Beginning of the End (1957)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by Fred Freiberger
Tagline: "New thrills! New shocks! New terror!"
Run Time: 76 min
“Working with radiation can be dangerous.”
The 1950′s were indeed a dangerous time for us poor humans. Never before had we be subjected to so many attacks by giant critters: insects in particular. After the superlative giant-ant thriller "Them!" (1954), directors and producers realized how eager the public was for "giant bug" movies…regardless of the actual quality of the final product. Another attractive aspect for the producers of these movies was the relative low budgets it took to produce the special effects: It was often just a matter of filming real insects crawling over miniature cities, or taking close-up shots of insects and projecting them on large screens behind the human actors to give a (not too convincing) sense of ‘size’.
The movie goers quickly become savvy to these cheap tricks and eventually tired of the genre as a whole. This did not stop a few directors from trying anything to squeeze out just one more ‘big bug’ picture while it was still possible to make money at all off of these films.
Enter Bert I. Gordon. Bert was a director and producer of generally low-quality sci-film and horror films. Interestingly, he has the dubious distinction of having the most movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 of any single director:
King Dinosaur (1955)
Beginning of the End (1957)
The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
War on the Colossal Beast (1958)
Earth VS The Spider (1958)
The Magic Sword (1962)
Village of the Giants (1965)
This guy is a God! Not even the other MST3K legend, Sandy Frank, has as many entries as Bert.
At the time of this film’s making, i.e., the late 1950′s, movie makers were starting to run out of animals and insects that could be ‘super-sized’ in order to make a movie. Ants – Done that. Spiders – been there. Scorpions – done. Dinosaurs – yup (already pretty giant sized from the get go). So Bert sat around scratching his head, trying to come up with something that hadn’t been featured in a ‘giant bug’ movie before.
Suddenly, inspiration hit him: Grasshoppers!
Yup, a movie full of horrible, evil, deadly, giant grasshoppers! (The horror!)
(To be fair, the film’s star insects are in fact locust…but who the hell can tell the difference?)
Bert is also known for creating the special effects himself along with his wife, Flora. Our feature film, ‘Beginning of the End’ is no exception. However the quality of the special effects may be, how can I say this in a kind way, ‘below standard’. Case in point: in one scene (a well known scene for B-movie aficionados), the giant grasshoppers are shown attacking Chicago. This terrible assault on the city’s skyline was realized by sprinkling live grasshoppers on a postcard picture of Chicago and filming them as they crawled on the ‘buildings’. The only problem was that a couple grasshoppers became a little eager and started crawling off the buildings and onto the ‘sky’. Bert didn’t bother to re-shoot the shot, and it is still found in the film, much to my, and certainly many others, great joy.
Enough talking! Bring on the grasshoppers!
|Dr. Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves)
Entomologist at the US Dept. of Agriculture ‘Experimental Station’. His current research includes creating giant strawberries and tomatoes that can’t be eaten…and causing a plague of giant, radioactive grasshoppers. Somebody give this guy an award!
Peter Graves is a well known film and TV star, appearing in over 80 films. He is probably most famous for his role in the popular 1960′s TV series: "Mission Impossible".
|Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle)
The attractive Audrey Aimes, eager news hound for National Wire Service. (The same Audrey Aimes that "…covered Korea for that picture magazine."…Oh! THAT Audrey Aimes!)
Peggie Castle performed in over 40 films during her career, most of them grade-B. In 1973, Peggie died of alcohol related sickness at the early age of 45.
|Gen. John Hanson (Morris Ankrum)
Played by the well known character actor, Morris Ankrum, who has appeared in over 180 films. My hat’s off to you, General!
|Colonel Tom Sturgeon (Thomas Browne Henry)
Tom Sturgeon refuses to believe Ed when told of the giant grasshoppers. His inaction leads to the grasshoppers breaking out and destroying 5 towns on the way to Chicago. Whoops!
Our feature begins as many other monster movies tend to: 2 teenagers making out in a parked car. Needless to say, we all know the life expectancy of 2 teenagers making out in a parked car: zero. Girl kisses boy. Boy kisses girl. Girl opens eyes and screams. Fade to credits.
