things intense and unnerving. BUG is also greatly aided by the effective insect photography (by Ken Middleham) which represent these crawlers in great detail.
Never giving up the showman tactics, Castle originally wanted to install windshield-wiper devices (simulating crawling roaches) under theater seats to brush against patrons' legs during screenings. This idea was scratched, but Castle did make public appearances with a might roach named "Hercules" to promote the film. Also note that the home of Bradford Dillman and Joanna Miles is actually the revamped "Brady Bunch" house: Paramount had just finished production on the series and apparently left the set up to use in movies and such.
A longtime staple on VHS, Paramount presents BUG on DVD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Time has not been good to this title, and although the colors look stable enough and detail is sharp for the most part, the print source suffers from a lot of speckling, dirt and other blemishes that effect darker scenes. A decent, watchable transfer, but not nearly as good as many of Paramount's other DVD restorations of low budget library titles of this sort. The Dolby Digital mono audio is passable, but sometimes dialog seems a bit low. No other extras on the disc, not even the damn trailer! (George R. Reis)
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