4. Insects – Nature Finds A Way

This episode of the podcast is concerned almost entirely with entomology, the study of insects. There are many examples of insects appearing in film, from the early-cinema shorts of the Cameraman’s Revenge and The Acrobatic Fly, through to Kurt Neumann’s 1958 classic The Fly and Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster Ant-Man.

With the notable exception of the 1996 musical ‘comedy’ film Joe’s Apartment (which featured the immortal tagline, “Sex & Bugs & Rock ’n’ Roll”), the majority of these films fall firmly into the horror genre of cinema. Given the danger and annoyance that insects have caused to man over the years, this predilection with horror would appear to tap into the ingrained fear of insects that is apparent in many societies and cultures across the world. Given the very real problems posed by insect-carried diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, those of us suffering from entomophobia (a fear of insects) can perhaps be forgiven for being a little squeamish.

mimic judas breed

Despite the very real threat posed to us from mosquitoes, and the dangers and annoyances of wasps and hornets, there is one insect that towers over the rest when it comes to making our skins crawl: the cockroach. Whilst cockroaches can spread disease and cause allergies, in reality they are relatively harmless, especially when compared to the number of people that die from malaria (over one million) and yellow fever (over thirty thousand) every year. Yet, ever since the Ancient Egyptians implored their gods to banish the cockroaches, mankind has struggled to cope with these six-legged freaks of nature.

Cinema has of course tapped into that primal fear, serving up such delightful works as They Nest (mutant cockroaches that burrow into humans), Bug (mutant cockroaches with the ability to start fires), and Damnation Alley (mutant flesh stripping cockroaches). In Mimic, the 1997 film directed by Guillermo Del Toro and the main focus of this podcast episode, cockroaches also feature prominently. The film is set in a New York besieged by “Strickler’s disease”, a fictional virus that is carried by cockroaches, is reminiscent of yellow fever, and which threatens to kill off all of the city’s children. Having exhausted all other avenues, the powers that be take the only conceivable step: they turn to science.

Thankfully science steps up to the plate and is able to eradicate the cockroaches (thereby cutting off the carrier of the virus) by genetically splicing a termite and a praying mantis to create the Judas Breed, a bioengineered cockroach-killing machine. However, it turns out that the scientists made two major mistakes: one they decided to play God, and two they attempted to battle a disease without enlisting the help of Dustin Hoffman, which as listeners of our last podcast episode will attest to is really all that is needed to quell any viral outbreak. Needless to say, after killing all of the cockroaches, the Judas Breed needs a new prey to hunt…

mimic faceDuring this podcast we spoke to Dr Ed Harris, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Genetics at Manchester Metropolitan University, who told us why the Judas Breed was such a formidable (and utterly unrealistic) predator, how the circulatory system of insects prevents them from growing beyond a certain size (here is a list of the world’s largest insects, DO NOT read this when eating your dinner), and the rather alarming fact that cockroaches can in fact bite.

By playing on our fear of insects, and stretching the science to way beyond breaking point, filmmakers have an almost inexhaustible stream from which to draw cheap scares. Therefore, don’t expect them to stop anytime soon. Just try and sleep easy at night, safe in the knowledge that there isn’t a man-sized insect lying in wait for you at the end of the street…is there?



Listen to these related episodes:

18. Moths – What Do You See?

In this episode of the podcast we talk to Dr Emma Coulthard about the 2002 film The Mothman Prophecies, and attempt to find out what it is about moths that seem to freak so many people out. We also talk about cryptids, pseudoscience and pancakes.

8. Dinosaurs [Live] – The Podcast Is Open

This episode of the podcast sees the TNAM team discussing Jurassic World, dinosaurs and evolution in front of a live studio audience as part of the Into Film Festival.

2 thoughts on “4. Insects – Nature Finds A Way

  1. Pingback: EPISODES | The Neutrinos Are Mutating

  2. Pingback: EPISODES | The Neutrinos Are Mutating

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