After the credits, we see a road. A long, flat, empty road nestled in front of a mountain range. (I’m a little unsure exactly which mountains these are since the movie takes place in central Illinois…). A road. An empty road.
Two headlights at the end of the road. Yep, they’re getting bigger, a car must be coming. Slowly. Slowly. Aren’t monster movies supposed to be, um, what’s that word again, oh yeah: exciting?
Ok, here comes the car….zoooommmmm! past the camera. It turns out that it’s a police car…that’s exciting, isn’t it?
The policemen pull over to the side of the road to investigate something odd. The car stops and they go to investigate on foot. Ok, what the hell do they see? There we go…it’s a smashed automobile. One cop walks back to the car to call in the accident while the other cop snoops around in the wreckage. Aha! He finds a wallet with a driver’s license in it. Suspecting "foul play", one of the policeman drives off to the address on the drivers license while the other stays behind to guard the accident scene.
Soon after, we see that 3 detectives have arrived along with a newspaper photographer. (Good grief! Three detectives for a lousy car accident?) One of the detectives is thoroughly examining, maybe too thoroughly, a woman’s sweater that was found in the wreck…I mean it looks like the guy is going to start sniffing it!
One of the detectives gets a radio call (that’s when we see that there is at least 1 more detective and 3 uniformed officers at the scene!) walks over to his car to take it. Police dispatch informs the detective that the police car that was previously sent to investigate the address on the license has failed to report in. (Dum! Dum! Dum!)
We cut to the missing patrol car and see a breathless police officer run up to the car and grab the radio. He reports to dispatch that "the whole town is destroyed!". Hmm. Not good! "Send help! Lot’s of help! Quick!" Wow. Really not good. Fade to black.
We next see some sort of Army guy directing traffic. Then we see, oh no! That same long, empty road as before. Yes another car comes zooming by, this time the passenger is none other than reporter Audrey Aimes. (Hey! Where did the mountains go? Another funny bit is the way the same footage is shown behind her while she’s driving on 3 separate occasions…the same exact same cars drive by each time! Ahh…I love movies like this!)
Mountains? What mountains?
Audrey is out to report on a "jet plane story" (?) when she is stopped at the army roadblock. Being the inquisitive reporter, Audrey asks one of the soldiers the reason for the roadblock. Not to be the one to let the cat out of the bag, the soldier brusquely replies, "Look lady, just detour, will ya please?!" By the way, you can relax now, the mountains are back. (In Illinois?!) Audrey turns her car around and begins to drive off, but comes up with a brilliant ploy in order to get some information from the soldiers. She pulls her car over and saunters over to the soldiers loitering around at the roadblock.
Audrey asks one of the soldiers if the press is also denied access to enter the area. (Seeing as a small town has just been destroyed by giant grasshoppers, I can understand the military wanting a press black-out for the moment.) Well, as expected, the press is not welcome in this area either. Seeing as her plan has failed to gain her entry to the restricted"Ludlow area", Audrey drives away and stops in at the Army headquarters. (Or something like that. It’s a big building with a lot of military guys walking around.)
Well, this approach proves to be a bit more fruitful and Audrey is given an audience with Col. Sturgeon’s executive officer, Captain Barton. She presses Barton for information regarding "a town…a town that isn’t there any more." (Whenever I hear somebody talking about a town, I always think of Colonel Edwards from ‘Plan 9‘ when he said "…a small town I admit…but a town with people…people who died"…I love that line!)
Barton finally gives in and agrees to spill the beans if Audrey promises not to release the story. (Oh yeah…sure…a reporter’s promise! Give me a break!). It turns out that the town of Ludlow, with a population "about 150", was destroyed and all the people "disappeared". After this helpful wad of exposition, Audrey is invited to listen in as Colonel Sturgeon interviews some of locals.
We listen to this rather ‘salt-of-the-earth’ fellow, Dave, retell his (boring) story of the night before. Basically he went home, ate dinner, watched TV, talked to his daughter…yadda yadda. After further questioning, the crusty old man remembers hearing something that "sounded like thunder." (AHA! Grasshoppers! Whoops…I hope I didn’t give anything away.)
