Review by Benjamin Poole
Directed by: Michael Peterson
Starring: Pasquale Pilla, Arielle Cezanne, Harrison Matthews, Sarah French
"What separates Insectula! from the cynical likes of a Sharknado is its absolute sincerity, an eagerness to delight and not patronise its audience. Writer/director Michael Peterson is genre savvy, yet also, it would seem, genre smitten."
Let’s get the oversized creature in the middle of the room out of the way from the off; I’m a complete sucker for a monster movie. And, as an unabashed devotee of the sort of B-Movie creature feature that Insectula! so lovingly pastiches, it is really hard to remain neutral while discussing it: so loving is the detail that Insectula! entails, so accurate the parody, that this monster fan was left well and truly mashed by this lewd and lively love letter to the genre.
If you’ve seen even one '50s monster movie, then you’ll know the plot drill; a petulant beastie of interstellar origin - in this case a hideous lobster-mosquito the size of an 18 wheeler - splash lands in a sylvan lake, proceeding to slowly but surely off the bikinied residents of the surrounding small town. Who can stop this strange terror?! Private dick/local lothario Del (Pasquale Pilla)? Creepy mad scientist Dr. Kemplar (Harrison Matthews, hamming it up to Babe levels)? Doubtful, for as the Ghoulardi style direct to camera warning cautions us in the opening minutes, ‘things will fight back, things like… INSECTULA!’
What separates Insectula! from the cynical likes of a Sharknado is its absolute sincerity, an eagerness to delight and not patronise its audience. Writer/director Michael Peterson is genre savvy, yet also, it would seem, genre smitten. The joy begins early, with a sequence set on Insectula’s home planet, which is a prehistoric looking wilderness wherein strange creatures that look like Lovecraft by way of Harryhausen roam and battle. For a low budget flick, the effects are really impressive (easily superior television quality), probably because there is careful imagination and attention to detail involved in their creation. This care translates to the cinematography too, as, back on earth, the camera whips and dips underwater, following the embryonic creature as it stalks swimmers and spies bikini bottoms, and when it does eventually strike, the gore is gleeful (there is an amazing bit involving an autopsy on a severed head, which, when sawn open, explodes into plentiful fake blood and live creepy crawlies- ugh!). The pastiche is meticulous throughout; beach blankets on the shore of the doomed lake are held down by transistor radios, the women look like they could be serving cocktails at the Sands hotel, and the cartoony mien of the film is slathered in a sickly score of minor crescendos. Insectula! recalls no less than the avid entertainment of Corman in his Puerto Rican imperial phase - can there be higher praise for a low budget aquatic themed b-movie monster flick tribute?
Of course, there is a danger with this sort of dedicated homage for the film to become an indulgent in-joke which is strictly for the fans. Rest assured, there is plenty for the uninitiated to be entertained by in Insectula!. I was tickled by the unlikeliness of the male leads, particularly Pilla, bald of pate and heavy of jowl; in the film’s amusing running joke, both the doctor and the detective are well into middle age, but it doesn’t prevent a bevy of beauteous young ladies hanging off them as if they were members of the Rat Pack. It’s also pretty funny how useless and cowardly both of the men are (at least until the final reel - sob!). There are also some genuinely creepy moments in amongst the knockabout humour - be warned if you are nervous at the sight of talking dolls (i.e., pretty much everyone).
Insectula! isn’t a perfect film. There are a couple of sequences that could have been trimmed, and there is a slight issue with coherence at times (I was pretty sure that at one point, a character committed suicide by Swiss army knife, only to cheerfully return a couple of scenes later). However, it is a fully entertaining one, with an anything goes ambition (you will believe a ropey looking Insectula can land on the wing of a jumbo jet!) and a tremendous sense of fun and energy. To see Insectula!, visit the film’s website at www.insectula.com.