Dave is dismissed, and the next person in line is interviewed, Edna. As fate would have it, Edna works for the telephone company and reports that the last call to Ludlow occurred at 11:59. Edna states that she noticed the phone connections were down at 4:45 A.M. Colonel Sturgeon astutely deduces that contact must have been lost between 11:59 PM and 4:45 AM. QED. (Now I know why I hate mysteries…let’s get on with it!!!)
Sturgeon dismisses Edna and heads out to Ludlow to see if any progress is being made. Audrey asks to tag along but is refused. With some Classic Lines, the scene ends with the frustrated Audrey stalking out of Army Headquarters.
Out in her car, Audrey picks up a huge car phone and calls the newspaper editor in New York, Norman Taggert. (Wow! I didn’t know they had those back then. I’m pretty sure that’s bogus…does anybody else know about these?) Taggert wonders if she’s finished with her "jet plane story", but Audrey says she’s stumbled onto something much bigger. (No pun intended!) Audrey informs Taggert of the incidents around Ludlow, including a mysterious plane that flew over the town around midnight. Taggert says he’ll check out the plane and also see if there are any "atomic installations" around Ludlow. (Damn radiation! Will we ever learn?! Will we ever learn?!!) After the call, Audrey starts her car and drives off. (What? A car was actually started in a monster movie?! Oh wait, there were no monsters around…I’m sure it will stall later in the film.)
Back at the roadblock, again, (ummm…there are, er, monsters in this movie, right?), Audrey demands that the soldiers return her confiscated camera to her. (I’m not sure why it was confiscated in the first place since she was never in the restricted area…)
While she waits for the soldiers to fetch her camera, Taggert calls back to report what he has found. The ‘mysterious’ plane was a dead end: merely a commercial airliner. As far as ‘atomic installations’, the nearest one to Ludlow is 75 miles away, "…secret or otherwise." (??) Seeing that both her leads have fizzled out, Audrey is about to hang up when Taggert mentions that the only people working with radioactive material is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Damn them! Damn the US Department of Agriculture! They’ve done it again! When will they learn!?)
Audrey, sensing a hot lead, drives off to investigate this so called "Experimental Station" which just happens to be not to far from Ludlow ruins. (Dum! Dum! Dum!)
Ok. Yeah, sure…
Can I say something at this point…Where are the freakin’ grasshoppers? C’mon, already!
At the, *ahem*, ‘Experimental Station’, Audrey makes her way inside some sort greenhouse where a scientist (how do I know? He’s wearing a white lab coat, of course!) is working with some plants. Audrey tries to get his attention, but he apparently ignores her. Often a few seconds of ‘ahem. Ahem! AHEM!’, Audrey gets fed up and turns to leave. As she turns, Audrey bumps into none other than the project director, Dr. Ed Wainwright. Ed explains that the other scientist, Frank, is now a deaf mute because, "…working with radiation can be dangerous." (??) Ed reveals that "an accident last year cost him his speech and his hearing." (What the hell kind of radiation does that?)
Before Audrey can speak to Ed, he runs over to help Frank pick up a bunch of snails laying on the ground (?). Seeing the scattered snails, Audrey asks if accidents happen a lot around the project area. Ed smiles and smugly replies that accidents happen all the time (and this guy is the project director?!). It turns out that critters are always sneaking there way into the greenhouses, "..last summer it was caterpillars, and after that it was grasshoppers…" (Doh!)
Audrey, finally getting Ed’s full attention once he’s done picking up snails, asks if radiation could have had anything to do with Ludlow’s destruction. Ed smiles again and says that radiation couldn’t have had a part in the disaster. To prove his point, he takes her over to a lead-shielded box and opens the door to reveal 2 huge, lead containers full of radioactive material. (And this guy is the project director?!) I’m not sure what Ed was trying to prove by giving Audrey a lethal dose of radiation, but oh well.
Ed continues the tour by next showing Audrey some absolutely enormous strawberries and tomatoes. Ed proudly mentions to Audrey that his dream is that these will be the future of the American farmer. (What? Turn them into giant strawberries?)
Frank and giant tomatoes. (Frank is to the right)
The only difficulty so far as that the giant vegetables can’t be eaten. (But besides that, they’re great!) Ed goes on to explain how radiation has created these enormous fruits and vegetables. (see Classic Lines) Anyway, there’s some more scientific mumbo jumbo that I will spare you…you can thank me by sending me money to support this web site. To make a long story short, Audrey figures that this place is just another dead end and returns to Army headquarters to see if Col. Sturgeon has returned from Ludlow.
Ok, I really, really, want something to happen soon.
Back at headquarters (sigh), Audrey arrives just as Col. Sturgeon is hopping out of his jeep. Once again, Audrey turns on the charm and is allowed to enter Ludlow to take pictures, as long as she promises not to release them to the public before she gets the OK from the military. (Yeah…right!) As she is about to drive off with Capt. Barton as her escort, Sturgeon says he hopes she has "a strong stomach"…(Bum! Bum! Bum!)
We see a picture of Audrey taking pictures superimposed over wrecked houses and scattered debris. Dramatic music blares in the background to remind us that what has happened in Ludlow is ‘Bad’. (Or maybe it was to wake the viewer up after nearly 20 minutes of runtime and no freakin’ grasshoppers!) After a while, Audrey has "had enough" and they leave Ludlow. (Be sure to note the road projected onto the back of the scene is the exact same road, with the exact same cars driving by, as her first driving scene…)
When they return to HQ, Barton asks Audrey out for a drink to help her get rid of "the jitters" (?) (you old dog, you! God bless the 50′s.) Audrey seems more concerned with what has happened in Ludlow than getting drinks with Barton. (Women!) Never to give up without a fight, Bartend tries to steer the conversation back to drinks (see Classic Lines), but eventually gets the hint and goes back inside HQ to cool his jets while Audrey returns to Ed’s research station.
Back at the research station, Audrey asks Ed to take her to a warehouse that was ‘destroyed about three weeks ago.’ (Ohhh! That warehouse…) Ed plays coy and says he has too much work to deal with, but he would be glad to take her tomorrow. True to form, Audrey pushes on, noting that similarities between the destroyed warehouse and the destroyed town of Ludlow (don’t ask), Audrey wants Ed to come along because he’s a scientist, and he deals in "cause and effect". (?) Furthermore, due to his scientific manner of thinking, Ed may, oh yes, just may, be able to find something that the police missed.
Frank breaks into the conversation and starts ‘signing’ wildly. Ed translates for Audrey and says that Ed wants to come along with them. (Bad move, Frank.) By the way, didn’t Ed say that Frank lost his hearing and speech the previous summer? And now Ed is fluent in sign language already? I guess it must be all those night courses he’s been taking.
Arriving at Ludlow, the trio leave the car and go to investigate the ruins of "that warehouse". Stock footage from what appears to be the aftermath of a tornado adds to the feeling that what has happened here is ‘bad’. Audrey and Ed exchange some pointless dialog (See Classic Lines), but we eventually come to understand that the grasshoppers originated from the warehouse. (See the movie if you want to piece the ‘mystery’ together yourself.)
Audrey notes that it’s strange that out of a million bushels of wheat there isn’t a single grain laying around. Ed brushes aside her concerns by blandly stating that "the birds probably cleaned up…". (A million bushels!!!)
Well, as the pieces of the puzzle fall together, Frank has been doing some investigating of his own. He beckons to Ed and Audrey and they walk over to him to see what he has found. Frank thinks it’s odd that the ground is so bare, as if all the vegetation has been chewed "down to the roots".
Anyway Frank wanders off to investigate…something…while Audrey and Ed sit down for a little exposition. Ed mentions that he’s actually an entomologist (for all you people who don’t watch a lot of ‘giant bug’ movies, that’s a person who studies insects…). Ed continues by explaining the relationship between insect and plant development. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds. Really, there is a lot of talking in this movie…
Audrey decides to go back to the car to fetch her camera while Ed tags along to "help her". (Help her get her camera out of the car?!). It’s at this time we hear a strange noise growing louder and louder. A sort of high-pitched whirring noise…I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this noise reminds me of grasshoppers…
Wow! I was right! From just behind Frank comes an enormous grasshopper (Frank, being deaf, did not hear its ‘whirring’ noise…oh, the irony!).
Anyway, in a rather funny shot of Frank silently screaming, waving his hands wildly about, Frank is eaten. Yummy.
Ed and Audrey jump in the car and drive off before they become the next victims. (It’s funny…Audrey has driven in every scene until now, but now that the monster appears and there is ‘danger’, Ed shoves her into the passenger seat and he drives, even though it’s her car!)
Ed rushes back to Army HQ and blurts out the news to Colonel Sturgeon. Needless to say, the Colonel is a bit skeptical. (Maybe if Audrey had taken a picture! Doh!) Despite Ed’s desperate attempts to explain the genesis of these creatures, Sturgeon refuses to believe what he hears. (Me neither, I can’t believe what I’m seeing!)
It’s interesting that these giants are able to conceal themselves at all. Consider that Ed says there are "two or three hundred" of them. Now, let’s say Ed was in state of shock, so we will reduce his estimate by half. OK, so maybe there are 150 locusts, each about 8 or 9 feet tall, hopping around eating everything in site…Could a hoard of such noisy, flying, hopping, ravenous beasts really go unnoticed? It seems just a little hard to swallow…
Well, Colonel Sturgeon decides to humor Ed and agrees to take 10 soldiers out to the site if Ed will show him where it’s located. Once they arrive at the devastated warehouse, the soldiers dismount from the back of the truck and start bitching about the ‘silly’ mission they’ve been sent on.
‘Stupid grasshoppers…’, <grumble><mumble>
Not to beat a dead horse, but where could so many giant bugs be hiding? Wouldn’t they make some kind of noise? Hell, I’m sure I could hear even 150 normal grasshoppers…
After stomping through the woods for a while, the soldiers start hearing that peculiar whirring. Sturgeon calls a halt to the advance and the soldiers stand at the ready.
Suddenly, giant grasshoppers seem to swarm out of nowhere. Literally. They just pop up a few feet in front of the soldiers and kill them!
Hey Sarge, I think I found ‘em!
Despite the barrage of rifle fire, the grasshoppers quickly overwhelm the soldiers. All hell breaks loose as the soldiers turn and beat a hasty retreat. With the help suppressing fire from a machine gun mounted on the back of the truck, the surviving soldiers reach their vehicle and hop onto the back. Ed is, of course, the last guy to reach the truck (gee…I was really worried if he was going to get killed or not…), where he grabs an extra gun laying in the back of the truck (?) and opens fire. Seeing that the situation looks hopeless, Ed jumps in the back and the truck roars off just as the grasshoppers reach them…<whew!>
Sorry pal…no more room
Back at HQ, Colonel Sturgeon has finally gotten his finger out and is calling for reinforcements. Despite requesting the combined firepower of 3 infantry regiments plus an artillery unit, Ed is worried that it still won’t be enough to defeat the grasshoppers. You see, Ed has reevaluated his first estimate of the number of bugs because he has now "heard them screech" (?) and figures that now there could be "countless numbers of them." (Is that a lot?)
Sturgeon stomps off while Audrey and Ed discuss the Colonel’s unwillingness to call in a more soldiers. Ed says in an offhand manner that "…In a way, I feel responsible…" Huh? In a way? Sorry, Ed, but when the class action lawsuit comes around I think you will see that you are fully responsible for all this! Who the hell else is growing radioactive wheat? Well, feeling just a wee-bit guilty for his role in all this, Ed heads to Washington DC in an attempt to convince the Army brass the magnitude of the danger than mankind is now facing. (Oh, and Audrey tags along too…how nice.)
Some stock footage establishes that we are now in Washington, namely, the Pentagon. Ed is showing a documentary on locusts to a group of military officers. This narration goes into great detail about grasshoppers and locusts, so at least you’ll learn a little bit from watching this film, if nothing else. Ed’s continues for an uncomfortably long time, but at least I’ve learned a lot (zzzzz).
Despite Ed’s wonderfully presented documentary, the military is of the opinion that the Illinois National Guard can handle the situation without the Army stepping in. (OK, I admit, it’s been the National Guard fighting the bugs this whole time, not the Army…who cares…)
Seeing that they have overstayed their welcome, Ed and Audrey turn to leave when a phone rings. Dramatic music cues us in that whatever news the general is hearing it is not good. Through a wad of exposition, the general swallows his pride and says that the grasshoppers have indeed broken through the defensive lines around Ludlow resulting in "thousands of casualties." (Gee…It would have been nice to see a little bit of that fight…oh well…). Extra forces will now be sent in to help defend the town of Paxton, the next city in the path of the grasshoppers advance.
Ed and Audrey, heading back to Illinois, are allowed to fly along with one of the officers. The peaceful return trip is interrupted In mid-flight when a message is received: The city of Paxton has also fallen to the grasshoppers. (Once again, couldn’t we have seen just a little action here?…)
It also odd that this point in the film, the hitherto assertive, take-charge Audrey seems to fade in the light of Ed’s character. She didn’t say a word during the whole grasshopper presentation, she sits silently behind Ed on the plane, and is in fact hardly visible in the scene at all. I guess this is the point in the film where the stakes have risen sufficiently high that a woman is not capable of handling things…best to let the male character take over.
Now the grasshoppers are gonna be in big trouble! None other then General Hanson has taken over military operations…and he’s pissed! At headquarters (don’t know really where it is, but it doesn’t matter), Hanson has just received a telegram reporting that 3 more cities have been destroyed. (C’mon! Can’t we see any fighting? Good grief! Exposition Grand Central Station here!)
Apparently nothing stands in the way of the giant grasshoppers and now the Windy City itself, yes, Chicago, is now in danger of being destroyed. This report is enough to get General Hanson lighting some fires under people’s butts as he storms around the room rattling out very military-esque orders to his subordinates ("assume command…", "…order the 81st armored division to proceed without delay…", and so on…)
Meanwhile, Ed is busy at work in his lab trying to find an insecticide that will have some effect on the bugs (He does, you know, feel just a little bit responsible…) It turns out that the giant grasshoppers are resistant to all the insecticides that have been tossed on them so far…damn radiation!
Now we are treated to some stock footage of tanks and assorted military weaponry presumably being arrayed to form a defensive ring around Chicago. Hilariously, some of the stock footage shows soldiers firing artillery from the base of a mountain range…yeah, it must be the Chicago Mountains that surround the city.
All of this stock footage is extremely exciting to watch, sort of, but Bert Gordon wasn’t able to merge shots of the grasshoppers into the scenes, resulting in lots of combat but no grasshoppers. It’s rather odd actually.
In yet another hilarious continuity error, we are treated to scenes of machine guns firing, mortars and artillery canons firing round after round at the enemy, then we cut to a scene where a soldier reports to headquarters that the locusts haven’t been spotted yet! (!?) So what the hell are they firing at?! Maybe they were just trying to show off a little bit.
Anyway, moving right along, the grasshoppers finally attack. The bugs attack the defensive lines and are immediately bombarded with tanks, artillery, mortar, machine guns, and even a guy taking shots at them with his pistol. (!) (When the tanks fire we see firecrackers exploding under real grasshoppers…doh! Probably couldn’t get away with that these days!)
The one flaw in all these combat scenes that ruins the sense of ‘mortal danger’ is the fact that the grasshoppers don’t ever really seem to ‘attack’. They sort of sit there, stare into the camera with those big bulbous eyes, and occasionally take a step in a random direction. If anything, it looks like they are just trying to get away from the lights used to film them. It would have been much more effective to make a fake ‘head’ and have it ‘crush’ some soldiers every now and then…but Bert obviously didn’t want to spend the money.
After a few minutes of this nonsense, one of the soldiers reports that the grasshoppers are attacking in a "spearhead formation", trying to break through by attacking a single point in the defensive lines. (I really, really, really, doubt that grasshoppers are intelligent enough to attack in formation!)
Needless to say, the grasshoppers break through by way of their ‘spearhead formation’, and have overrun the southern part of Chicago. Loudspeakers inform the populace to take shelter in their basements and to not panic. (These announcements are played over stock footage of people panicing…so go figure.)
OK, we get to see wads of stock footage of people running along with overlaid grasshopper footage. And yes, the grasshoppers are climbing up the buildings realized by pictures of buildings with the grasshoppers sprinkled on top.
As night falls, the temperature drops below a certain point ("Sixty-eight degrees" as we are told by Ed), and the grasshoppers stop moving and huddle up in the alleys in an attempt to keep warm. General Hanson tells Ed that Washington has given him the green light to drop an atom bomb on Chicago in order to kill the bugs. (Hmmm, is that so smart? Wasn’t it radioactivity that made them giant in the first place?)
In a light-bulb moment, Ed comes up with a brilliant idea. If he could reproduce a special grasshopper call, they might, just might, be able to lure the bugs into Lake Michigan and drown them. The general feels it’s worth a shot (but I bet he would’ve rather dropped an A-bomb…), so he promises to get Ed whatever equipment he needs. But…and there’s always a ‘but’…Ed first needs to trap a live giant grasshopper as a test subject in order to find the correct signal.
OK, yes, Ed and a group of soldiers are driving around looking for a giant grasshopper to capture…and please, may I ask again, would it be that difficult to find one? The men split up (of course) and begin looking through all the alleys in a certain area…I don’t know what area it is, but I guess there’s grasshoppers around.
Whatever. They find one, throw a gas grenade at it, and capture the incapacitated insect. Boy, that was exciting.
Back at in the lab, Ed has placed the giant grasshopper in some sort of huge grasshopper-proof cage. (??) I’m not sure when they had time to build that…but never mind. Also, how the hell did they get that grasshopper upstairs and into the building? Did they take the stairs?
Now I can see that cage is not even glass, but just some little metal bars, allowing the ‘giant’ grasshopper to swing its legs completely out of the cage and ‘into’ the room. Yeah, real safe.
Ed then attaches a lie-detector (!!!) to the cage of the floor. Apparently the grasshopper will generate some sort of signal that can be picked up by the polygraph when the correct sound is played. (I say again…a lie detector !? Not even to ask…but, how in the hell did he know about this? Has he had experience administering lie-detector tests to normal-sized grasshoppers?)
An impatient General Hanson storms in and demands results. He gives Ed a little over an hour to determine the correct sound before the bomb is dropped. With his back against the wall, Ed gets to work…
Scenes of empty city streets attempt to convince us that Chicago has been evacuated, all except Ed, Audrey, and a couple of poor GI smucks that were assigned to help Ed by, well, standing around with guns. As Ed frantically turns dials and such, time runs short. Suddenly Ed happens to stumble upon the correct sound. The grasshopper freaks out and bursts forth from its cage, killing one of the soldiers in the process (gee…I never would have guessed that was going to happen). Thankfully, Ed is a botanist who is also pretty handy with a Thompson submachine gun for he picks up one that was laying around (?) and kills it. (I have to wonder how he killed it with a machine gun, when in the previous battles they couldn’t even be stopped with tanks.)
When General Hanson hears that Ed has found the correct sound to lure the grasshoppers, he recalls the bombers that were on their way to Chicago to drop the A-bomb. After the bomber is recalled, Hanson gives the green light to Ed. In a long, well, way too long, exposition, Ed explains how they first have to lure the grasshoppers to their building, then they can broadcast the signal from a boat which is bobbing on the lake.
As the temperature rises, the grasshoppers go on the move. Ed radios to the various ‘outposts’ to get their activity reports. Sure enough, the grasshoppers are on the move.
OK, wait a minute. Now that I think about it…what is it that is so attractive to the locusts in the city? One would think that a 40-foot long grasshopper would have to eat immense amounts of food each day to stay alive, food which obviously couldn’t be found in an urban area. So why haven’t they moved on? Ahhh…forget I brought it up.
As the locusts close in on downtown Chicago, General Hanson is out on the boat trying to get the broadcasting equipment to work. (Would they really have a general out there? I’m sure there’d be enough privates running around for that particularly duty…)
You see, the plan is to first broadcast the signal from the building where Ed and Audrey are, thereby luring all the bugs to their lakeside location. Once the locusts are concentrated around Ed, General Hanson will then switch on the signal from the boat, thus luring all the grasshoppers into the water where they will drown. (They hope.)
Ed turns on his signal first even though General Hanson’s speaker system is completely working, thus setting up a ‘I-hope-he-gets-the-radio-working-in-time’ type scene. (If you are truly unsure about this, then you probably haven’t seen very many of these movies.)
As Ed begins broadcasting the signal from the convenient roof-top speakers, the locusts begin to swarm into downtown. This ‘swarming’ gives us ample opportunity to see cheesy shots of grasshoppers crawling in front of pictures and on top of postcards.
I want to share with you some of the horror of the vicious locust attack on Chicago:
And my all time favorite, the Amazing Grasshopper That Can Climb on Air (note left front leg):
Ed radios General Hanson and asks if the radio is working. Well, yes it is, but not all the locusts are within hearing range of the speakers, so Ed has to hold out just a little bit longer… (Somebody always has to hold out just a little bit longer.) But really, just turn on the damn speakers and lure the ones that can hear the signal. The others will eventually crawl within range and also follow the signal out into the water. Why do they have to try and kill them all at the same time?
Meanwhile, Ed and the soldiers are holding out for a little longer. While they fire guns from the windows, killing grasshoppers here and there (and we get to see the same scene of a grasshopper ‘falling’ from a ‘building’ three times), Audrey has oddly disappeared from sight. Oh wait, she’s doing things more suitable for a woman, like standing next to the radio where she won’t be in the way of the men.
Somehow General Hanson figures that now is the time to begin broadcasting from the boat. On what information he based this decision is unclear. Anyway, the signal begins to draw the insects away from Ed and out into the water. This scene is realized by a really cheap matte shot of some crickets (!) crawling on a dirt pile behind a shot of some sort of body of water.
(Oddly, for every one grasshopper that’s making its way towards the ‘water’ at least two others are walking in the opposite direction: back into town! Whatever became of these misbehaving insects is never discussed.)
We are then ‘treated’ to scenes of real grasshoppers struggling and drowning in a bathtub (sheesh! No wonder there wasn’t any ‘No grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this film’ announcement)…so we ‘get’ that the grasshoppers have all died and are now sitting on the bottom of Lake Michigan.
As dramatic music begins to play, signifying our victory over the grasshoppers, Ed and Audrey embrace, the world is saved…
Dennis Grisbeck (April 2005)
Well, ok. Being that this is a ‘big-bug’ movie, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I was hoping for, well, more. There certainly could have been more interaction between the humans and the bugs during the battles. The filmmakers could have easily constructed a fake grasshopper head to ‘bite’ the soldiers every now and then. Hell, if a fake head proved to be too expensive (and this film was definitely low budget!), couldn’t they have made simple grasshopper ‘arm’ that could hit people, or at least give them a good ‘clawing’. As it is, there is no interaction apart from soldiers shooting at back-projection screens. However, I guess my biggest complaint is the bugs themselves. In my opinion, and I hope I speak for the majority: grasshoppers aren’t scary! I just can’t find discover a fear for these buggers no matter how deep in my soul I look. So, what can I say? This movie is a bug movie with cheap special effects, and a blatant rip-off of the classic giant ant movie, "Them!" The director, Bert I. Gordon, ‘cut-and-pasted’ nearly every aspect of "Them!" in an effort to make whatever money he could from this bland rip-off. Is this a fun movie? Well, I feel that it falls short of the "so-bad-it’s-good" mark. There’s an awful lot of talking in the first half of the film, with little action, so there is not much material to make fun of. If you can make it through the first half, the grasshopper attack on Chicago is mildly entertaining from a "bad special-effects" stand point…but just barely.
|Audrey||A town of one hundred fifty people just doesn’t disappear…|
|Barton||This one did.|